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Top. XV. This Topic is derived from the habit men have, which may be assumed to be almost universal, of concealing their real opinions and wishes in respect of things good and bad, which are always directed to their own interests, under the outward show and profession of noble and generous sentiments and of a high and pure morality. Thus, to take two examples from de Soph. El. c. 12, they openly profess that a noble death is preferable to a life of pleasure; that poverty and rectitude, is better than ill-got gains, than wealth accompanied with disgrace: but secretly they think and wish the contrary. These contrary views and inclinations can always be played off one against the other in argument, and the opponent made to seem to be asserting a paradox: you infer the one or the other as the occasion requires. This is in fact the most effective (κυριώτατος) of all topics for bringing about this result. The mode of dealing with the topic is thus described in de Soph. El. l. c. 173 a 2, “If the thesis is in accordance with their real desires, the respondent should be confronted with their public professions; if it is in accordance with them [the latter], he should be confronted with their real desires. In either case he must fall into paradox, and contradict either their publicly expressed, or secret opinions.” Poste, Transl. p. 43. This is for dialectics: but it may be applied equally well to rhetorical practice, in which there is nearly always a real or (as in the epideictic branch) imaginary opponent. The author proceeds, Ib. 173 a 7, further to illustrate this by the familiar opposition of φύσις and νόμος, nature and convention or custom, which is to be handled in the same way as the preceding, and is πλεῖστος τόπος τοῦ τὰ παράδοξα λέγειν: referring to Callicles' well-known exposition of the true doctrine of justice conventional and natural, in Plato's Gorgias, c. 38, foll.

This topic does not occur in Cicero's tract, which is confined to dialectics; nor is it found amongst the rhetorical topics of Quintilian's tenth chapter of Book V, which has supplied us with so many illustrations of Aristotle.

‘Another; whereas in public and in secret men praise not the same things, but openly most highly extol what is just and right, yet secretly (privately, in their hearts,) prefer their own interest and advantage, from these (i. e. from premisses derived from the one or the other of these two modes of thought and expression, whichever it be that the opponent has given utterance to,) we must endeavour to infer the other: for of all paradoxical topics (topics that lead to paradox, which enable us to represent the opponent as guilty of it,) this is the most effective (most powerful, mightiest, most authoritative)’. If the opponent has been indulging in some high-flown moral commonplaces about virtue and honour, by an appeal to the real but secret feelings of the audience on such matters, we must shew that such sentiments are paradoxical, or contrary to common opinion; or conversely, if we have occasion to assume the high moral tone, make our appeal to those opinions which they openly profess, and shew that it is a paradox to assume with the opponent that men are incapable of any other motives than such as are suggested by sordid self-interest.

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