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Topic #A15

Double Arguments


12 October 2001

Scribes: Jessica Varrasso and Nina Novo


These minutes were spoken on 15 October; for another version,

go to the unspoken minutes



         Professor Hutchinson began Fridays lecture entitled, Double Arguments, by explaining that these contrasting arguments were not the product of one mind, but many.  The professor explained that it was quite common in the ancient world for texts to be tacked on to other peoples work and that it would seem that that happened in this case.  The first four parts show evidence of being written by the same author, although this is not certain, with the last five written by several others, probably from the same institution.  Professor Hutchinson explained that these arguments could have been the work of students, simply doing assignments in school, that they were to make an account of an arguments strong and weak points and argue them.  These arguments are still beneficial to study, we were told, not because they are the ideas of philosophers but because they give an account of the issues students were made to think of.


         Professor Hutchinson began looking at the Double Arguments in reverse order, beginning with part nine.  Part nine was the beginning of a much larger account of the techniques of memory.  It seems that memory played a large role when delivering speeches in front of an audience.  When one was giving a speech in ancient Athens it was to be shouted from a stone, and in times before the printing press, memorization was the easiest way.


         Professor Hutchinson began part eight with a quote: “I think it is the job of the same man and the same skill to able to talk succulently, to know the truth about things, to know how to judge cases correctly, to be able to deliver public speeches, to have mastered the various skills relevant to the spoken word, and to be able to explain the nature and the origin of all things” (Waterfield, Robin.  The First Philosophers, Part 8, Pg. 297).  To be an accomplished public speaker one must have various skills.  One must be rhetorical, have political judgment and know the truth and nature of things.  Professor Hutchinson explained to the class that it was quite reasonable in the ancient world to expect a wise person to know everything.   For a person to have knowledge in every subject area was not unreasonable and readily encouraged, now we cannot do this.  Plato believed that one could learn in all subjects and opened to academy to encourage just that.  Aristotle, Plato’s student, for example, wrote on all subjects and believed that he did know everything.  Francis, who ran the Athenian institution of Lyseme, quipped that it was unfair that elephants lived longer than people because they don’t have research projects to do.   Over the past three hundred years it has become ridiculous to assume that one could learn everything.  A question was raised by a student: In the ancient world, did knowledge of everything include everything, arts and crafts for example such as that of Hippias?  Professor Hutchinson answered that Plato and Aristotle believed in higher order learning, teaching, training, judging and all principles of higher knowledge and that everything else, cobbling, cleaning, farming, could be done by paid servants.


         Professor Hutchinson began part seven with a quote: “Some public speakers claim that political positions should be filled by lot, but this view of theirs in rubbish” (See previous citation, Part 7, pg 297).  He explained that the Athenians were extremely democratic and would use random lotteries to fill the spaces in the council so that all voices could be heard.  This practice ensured that votes could not be bought because power went to a random winner.  Socrates believed this practice was inappropriate and that jobs should be handed out because of skill not from mere luck.  For this opinion, amongst others, Socrates was tried and convicted of treason.  Professor Hutchinson explained that in modern times we use both systems.


         Part six of Double Arguments questioned whether or not knowledge and virtue could be taught, an age-old question seen in much of the work by Plato, Socrates and Protagoras.  This part argued that if virtue could be taught sons of outstanding and virtuous people would also be outstanding and virtuous.  Socrates did not believe that paid Sophists could teach virtue.  Professor Hutchinson cited the philosopher Anaxagoras who claimed that there were features of virtue, and that virtue is not a recognized skill.  Virtue may be compared to speaking English, in that one learns to speak English by being around it as a child, for example, language competence and moral competence are very similar in this respect. 


         Professor Hutchinson decided to skip parts four and five and continued the lecture with parts one, two and three.


         Parts one, two and three of Double Arguments may be taken together.  These parts described what was good and bad, as a flexible means of characterizing a thing and the legal issues concerning the rightness and wrongness of an act, questioning whether or not someone has actually committed a crime.  Professor Hutchinson then cited many examples concerning these arguments to demonstrate the flexible nature of what constitutes a right thing or a wrong thing.  Xenophanes description in F8 and F9 concerning the differing opinions of the gods: “If cow and horses or lions had hands, or could draw with their hands and make things as men can, horses would have drawn horse like gods, cows cow-like gods, and each species would have made the gods’ bodies just like their own (F8)”.  Or  “Ethiopians say that their gods are flat nosed and black, and Thracians that theirs have blue eyes and red hair” (Waterfield, Robin.  The First Philosophers F8-9 pg 27).  Page 290 of The First Philosophers describes differing customs about the burial rites of the dead and makes the point that what is considered morally acceptable in one culture could be considered deplorable in another and that no one view can be right or wrong.  Professor Hutchinson added an example of a research project conducted to study disease in Papa New Guinea, when it is customary to eat the brains of your parents after death.  In Tibet one would carry the body of the dead to a high place and smash the skull of the deceased for the birds to eat.  Professor Hutchinson then asked the class what we are to make of these differences. The answer he gave in four points.


         1) Skeptical approach: “Gee wiz, I was sure it was wrong to chop up my mother, but everyone else is doing it.”  In the skeptical approach it is hard to say who is right.

         2) Relative approach:  Is incompatible to the skeptical approach.  The rightness of conduct is based on the person who does it; a thing may be right for them but wrong for us.  There are two different positions; one saying that a thing is right depending on who is looking at it versus the person who actually did it. 

         3) Subjectivism: There is no fact of the matter, it is not an objective thing whether something is right or wrong, it is simply an expression.  The rightness or wrongness of a thing should not be struggled over because it cannot be right or wrong, only expressions of the subject.

         4) Perhaps the most widely used of all “I’m right and you’re wrong” this opinion is usually followed by a triumphant “nah nah nah nah nah nah.”


         Professor Hutchinson added that in the twenty-first century society is much more stable than in the ancient and even near past because these societal and cultural differences are recognized and accepted rather than eliminated, or at least that they ought to be.