Dirimens Copulatio

Dirimens Copulatio (di’-ri-mens ko-pu-la’-ti-o): A figure by which one balances one statement with a contrary, qualifying statement (sometimes conveyed by “not only … but also” clauses). A sort of arguing both sides of an issue.

Protagoras (c. 485-410 BC) asserted that “to every logos (speech or argument) another logos is opposed,” a theme continued in the Dissoi Logoi of his time, later codified as the notion of arguments in utrumque partes (on both sides). Aristotle asserted that thinking in opposites is necessary both to arrive at the true state of a matter (opposition as an epistemological heuristic) and to anticipate counterarguments. This latter, practical purpose for investigating opposing arguments has been central to rhetoric ever since sophists like Antiphon (c. 480-410 BC) provided model speeches (his Tetralogies) showing how one might argue for either the prosecution or for the defense on any given issue. As such, [this] names not so much a figure of speech as a general approach to rhetoric, or an overall argumentative strategy. However, it could be manifest within a speech on a local level as well, especially for the purposes of exhibiting fairness (establishing ethos [audience perception of speaker credibility]).

This pragmatic embrace of opposing arguments permeates rhetorical invention, arrangement, and rhetorical pedagogy.

When faced with a decision, time and place may vex our motives.  For example, being unable to be full of praise and full of rage toward the same issue, person, idea or anything else from within the compass of here and now, we are at a crisis, a stasis, a standstill.

Realizing that there are advantages and disadvantages to all prompts to decision we are stuck in a rut for the time-being.  That is, we must drive the road to judgment under the spell of a consistent motive, or we may zigzag, stop and start, back up, go forward, skid, lurch, crash, or, if we’re lucky (or unlucky), run out of gas, never getting anywhere, staying stuck in a rut.

In sum, while there may be two or more opposed why-ways to drive into the unknowable future, if you’re going to get anywhere at all, you must have the foresight to take a single (because best) why-way to your hope’s destination. Nevertheless, realize that there may be unforeseen roadblocks along the way that necessitate taking a detour–a different why-way–in order to get to your destination.

As a reminder of what may happen between now and then, here and there, I have a statue of Stephen Toulmin glued to my decision dashboard.  For he is the cousin of Hermes, the grandson of Magellan, and the Supreme Spirit of Life’s Road Trips.

  • Post your own dirimens copulatio on the “Comments” page!

Definition and commentary courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu).

One response to “Dirimens Copulatio

  1. I’m a little late to this party, but I’m reading this to get a better understanding of dirimens copulatio. At first, I wasn’t really aware of what this piece was supposed to be, but after re-reading it–and though it was difficult–I’ve found a deep (deeeeeep) understanding of how this whole things works. I especially loved the skidding, lurching, crashing, zig-zagging metaphors, mostly because it’s a healthy mix of differences (a little pizazz of dirimens and a little dash of copulatio?). Then again, I never truly understand something until I’ve practiced it myself, and then agin, I never truly practice something correctly until I can critique another–and I can only critique another once I’ve gotten good enough with my practicing in order to critique myself.

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