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. [In a sense, ‘two-wayed thinking’ constitutes a way of life—it is tolerant of differences and may interpret their resolution as contingent and provisional, as always open to renegotiation, and never as the final word. Truth, at best, offers cold comfort in social settings and often establishes itself as incontestable, by definition, as immune from untrumque partes, which may be considered an act of heresy and may be punishable by death.]

We live in a world of circumstances—we are contained by thought-altering differences that have weight in determining what course to take. Truth is of little use, because there are multiple truths piled up around a given point of decision. Conflicts in this space are best resolved by persuasion—judgements of what is better or worse, right or wrong, not solely by applying what appears to be true and false: you are not supposed to lie. Tell the truth! The Nazis are at your door looking for your children. They are hiding in your basement. You lie and tell them you haven’t seen your children for weeks. Lying is a good thing here. If you told the truth, your children would be taken away. This a time-worn example, but it still makes a important point: lying can be good, telling the truth can be evil. They have no intrinsic moral valance, it emerges in the particular case, when they are told for better and for worse. Just think, if your commitment to truth was unassailable, in the example above, you would kill your children. Good idea? Is there something superior to truth operative here in the process of making a decision? Is there ever a hierarchy of truths prior to their engagement in a moment of decision? Making good decisions is about weighing alternatives, but again, maybe not.

Definition and commentary courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu). Bracketed text by Gogias, Editor of Daily Trope.

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