Dissoi loggoi is an ancient term that is derived from a text written by Sextus, towards the end of fifth century, BC, (Tylor and Lee). The historical placement of Dissoi loggoi is with Protagoras and the Sophists, (Taylor and Lee). Sophists were known for their ability to twist the meanings of any argument, and take on any position. The Sophists could make wrong seem right, because of the rhetorical use of Dissoi loggoi. Critics of Sextus, along with Protagoras, claimed that the use of Dissoi loggoi: “…Protagoras’ thesis that every appearance (phantasia) is true, the thesis that it is not the case that every appearance is true, ‘which is itself in accordance with appearance (kata phantasian huphistamenon)’ is true; hence Protagoras’ thesis is self-refuting.” [italics] (Taylor and Lee).
Sextus writes his arguments by presenting two sides to every issue, taking the readier from believing in one argument, to suddenly believing in the other side of the issue. This rhetorical device almost makes the reader feel like a fool for having followed the logic of the first argument, and then, being duped into following the logic of the second argument. This term, Dissoi loggoi, essentially means different logic, contrasting arguments, or both sides of the story. The implications of this term seem to be natural for one to perform an analysis of the other side of the question, however, in philosophy, nothing is taken for granted, and the examination of both sides of any issue is necessarily the purpose of philosophical inquiry. Interestingly, the Dissoi loggoi format is one that is both a truth preserver, and a truth distorter. How fitting.
In the introduction to the text, there is a strong line that is drawn between those who believe good and bad are two different things, and those who believe that: “…that they [good and bad] are the same thing, and that the same thing is good for some but bad for others, or at one time good and at another time bad for the same person.” (Sprague). So, the reader is compelled to want to agree with the test in order not to fall into the group that is not “correct” in their views that there is a difference between good and bad. Take the beginning of the text, the argument is presented that there is no “good” or “bad” because consider that food and drink and sex are good for the healthy, but bad for the unhealthy. “The bad is the same as the good because disease is bad for the patient but good for the doctor…” (Taylor and Lee). This causes one’s mind to think that what is good and bad? Is it defined by the person who is experiencing the good or bad? Therefore, Dissoi loggoi is also a truth distorter because it takes on elements of relativism because it honors subjectivity. Philosophically, for rhetoric and logic, Dissoi loggoi has provided a good format to examine all sides of any issue with considerations for all sided to the issue. However, philosophically, concerning ethics, the Dissoi loggoi format provides a foundation for subjectivism to be predominant when evaluating moral choices. The text then presents the arguments about what is seemly or what is shameful. The interesting thing about this rhetorical position is that there is an expansion of judgment to the social sphere. The manner that Dissoi loggoi is a truth preserver is that the “truth” of any thing is examined from all sides, thereby producing a coherent truth. For instance, possibly the truth is that there is not a definite difference between good and bad considering the first argument that is presented.
In rhetoric, the use of Dissoi loggoi is a helpful tool, because one is able to use the best arguments form all arguments in order to support or destroy a particular position. For instance, the entire Dissoi loggoi text includes a back and forth of arguments, showing that one position is true, and that another is not true, and then, by using the same logic, shows that the opposites are both true and false. When it comes to moral properties, the issue of relativism is where the rhetorical argumentation can take advantage of the Dissoi loggoi form: “This text consists for the most part of a series of short discussions of pairs of standardly opposed moral properties, e.g., the good and the bad, the just and the unjust…” (Taylor and Lee). In this manner, rhetoric can become like a game for a skilled person who likes to argue different points. Logic is a framework for the rhetoric that employs Dissoi loggoi. This is because the syllogism is not a truth preserver after all.
It seems, as one reads the Dissoi loggoi, there is a self-refuting nature about the text. It does not allow the reader to feel as though there have been any conclusions that are going to be solid. The reader distrusts the extensive use of Dissoi loggoi because it is intellectually frustrating to not have objective foundations to argue from; however, in the same way, the use of subjective foundations, opens up academic discourse to advanced rhetorical examinations. Dissoi loggoi is the way to get to the truth by feeling out all sides of an issue. What this means, is that if someone is wondering why someone else behaved n a certain way, Dissoi loggoi will provide a thorough framework to examine different perspectives. Therefore, Dissoi loggoi is a valuable academic tool because it allows for broad argumentation.
Debate teams base their skills on the ability to employ Dissoi loggoi, attorneys and politicians use Dissoi loggoi. The ways that Dissoi loggoi assist rhetoric on every level are continuous. The only time that Dissoi loggoi does not work is in the application of sciences, and math. When it comes to anything that can be perceived, the employment of Dissoi loggoi in argumentation is a strong point. One of the conclusions in the ancient text is that: “If a man were to take away one from ten, there would no longer be ten or even one, and so on in the same way in all other instances.” (Sprague). Therefore, with this application, it can also be argued that even math and science is not immune to the way that Dissoi loggoi can manipulate truths and falsities. Modern academic discourse is based upon Dissoi loggoi, modern politics are based on Dissoi loggoi, and the world of rhetoric is buttressed by the Dissoi loggoi format. Rhetoric is not necessarily a pursuit of the truth, but the ability to convince and persuade with logical argumentation. Dissoi loggoi makes the most of logic by exploiting its literal inconsistencies. The ability to present conflicting views can expand rhetorical ability to persuade, and also gives a large subjective foundation to build arguments upon. The fact that Dissoi loggoi can hold two conflicting ideas at once, simultaneously claiming each to be valid, is the choice of the person who is making the argument. Dissoi loggoi can be based on the prospective audience’s subjective views, instead of the speaker’s views. In this manner, Dissoi loggoi is an art of presenting contrasting, conflicting views. Possibly, Dissoi loggoi can be considered as the art of making right wrong, and then wrong right.
- Sprague, Rosamond Kent. “Dissoi Logoi or Dialexeis”. Mind New Series, 77:306 (155-167). Oxford University Press,1968.
- Taylor, C.C.W., and Lee, Mi-Kyoung, “The Sophists”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2015. Accessed 18 Sep. 2016