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The Concept: Dissoi Logoi Essay

In ancient Greece, the dissoi logoi were rhetorical exercises intended for imitation by students. In our own time, we see dissoi logoi at work “in the courtroom, where litigation is not about truth but rather the preponderance of evidence” (James Dale Williams, An Introduction to Classical Rhetoric, 2009). The words “dissoi logoi” literally mean opposing arguments. This exercise acts as a tool of rhetoric and understanding. The sophists used dissoi logoi to explore the meaning language and the various implications it could have.

The great sophist, Gorgias, famously applied his knowledge of dissoi logoi in the “Encomium of Helen”. Who it was and why and how he sailed away, taking Helen as his love, I shall not say. To tell the knowing what they know shows it is right but brings no delight. Having now gone beyond the time once set for my speech, I shall go on to the beginning of my future speech, and I shall set forth the causes through which it was likely that Helen’s voyage to Troy should take place” ( Encomium of Helen, section 5). This introduction from Encomium of Helen gives the reader a glimpse into the brilliant mind of Gorgias and those principles which he stood for.

His oratory style combined with the dissoi logoi evoked through dialectic result in a multi-faceted representation of the truth. It is obvious from this excerpt that he understood how dissoi logoi could be used to alter the attitudes and henceforth the values of his audience. Gorgias goes on to speak of the condemned Helen and the possible reasons behind her perceived betrayal of Troy. In the “Encomium of Helen” Gorgias does not attempt to convince the audience of what he thinks is true; instead he offers an array of alternative reasons that could possibly explain her actions.

Then at the very end of his speech he suggests a change in the attitudes of his audience. “Encomium of Helen” incorporates all three appeals effectively and demonstrates exactly why the “dissoi logoi” form is an essential tool for rhetoricians. “They say that if some people were to bring together from every part of the world those things that are shameful, and were then to call people together and command them to take what each considered seemly, everything would be taken away as seemly” ( Dissoi Logoi, section 2).

In this section of dissoi logoi the author sets up the debate of whether seemly and shameful are always different or whether they are always the same. The author then gives examples to prove that they appear to be different but then uses cross cultural examples to establish that they are not. A large part of dissoi logoi involves the understanding of kairos, which means the opportune moment. “The right moment takes the same things and makes them shameful and then changes them round and makes them seemly” (Dissoi Logoi, section 2).

Knowing the general attitude and perception of your audience will enable a speaker to identify this “opportune moment” and use it to encourage a change in their listeners attitudes or views. It is seen that dissoi and logoi can be used to mislead or decieve a general public. However, it is important to remember that the great rhetoricians of ancient Greece only brought forth this concept in the hopes of exploring a universal understanding of the spoken word and the meaning that we as a people assign to it. Application of Dissoi Logoi to American Imperialism

Dissoi logoi is all about the relativity of “truth”, and in the world that we live in today, everything is relative. The ancient sophists maintained that anything could be argued and it is seen that they did so in ancient works like ”The Clouds”, “Gorgias” and “The Encomium of Helen”. Dissoi Logoi can be and has been applied throughout history as a way of providing justification for acts that may have been condemned whether those actions pertain to judicial matters or issues of foreign policy like imperialism. American Imperialism has been a part of United States history ever since the American Revolution.

Imperialism is the practice by which powerful nations or people seek to expand and maintain control or influence over the less powerful nations or peoples. Throughout the years there has been many instances where the Americans have taken over the countries of foreign peoples. In most instances of Imperialism, the United States has tried to acquire new territories for the nation’s empire. The Americas first taste of imperialism came about five hundred years ago when Columbus traveled to America in hopes of finding the new world, when in fact, it was not a new world at all.

The Spanish drove out the native inhabitants and then took the land for themselves. Natives were then enslaved for the benefit of the Spaniards. Over the years, Americans have been known to behave in a similar manner. A sentiment has since been formed that no matter how much we have we will never be happy until the United States has control the free world. The question of why we see this pattern happening still today is one that many people would like to know the answer to. Dissoi Logoi can be a useful tool when analyzing complex issues such as this.

As previously mentioned in draft 1, the counter argument strategy known as Dissoi Logoi can be used to bring about a sensus communis otherwise known as the “Truth” about why we do the things we do. By offering reasoning and then counter reasoning as justification for actions, our understanding of the subject matter at hand becomes more naturally well-rounded. According to Socrates, considering alternative possibilities and perspectives is a surefire way of interpreting logos and ultimately getting closer to the “Truth”.

The persuasive power of logos is the theme of Gorgias’ ” Encomium of Helen”. In this artifact Gorgias argues against blaming Helen for leaving her husband and native land to go with Paris to live in Troy. Gorgias poses four possible reasons for the behavior of Helen. These explanations include “(1) That it was by decree of the gods and of Necessity, (2) that she was carried off by force, (3) that she was persuaded by the power of speech (logos), and (4) that it was all the work of love”(Logos and Contemporary Composition Theory p8).

Gorgias claims that Helen was not to blame for her actions because of the overwhelming power of speech (logos). He posits that Helen’s ability to think clearly must have been disrupted by the influence of logos. When it comes to American Imperialism, there are also a multitude of reasons that could explain its existence. Dissoi Logoi can be used to bring about meaning from this issue just as it was done in “The Encomium of Helen”. American Imperialism may not exist solely because of greed and selfish attitudes as many people may think.

Some explanations for and reasons why we have Imperialism are as follows. (1) Social Darwinism, this theory suggests that we as people have taken the principles of the great biologist, Charles Darwin, and applied them in a survival of the fittest manner with regards to humans. (2) It is God’s will that we expand outside of the United States in order to spread the message of Christianity and save the souls of our foreign brothers and sisters. 3) The most commonly thought of reason which pertains to the United State’s need for securing a superior navy.

The need for colonial bases that stretch the globe is central to this explanation. (4) Another reason for imperialism could be that an overproduction of goods and resources has caused the United States to seek more overseas markets for trade. By posing questions and counter arguments about the issue, we are better able to make decisions about the truth of the matter just as Gorgias had done with the citizens of Greece.

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