Dissoi logoi

When I first read this selection, I understood it to be advocating for Protagoras’ way of thinking: “Of all things the measure is man.” The writer seemed to be saying that whatever the situation, good/bad (seemly/shameful, just/unjust, true/false) can only be determined by an individual’s self-interest. An event could be seen as good from one person’s perspective yet bad from another’s.  What we had learned about the Sophists from Dr. Edlund during the course introduction—that the Sophists did not believe that absolute truth could be known and that they had gained an anthropological perspective on the world from their travels—seemed to support this reading.

However, during my second reading I focused more on the second part of each section, where the writer demonstrates that it’s ridiculous and untenable to say that these binaries are actually the same thing, like saying black is white (50, column 2 bottom). The writer argues for both cultural relativism (the first approach) and for some sort of abstract moral qualities (the second approach). These are the two approaches that give this work the title (in English) Opposing Arguments (not, as I initially thought, the opposition between good/bad, etc.) Very sophistic indeed.

So, for me what I got out of Dissoi Logoi (besides an introduction to the Sophists) was the value of having students look at issues from multiple perspectives. As Dr. Edlund pointed out last week, these were practice arguments. In classical education students were given lots of practice arguing both sides of an issue, a practice that I think has much value and one that I plan to utilize more this quarter as I teach my 104 course. From how many different angles can my students look at an issue? How thoroughly do they understand the opposing viewpoint? I think this kind of practice can greatly improve their critical thinking and writing.