The Aristotelian syllogism dominated Western philosophical thought for many centuries. Syllogism itself is about drawing valid conclusions from assumptions (axioms), rather than about verifying the assumptions. However, people over time focused on the logic aspect, forgetting the importance of verifying the assumptions.

More specifically, Boole agreed with what Aristotle said; Boole's 'disagreements', if they might be called that, concern what Aristotle did not say. First, in the realm of foundations, Boole reduced Aristotle's four propositional forms to one form, the form of equations, which by itself was a revolutionary idea. Second, in the realm of logic's problems, Boole's addition of equation solving to logic—another revolutionary idea—involved Boole's doctrine that Aristotle's rules of inference (the "perfect syllogisms") must be supplemented by rules for equation solving. Third, in the realm of applications, Boole's system could handle multi-term propositions and arguments, whereas Aristotle could handle only two-termed subject-predicate propositions and arguments. For example, Aristotle's system could not deduce: "No quadrangle that is a square is a rectangle that is a rhombus" from "No square that is a quadrangle is a rhombus that is a rectangle" or from "No rhombus that is a rectangle is a square that is a quadrangle."

A polysyllogism, or a sorites, is a form of argument in which a series of incomplete syllogisms is so arranged that the predicate of each premise forms the subject of the next until the subject of the first is joined with the predicate of the last in the conclusion. For example, one might argue that all lions are big cats, all big cats are predators, and all predators are carnivores. To conclude that therefore all lions are carnivores is to construct a sorites argument.

There are infinitely many possible syllogisms, but only 256 logically distinct types and only 24 valid types (enumerated below). A syllogism takes the form (note: M – Middle, S – subject, P – predicate.):

The convention here is that the letter S is the subject of the conclusion, P is the predicate of the conclusion, and M is the middle term. The major premise links M with P and the minor premise links M with S. However, the middle term can be either the subject or the predicate of each premise where it appears. The differing positions of the major, minor, and middle terms gives rise to another classification of syllogisms known as the figure. Given that in each case the conclusion is S-P, the four figures are:

Putting it all together, there are 256 possible types of syllogisms (or 512 if the order of the major and minor premises is changed, though this makes no difference logically). Each premise and the conclusion can be of type A, E, I or O, and the syllogism can be any of the four figures. A syllogism can be described briefly by giving the letters for the premises and conclusion followed by the number for the figure. For example, the syllogism BARBARA below is AAA-1, or "A-A-A in the first figure".

Fig. 1, treble clef. "A syllogism's letters can be best represented in music— take E, for example." -Marilyn Damord

Next to each premise and conclusion is a shorthand description of the sentence. So in AAI-3, the premise "All squares are rectangles" becomes "MaP"; the symbols mean that the first term ("square") is the middle term, the second term ("rectangle") is the predicate of the conclusion, and the relationship between the two terms is labeled "a" (All M are P).

The following table shows all syllogisms that are essentially different. The similar syllogisms share the same premises, just written in a different way. For example "Some pets are kittens" (SiM in Darii) could also be written as "Some kittens are pets" (MiS in Datisi).

In the Venn diagrams, the black areas indicate no elements, and the red areas indicate at least one element. In the predicate logic expressions, a horizontal bar over an expression means to negate ("logical not") the result of that expression.

This table shows all 24 valid syllogisms, represented by Venn diagrams. Columns indicate similarity, and are grouped by combinations of premises. Borders correspond to conclusions. Those with an existential assumption are dashed.

All Greeks are animals, animals are numerous, therefore all Greeks are numerousAll Greeks are men, all men are mortal therefore all Greeks are mortals

However, medieval logicians were aware of the problem of existential import and maintained that negative propositions do not carry existential import, and that positive propositions with subjects that do not supposit are false.

For example, if it is accepted that AiB is false if there are no As and AaB entails AiB, then AiB has existential import with respect to A, and so does AaB. Further, if it is accepted that AiB entails BiA, then AiB and AaB have existential import with respect to B as well. Similarly, if AoB is false if there are no As, and AeB entails AoB, and AeB entails BeA (which in turn entails BoA) then both AeB and AoB have existential import with respect to both A and B. It follows immediately that all universal categorical statements have existential import with respect to both terms. If AaB and AeB is a fair representation of the use of statements in normal natural language of All A is B and No A is B respectively, then the following example consequences arise:

"All flying horses are mythical" is false if there are no flying horses.
If "No men are fire-eating rabbits" is true, then "There are fire-eating rabbits" is true; and so on.

If it is ruled that no universal statement has existential import then the square of opposition fails in several respects (e.g. AaB does not entail AiB) and a number of syllogisms are no longer valid (e.g. BaC,AaB->AiC).

These problems and paradoxes arise in both natural language statements and statements in syllogism form because of ambiguity, in particular ambiguity with respect to All. If "Fred claims all his books were Pulitzer Prize winners", is Fred claiming that he wrote any books? If not, then is what he claims true? Suppose Jane says none of her friends are poor; is that true if she has no friends?

Determining the validity of a syllogism involves determining the distribution of each term in each statement, meaning whether all members of that term are accounted for.

In simple syllogistic patterns, the fallacies of invalid patterns are: