Dissoi Logoi


Dissoi logoi (literally, "different words"), is often translated as opposing arguments. It is the name of an ancient text whose author is unknown but which, it is believed, shows the marks of a Sophist's training. According to Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg, the writer of the Dissoi Logoi may have been one of Protagoras's students.

The Sophists were famous, though perhaps infamous is the better word, for teaching their students to be able to argue all sides of an issue. When one should argue for one side over another was, as Michael Carter points out, to be decided by kairos. How one determines what is the "right time and the right measure," however, is something not all are agreed upon. (A matter we have discussed in class.)

Unfortunately, dissoi logoi is often woefully simplified into the idea that there are "two sides to every story." While that statement is true, it is also incomplete. Better would be to say that there are at least two sides to every story, and that not all arguments are diametrically opposed: they may only differ in emphasis or degree, while having many points in common. Our media, from television to the newspapers, Internet and talk radio, do not much help this matter; political and social issues are often presented as clamored over by only two camps , irremediably, irrevocably, irreconciably polarized over their disagreements. Nuances, finer shades of meaning, are often obscured. A preferable way to look at dissoi logoi might be, then, not opposing arguments, but a more literal translation, differing arguments.

In this news story, hyped by Yahoo! as "Things Get Heated Between Bill O'Reilly and Jon Stewart," the two commentators (maybe "title characters" would be more appropriate?) discuss their differences about President Obama's leadership. You will see that the thrust of the show is to divide these men against each other, and the news story's title plays into this antagonistic framing. What I see, however, are two people who seem to respect each other, despite their differences, and who are giving each other a good ribbing. While things certainly get animated here, it would be misleading to say they get heated.

Watch for the stasis at work, fallacies, verbal style and so on. Jon Stewart also shows a curious penchant for the word "narrative."