Notes on a Name: Dissoi Topoi

Dear Readers,

A note on the title of this blog:

Dissoi logoi is an ancient Greek concept traditionally translated as “different words.” It is generally understood as the practice of arguing both sides of an issue in order to better understand your opponent’s point of view in an argument. Other people, however, have argued that dissoi logoi can be better understood as taking a contrary position. That is, a practitioner of dissoi logoi does not take a stand on an issue and then attempt to understand their opponent’s position. Rather, dissoi logoi is the practice of learning to see multiple perspectives on any issue as a way of sparking deeper thought about a given issue. In the first sense, dissoi logoi is an argumentative tool; in the second, it includes an inventive aspect that can be somewhat lacking in the first sense.

Topoi, on the other hand, are inventive categories. Ancient orators relied on topoi, literally “places to find things,” (though some people disagree with this translation) to help them discover the available arguments to make about any given issue. Aristotle treated the topoi at length, dividing them into categories for students to memorize and access when they needed to consider the available means of a given argument.

So, dissoi topoi is a phrase I coined (I think) to play on these two ancient concepts. Truth be told, it probably doesn’t even make sense in the Greek, but it makes somewhat more sense for my goals here. This is a blog of opposition meant to generate (my own) deeper thinking, to help (me) invent new ways to think about old issues, and to build a place (for me) to go for arguments. Hopefully it will help readers with some of the same things.

(Oh, and let’s be realistic–I thought it made me sound smart. I mean, c’mon.)

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