Dilemma - Encyclopedia




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DILEMMA (Gr. & Xj jsa, a double proposition, from 81- and Xaµ(3avav), a term used technically in logic, and popularly in common parlance and rhetoric. (I) The latter use has no exact definition, but in general it describes a situation wherein from either of two (or more) possible alternatives an unsatisfactory conclusion results. The alternatives are called the "horns" of the dilemma. Thus a nation which has to choose between bankruptcy and the repudiation of its debts is on the horns of a dilemma. (2) In logic there is considerable divergence of opinion as to the best definition. Whately defined it as "a conditional syllogism with two or more antecedents in the major and a disjunctive minor." Aulus Gellius gives an example as follows: - "Women are either fair or ugly; if you marry a fair woman, she will attract other men; if an ugly woman she will not please you; therefore marriage is absurd." From either alternative, an unpleasant result follows. Four kinds of dilemma are admitted: - (a) Simple Constructive: If A, then C; if B, then C, but either B or A; therefore C. (b) Simple Destructive: If A is true, B is true; if A is true, C is true; B and C are not both true; therefore A is not true. (c) Complex Constructive: If A, then B; if C, then D; but either A or C; therefore either B or D. (d) Complex Destructive: If A is true, B is true; if C is true, D is true; but B and D are not both true; hence A and C are not both true. The soundness of the dilemmatic argument in general depends on the alternative possibilities. Unless the alternatives produced exhaust the possibilities of the case, the conclusion is invalid. The logical form of the argument makes it especially valuable in public speaking, before uncritical audiences. It is, in fact, important rather as a rhetorcial subtlety than as a serious argu ment.

Dilemmist is also a term used to translate Vaibhashikas, the name of a Buddhist school of philosophy.

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