Friday, September 7, 2007

Dissoi Logoi actually analyzes arguments

I'm not entirely sure whether we were supposed to read Dissoi Logoi, but certainly it fits in with the our other readings for the week. I find Dissoi Logoi interesting because the arguments are simple, yet it's hard to tell if the writer actually backs his own conclusions or whether he's offering them up as something to think about. The section about good and bad seems somewhat weak, with supporting examples about how it is "illness is bad for the sick but good for the doctors" (48), because most doctors would be hard-pressed to argue that they'd prefer more illness in the world. Without illness, a doctor would simply find another profession (and enjoy life without illness). The section about seemly and shameful acts is much more convincing.

Seemly and shameful don't seem quite as tied up in our sense of absolute ethics. It's easier to admit that something is only shameful based on your perspective than it is that something is only bad based on your perspective. Not only perspective, but also context figures into the arguments about seemly and shameful behavior. It seems reasonable to conclude that having sex in one's bedroom is entirely appropriate, but that's not the case if you move outside (49). I'm not so sure I agree that a wife ought to decorate herself "with white lead and wear gold ornaments" (50), but luckily the writer goes on to explain how different cultures have differing ideas of what is seemly.

Strangely, however, the writer goes on to conclude that "all things are seemly when done at the right moment, but shameful when done at the wrong moment" (50). I wonder about the translation of the word "moment," because "moment" implies an issue of time, yet most of the examples so far were of place or social situation. This conclusion is absurd--simply because context plays a role in determining whether an act is shameful doesn't imply that every act can go either way, which becomes clear when you become more specific: "In Sparta it is seemly for girls to exercise naked, in Sparta it is shameful for girls to exercise naked" (51). Honestly, I'm impressed at this writer's ability to actually analyze arguments instead of beat people over the head with them.

Works Cited

Dissoi Logoi
. Trans. T. M. Robinson. The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Ties to the Present. Ed. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2001. 48-55.

1 comment:

Ubiquitous Che said...

Ha! Such an old blog post!

I'm pretty sure that in the of the Dissoi Logoi, 'at the right moment' was the translation of kairos.

Although kairos is primarily temporal, it also has deep connection to the factors making up the context of a situation - kairoi - that contribute to the kairos of an event or action.

Probably teaching my grandmother to suck eggs here, but wanted to leave a comment anyway. ^_^