The concept of dissociation was introduced by Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca. According to the Treatise, the techniques of argumentation are of two kinds “association and dissociation” (, p. 190). The former of these concerns two or more propositions, making up an argumentation, while the latter operates on a single concept. The dissociation technique is thus placed on a par with association techniques as a whole, that is, the large set of argument schemes.
Dissociation is defined as the splitting of the meaning of a word or a concept, to avoid a contradiction. The meaning of the problematic term T is re-framed as containing an internal contradiction, “an incompatibility”, “an antinomy”, and dissociation is the mechanism by which it can be solved (, 550-609). T is split into a term T1 and a term T2, this operation coming with a negative evaluation of T1 and a positive evaluation of T2. Dissociation appears as a kind of “semantic cleansing”, through which an unwanted content or connotation, T1, can be disposed of. The word reality can thus be divided, “dissociated”, into the pair T1 = appearance vs. T2= reality, the latter being “the true reality”.
While the primitive status of what is given as the starting point of dissociation is undecided and indeterminate, the dissociation in terms I and II will value the aspects corresponding to term II and will devalue the aspects that oppose it. Term I, the appearance, in the narrow sense of this word, is only illusion and error. (Perelman 1977, p. 141)
Dissociation can operate in a monologue or a dialogue:
X: — Well old chap, that’s democracy!
Y: — There is democracy and democracy.
According to Perelman, the dissociation technique is, “hardly mentioned by traditional rhetoric, for it is especially important for the analysis of systematic philosophical thought as systematic” (1977, p. 139). An example is taken from Kant, for whom natural sciences postulate a universal determinism while morality postulates the liberty of the individual; hence the necessity of dissociating the Term reality, a confused notion, into a phenomenal reality, in which determinism reigns, and a noumenal reality where the individual can freely choose and act upon his or her decision. In that case, dissociation is equivalent to a conceptual distinguo, but without a preferred term.
It seems to follow from the examples given above that the same notion can be dissociated according to the arguer’s objectives, dissociation being the key operation to derive a concept from the ordinary meaning of a word.
1. Linguistic aspects of dissociation
Reasoning through dissociation is characterized first of all by the opposition between appearance and reality. This can be applied to any notion, as soon as one makes use of the adjectives such as apparent, illusory on the one hand, real, true on the other. To use an expression such as apparent peace or genuine democracy is to indicate the absence of genuine peace, or the presence of an apparent democracy: one of these adjectives refers to the other. (Id., p. 147)
The linguistic markers of dissociations are very diverse:
A prefix such as pseudo- (pseudo-atheist), quasi– not– the adjective alleged, the use of quotes indicate that we are dealing with the term I, while the capital letter (Being), the definite article (the solution), the adjective unique or true denote a term II. (Id., p. 148)
Other dissociations are stabilized as pairs of antithetical terms or “philosophical pairs” such as “opinion / science; sense knowledge / rational knowledge; body / soul; just / legal, etc.” (Perelman , 563). Some of these dissociated pairs are traditional and constitute the oppositions generating foundational ideological discourses. As for all antonymic pairs, one term is linguistically preferred to the other, and this preference can be reversed. The T1 vs. T2 opposition “superficial vs. deep” can be reversed through a praise of the superficial — “the skin is the deepest thing there is” (Paul Valéry). The dissociated pair, “rhetoric vs. argumentation” is engaged in a permanently revolving evaluation.
2. Dissociation as a shielding operation
Dissociation has a concessive facet. For example, one might assume that some intellectuals would make good businessmen, while conceding that they are only a tiny minority. Dissociation does the same, but via an outright exclusion of this sub-category from the general category, “intellectuals”:
(1) S1 — When it comes to business, intellectuals are hopeless
S2 — Or they are not true intellectuals.
(2) S1_1 — Germans drink beer.
S2 — Not Hans!
S1_2 — Normal, Hans is not a true German.
In (2) S2 refutes S11 by the production of a contrary case. S12 recognizes that Hans is German and does not drink beer, and maintains his original claim by splitting the category “German” into “true Germans vs. not true Germans”. This amendment to the argument may or may not be substantiated; S1 might have replied:
S1_3 — But Hans is not a real German, he was brought up in the United States
— Assuming that Americans drink less beer than Germans do. S1_3 introduces a justificatory line showing that Hans departs from the stereotype of the true German; the category created by S1_3 is based upon an explicit criterion, independent of the current discussion. In the original dialogue, the only criterion contextually available is “beer-drinking”. The word Germans in S1 refers to all German people; if Germans are re-defined as true Germans on the basis of the criterion, “Germans who drink beer”, the statement S11 is indeed compelling, since “Germans who drink beer” do drink beer.
The category rectification serves to exclude individuals from the category under re-analysis. In politics, this strategy opposes the, “true Syldavian” as good citizens to exclude other citizens as, “bad citizens”. In practice, dissociation transforms a formerly necessary and sufficient condition (to be a Syldavian one must be a Syldavian citizen) into a necessary one, “to be a true Syldavian, one must have Syldavian nationality and share our ideology”.
The following case opposes “La Réunion”, that is “the people living in La Réunion”, to “the true Réunion”, an ad hoc subcategory of this group.
Roland Sicard (RS) is the host of the TV program. Marine Le Pen is the candidate for the National Front (“Front National”, a far right party) in the 2012 French presidential election. Gilbert Collard (GC) is a lawyer, chairman of her Supporting Committee.
RS — good morning Gibert Collard […] er- a word about Marine Le Pen’s trip to La Réunion\ she has been heckled, one feels that the candidates of the National Front is still in a lot of trouble overseas/
GC — listen I know La Réunion very well since I went there as a lawyer very often and then in particularly sensitive cases and— there are: er two Réunions eh there is a Réunion which is instrumentalized which organizes the usual reception committee for Marine Le Pen they are quite unsignificant eh\ well and then there is the true Réunion made of men with divergent views of— women with opi— but that is no more difficult in the overseas departements than in metropolitan France anyway\ no I do not think what makes it difficult is the instrumentalization of the media hmm […]
TV program [Home Truths] France 2, 08 Feb., 2012.