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Topic #A15

Double Arguments


12 October 2001

Scribes: Maya Krishnaratne and Craig Killen


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Professor Hutchinson warned that, while he was going to discuss the Double Arguments in his lecture he was going to take a different line of thought than that of Robin Waterfield, the translator of The First Philosophers.  Professor Hutchinson stated that the Double Arguments are not necessarily evidence of the mediocre mind, but more as evidence of what took place in educational institutions in ancient Greece.  Known as Dissoi Logi (or Contrasting Evidence), the Double Arguments are not written or described in whole content.  The first four arguments are as follows; On Good and Bad; On Acceptable and Unacceptable; On Right and Wrong; On True and False.  The first four arguments have a definite structure, but these four are again, different from the rest of the arguments.  Within the arguments we should be able to see the influence of several other authors.  Professor Hutchinson stated that perhaps the first four arguments have a sole influence, and perhaps not.  The arguments separate from the first four are much different from them.  However, in all of the arguments, the author is writing in the first person form.  The arguments seemed to strike Professor Hutchinson as being that of students writing papers in an educational institution, making accounts and arguing for and against them.  This is where his views seem to differ from that of Waterfield. 


Next, Professor Hutchinson started to describe the arguments in reverse order, starting with the ninth.  This untitled argument appears to be the beginning of a larger broken off work on techniques of memory.  Techniques of improving memory would have been required for public speaking, as this was done a lot in ancient Athens. 


The eighth argument is kind of strange according to Professor Hutchinson.  Quoting from the book, he said “it is the job of the same man and the same skill to be able to talk succinctly, to know the truth about things, to know how to judge cases correctly, to be able to deliver to the spoken word, and to be able to explain the nature and origin of all things.” (page 297, Waterfield).  It seemed to be an essential technique of analysis to Socrates, that to be a good politician, rhetorical knowledge and political judgment would be required to explain the origin of all things.  This was a reasonable expectation in that time, but now to expect one person to know everything has become ridiculous to us.  Now that results in disciplines have advanced and there has been an increase in disciplines, we cannot expect anyone to know and understand all subjects.  Plato however, thought it was reasonable and pretended to transmit his knowledge to students who were willing and able to learn.  Professor Hutchinson joked that Aristotle was one of these students and he did in fact know everything! The professor then went on to tell the class about a particular anecdote which observes the unfairness of an elephant having a much longer life span than a human and yet the elephant doesn’t care nor does it have the ability to do what humans try so much to do in a short span of time. 


The seventh section states, “some public speakers claim that political positions should be filled by lot, but this view of theirs is rubbish.”  (page 297, Waterfield).  Socrates himself makes this criticism.  He found it absurd to have any political responsibility handed out randomly and that people should have the skills required to do a certain job.  But Athenians didn’t like his point of view. They used lotteries in their political system as an elaborate precaution to ensure that all voices were heard.  It was an extremely democratic system to insure no influence or bias.  It was thought that any person who was a stake-holder in the democratic system should be involved in the decision-making process, and using the process of random selection prevents rigging.  Nowadays we take representation seriously much the same way they did in the Athenian political system, but we also place much more emphasis on having the right man for the job.  Socrates, in a democracy, was in actual fact executed because of this belief as it was claimed that his principles went against the democratic constitution that was held in Athens. 


Moving on to the sixth argument in the Double Arguments called On Whether Knowledge and Virtue are Teachable, the author suggests that if virtue could be taught, all skills would be transmitted from father to son.  This argument is common to Socrates, as he claimed that if excellence could be taught then sons of bright fathers would also be bright, but this is not case, leaving Socrates to believe that virtue simply cannot be taught.  Professor Hutchinson noted that the author of the sixth argument’s response was intelligent.  Professor Hutchinson also noted that there are no recognized teachers of virtue, so we have no real reason to believe that virtue can be taught.  The notion of language was also brought to our attention, as the professor provided the parallel that we learn our first language much in the same way as virtue, we are not taught it in the academic institutional sense but rather we come to know it from experience.


After skipping the forth and fifth sections, Professor Hutchinson turned to focus on the first three sections, initially summarizing what they are:


1.    On Good and Bad: refers to things that one might prefer or not prefer

2.    On Acceptable and Unacceptable: questions whether particular behaviours in society are in fact good or bad.

3.    On Right and Wrong: has to do with legal issues


The structure of these three arguments remains the same.  There is a long tradition of these contrasting arguments in the Ancient World.  Xenophanes came up with the concept of the depiction of gods depending on the particular group of people in question.  For example, black-haired people tend to imagine their gods with black hair and, should animals be able to depict gods for themselves, they would see them as having animal traits as well.  The very structure that the three arguments take on is that different things are good and bad, acceptable and unacceptable and right and wrong depending on a particular set of people.  Professor Hutchinson gave “an interesting and simple example about the burial of the dead” in one culture where children eat their dead parents as a sign of respect.  So what do we make of these differences?  Professor Hutchinson gave three main approaches to them:


The Skeptical Approach

“Gee wiz, I used to be sure it was wrong, but now it’s hard to say who’s right.”


The Relativist Approach

“Gee wiz, it’s right for them, but wrong for us.”

(This approach has two strategies: right for who’s seeing it and; right for who’s doing it.)


The Subjectivist Approach

“There is no fact of the matter.  There is no objective right or wrong.  It is expressive

of subject.”


Nothing has been more valuable to the West than conflicts with others because we have learned a lot of what has made up our moral view.  It is productive to be aware of differences.  However, Professor Hutchinson was quick to point out that it is tricky to form opinions on differences for the reasons mentioned above. 


In closing, Professor Hutchinson mentioned that there was a fourth approach of what to make of these differences; “I’m right.  You’re wrong.”