Sophistic & Logic
It would be a great mistake to suppose that it is sufficient not to become personal yourself. For by showing a man quite quietly that he is wrong, and that what he says and thinks is incorrect - a process which occurs in every dialectical victory - you embitter him more than if you used some rude or insulting expression. Why is this? Because, as Hobbes observes,17 all mental pleasure consists in being able to compare oneself with others to one's own advantage. Nothing is of greater moment to a man than the gratification of his vanity, and no wound is more painful than that which is inflicted on it. Hence such phrases as "Death before dishonour," and so on. The gratification of vanity arises mainly by comparison of oneself with others, in every respect, but chiefly in respect of one's intellectual powers; and so the most effective and the strongest gratification of it is to be found in controversy. Hence the embitterment of defeat, apart from any question of injustice; and hence recourse to that last weapon, that last trick, which you cannot evade by mere politeness. A cool demeanour may, however, help you here, if, as soon as your opponent becomes personal, you quietly reply, "That has no bearing on the point in dispute," and immediately bring the conversation back to it, and continue to show him that he is wrong, without taking any notice of his insults. Say, as Themistocles said to Eurybiades - Strike, but hear me. But such demeanour is not given to every one.
As a sharpening of wits, controversy is often, indeed, of mutual advantage, in order to correct one's thoughts and awaken new views. But in learning and in mental power both disputants must be tolerably equal: If one of them lacks learning, he will fail to understand the other, as he is not on the same level with his antagonist. If he lacks mental power, he will be embittered, and led into dishonest tricks, and end by being rude.
The only safe rule, therefore, is that which Aristotle mentions in the last chapter of his Topica: not to dispute with the first person you meet, but only with those of your acquaintance of whom you know that they possess sufficient intelligence and self-respect not to advance absurdities; to appeal to reason and not to authority, and to listen to reason and yield to it; and, finally, to cherish truth, to be willing to accept reason even from an opponent, and to be just enough to bear being proved to be in the wrong, should truth lie with him. From this it follows that scarcely one man in a hundred is worth your disputing with him. You may let the remainder say what they please, for every one is at liberty to be a fool - desipere est jus gentium. Remember what Voltaire says: La paix vaut encore mieux que la verite. Remember also an Arabian proverb which tells us that on the tree of silence there hangs its fruit, which is peace.
Sophistic & Logic
-This stratagem relies on exploiting the discredit caused by your opponent's faulty proof to counter his whole point.
Should your opponent be in the right, but, luckily for your contention, choose a faulty proof, you can easily manage to refute it, and then claim that you have thus refuted his whole position. This is a trick which ought to be one of the first; it is, at bottom, an expedient by which an argumentum ad hominem is put forward as an argumentum ad rem. If no accurate proof occurs to him or to the bystanders, you have won the day. For example, if a man advances the ontological argument by way of proving God's existence, you can get the best of him, for the ontological argument may easily be refuted. This is the way in which bad advocates lose a good case, by trying to justify it by an authority which does not fit it, when no fitting one occurs to them.
Sophistic & Logic
-This stratagem relies on taking advantage of your opponent by using nonsensical pompous speech that sounds like an argument from authority. (Hegel was a master of this technique.)
Gewohnlich glaubt der Mensch, wenn er nur Worte hort, Es musse sich dabei doch auch was denken lassen.
If he is secretly conscious of his own weakness, and accustomed to hear much that he does not understand, and to make as though he did, you can easily impose upon him by some serious fooling that sounds very deep or learned, and deprives him of hearing, sight, and thought; and by giving out that it is the most indisputable proof of what you assert. It is a well-known fact that in recent times some philosophers have practised this trick on the whole of the public with the most brilliant success. But since present examples are odious, we may refer to The Vicar of Wakefield for an old one.
Sophistic & Logic
There is another trick which, as soon as it is practicable, makes all others unnecessary. Instead of working on your opponent's intellect by argument, work on his will by motive; and he, and also the audience if they have similar interests, will at once be won over to your opinion, even though you got it out of a lunatic asylum; for, as a general rule, half an ounce of will is more effective than a hundred-weight of insight and intelligence. This, it is true, can be done only under peculiar circumstances. If you succeed in making your opponent feel that his opinion, should it prove true, will be distinctly prejudicial to his interest, he will let it drop like a hot potato, and feel that it was very imprudent to take it up.
A clergyman, for instance, is defending some philosophical dogma; you make him sensible of the fact that it is in immediate contradiction with one of the fundamental doctrines of his Church, and he abandons it.
A landed proprietor maintains that the use of machinery in agricultural operations, as practised in England, is an excellent institution, since an engine does the work of many men. You give him to understand that it will not be very long before carriages are also worked by steam, and that the value of his large stud will be greatly depreciated; and you will see what he will say.
In such cases every man feels how thoughtless it is to sanction a law unjust to himself - quam temere in nosmet legem sancimus iniquam! Nor is it otherwise if the bystanders, but not your opponent, belong to the same sect, guild, industry, club, etc., as yourself. Let his thesis be never so true, as soon as you hint that it is prejudicial to the common interests of the said society, all the bystanders will find that your opponent's arguments, however excellent they be, are weak and contemptible; and that yours, on the other hand, though they were random conjecture, are correct and to the point; you will have a chorus of loud approval on your side, and your opponent will be driven out of the field with ignominy. Nay, the bystanders will believe, as a rule, that they have agreed with you out of pure conviction. For what is not to our interest mostly seems absurd to us; our intellect being no siccum lumen. This trick might be called "taking the tree by its root"; its usual name is the argumentum ab utili.
Sophistic & Logic
- This stratagem relies on the fact that beliefs are stronger and more comfortable than reason.
Every man prefers belief to the exercise of judgment, says Seneca; and it is therefore an easy matter if you have an authority on your side which your opponent respects. The more limited his capacity and knowledge, the greater is the number of the authorities who weigh with him. But if his capacity and knowledge are of a high order, there are very few; indeed, hardly any at all. He may, perhaps, admit the authority of professional men versed in a science or an art or a handicraft of which he knows little or nothing; but oven so he will regard it with suspicion. Contrarily, ordinary folk have a deep respect for professional men of every kind. They are unaware that a man who makes a profession of a thing loves it not for the thing itself, but for the money he makes by it; or that it is rare for a man who teaches to know his subject thoroughly; for if he studies it as he ought, he has in most cases no time left in which to teach it.
But there are very many authorities who find respect with the mob, and if yon lave none that is quite suitable, you can take one that appears to be so; you may quote what some said in another sense or in other circumstances. Authorities which your opponent fails to understand are those of which he generally thinks the most. The unlearned entertain a peculiar respect for a Greek or a Latin flourish.
You may also, should it be necessary, not only twist your authorities, but actually falsify them, or quote something which you have invented entirely yourself. As a rule, your opponent has no books at hand, and could not use them if he had. The finest illustration of this is furnished by the French curé, who, to avoid being compelled, like other citizens, to pave the street in front of his house, quoted a saying which he described as biblical: paveant illi, ego non pavebo. That was quite enough for the municipal officers.
A universal prejudice may also be used as an authority; for most people think with Aristotle that that may be said to exist which many believe. There is no opinion, however absurd, which men will not readily embrace as soon as they can be brought to the conviction that it is generally adopted. Example affects their thought, just as it affects their action. They are like sheep following the bell-wether just as he leads them. They would sooner die than think. It is very curious that the universality of an opinion should have so much weight with people, as their own experience might tell them that its acceptance is an entirely thoughtless and merely imitative process. But it tells them nothing of the kind, because they possess no self-knowledge whatever. It is only the elect who say with Plato tois pollois polla dokei; which means that the public has a good many bees in its bonnet, and that it would be a long business to get at them.
But to speak seriously, the universality of an opinion is no proof, nay, it is not even a probability, that the opinion is right. Those who maintain that it is so must assume (1) that length of time deprives a universal opinion of its demonstrative force, as otherwise all the old errors which were once universally held to be true would have to be recalled; for instance, the Ptolemaic system would have to be restored, or Catholicism re-established in all Protestant countries. They must assume (2) that distance of space has the same effect; otherwise the respective universality of opinion among the adherents of Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam will put them in a difficulty.
When we come to look into the matter, so-called universal opinion is the opinion of two or three persons; and we should be persuaded of this if we could see the way in which it really arises.
We should find that it is two or three persons who, in the first instance, accepted it, or advanced and maintained it; and of whom people were so good as to believe that they had thoroughly tested it. Then a few other persons, persuaded beforehand that the first were men of the requisite capacity, also accepted the opinion. These, again, were trusted by many others, whose laziness suggested to them that it was better to believe at once, than to go through the troublesome task of testing the matter for themselves. Thus the number of these lazy and credulous adherents grew from day to day; for the opinion had no sooner obtained a fair measure of support than its further supporters attributed this to the fact that the opinion could only have obtained it by the cogency of its arguments. The remainder were then compelled to grant what was universally granted, so as not to pass for unruly persons who resisted opinions which every one accepted, or pert fellows who thought themselves cleverer than any one else.
When opinion reaches this stage, adhesion becomes a duty; and henceforward the few who are capable of forming a judgment hold their peace. Those who venture to speak are such as are entirely incapable of forming any opinions or any judgment of their own, being merely the echo of others' opinions; and, nevertheless, they defend them with all the greater zeal and intolerance. For what they hate in people who think differently is not so much the different opinions which they profess, as the presumption of wanting to form their own judgment; a presumption of which they themselves are never guilty, as they are very well aware. In short, there are very few who can think, but every man wants to have an opinion; and what remains but to take it ready-made from others, instead of forming opinions for himself?
Since this is what happens, where is the value of the opinion even of a hundred millions? It is no more established than an historical fact reported by a hundred chroniclers who can be proved to have plagiarised it from one another; the opinion in the end being traceable to a single individual.16 It is all what I say, what you say, and, finally, what he says; and the whole of it is nothing but a series of assertions: -
Dico ego, tu dicis, sed denique dixit et ille; Dictaque post toties, nil nisi dicta vides.
Nevertheless, in a dispute with ordinary people, we may employ universal opinion as an authority. For it will generally be found that when two of them are fighting, that is the weapon which both of them choose as a means of attack. If a man of the better sort has to deal with them, it is most advisable for him to condescend to the use of this weapon too, and to select such authorities as will make an impression on his opponent's weak side. For, ex hypothesi, he is as insensible to all rational argument as a horny-hided Siegfried, dipped in the flood of incapacity, and unable to think or judge.
Before a tribunal the dispute is one between authorities alone, - such authoritative statements, I mean, as are laid down by legal experts; and here the exercise of judgment consists in discovering what law or authority applies to the case in question. There is, however, plenty of room for Dialectic; for should the case in question and the law not really fit each other, they can, if necessary, be twisted until they appear to do so, or vice versâ.
Sophistic & Logic
-This stratagem relies on choosing arguments for your audience rather than for your opponent (populism).
This is chiefly practicable in a dispute between scholars in the presence of the unlearned. If you have no argument ad rem, and none either ad hominem, you can make one ad auditores; that is to say, you can start some invalid objection, which, however, only an expert sees to be invalid. Now your opponent is an expert, but those who form your audience are not, and accordingly in their eyes he is defeated; particularly if the objection which you make places him in any ridiculous light. People are ready to laugh, and you have the laughers on your side. To show that your objection is an idle one, would require a long explanation on the part of your opponent, and a reference to the principles of the branch of knowledge in question, or to the elements of the matter which you are discussing; and people are not disposed to listen to it. For example, your opponent states that in the original formation of a mountain-range the granite and other elements in its composition were, by reason of their high temperature, in a fluid or molten state; that the temperature must have amounted to some 480 degrees Fahrenheit; and that when the mass took shape it was covered by the sea. You reply, by an argument ad auditores, that at that temperature - nay, indeed, long before it had been reached, namely, at 212 degrees Fahrenheit - the sea would have been boiled away, and spread through the air in the form of steam. At this the audience laughs. To refute the objection, your opponent would have to show that the boiling-point depends not only on the degree of warmth, but also on the atmospheric pressure; and that as soon as about half the sea-water had gone off in the shape of steam, this pressure would be so greatly increased that the rest of it would fail to boil even at a temperature of 480 degrees. He is debarred from giving this explanation, as it would require a treatise to demonstrate the matter to those who had no acquaintance with physics.
Sophistic & Logic
- This stratagem relies on discrediting your opponent's argument as gibberish.
This is a trick which may be used only when you are quite sure that the audience thinks much better of you than of your opponent. A professor, for instance, may try it on a student.
Strictly, it is a case of the preceding trick: it is a particularly malicious assertion of one's own authority, instead of giving reasons. The counter-trick is to say: "I beg your pardon; but, with your penetrating intellect, it must be very easy for you to understand anything; and it can only be my poor statement of the matter that is at fault"; and then go on to rub it into him until he understands it nolens volens, and sees for himself that it was really his own fault alone. In this way you parry his attack. With the greatest politeness he wanted to insinuate that you were talking nonsense; and you, with equal courtesy, prove to him that he is a fool.
Sophistic & Logic
- This stratagem is similar to the stratagem 18. The goal is to change subjects, also know as mutatio controversiae.
If you find that you are being worsted, you can make a diversion - that is, you can suddenly begin to talk of something else, as though it had a bearing on the matter in dispute, and afforded an argument against your opponent. This may be done without presumption if the diversion has, in fact, some general bearing on the matter; but it is a piece of impudence if it has nothing to do with the case, and is only brought in by way of attacking your opponent.
For example, I praised the system prevailing in China, where there is no such thing as hereditary nobility, and offices are bestowed only on those who succeed in competitive examinations. My opponent maintained that learning, as little as the privilege of birth (of which he had a high opinion), fits a man for office. We argued, and he got the worst of it. Then he made a diversion, and declared that in China all ranks were punished with the bastinado, which he connected with the immoderate indulgence in tea, and proceeded to make both of them a subject of reproach to the Chinese. To follow him into all this would have been to allow oneself to be drawn into a surrender of the victory which had already been won. The diversion is mere impudence if it completely abandons the point in dispute, and raises, for instance, some such objection as "Yes, and you also said just now," and so on. For then the argument becomes to some extent personal; of the kind which will be treated of in the last section. Strictly speaking, it is half-way between the argumentum ad personam, which will there be discussed, and the argumentum ad hominem.
How very innate this trick is, may be seen in every quarrel between common people. If one of the parties makes some personal reproach against the other, the latter, instead of answering it by refuting it, allows it to stand, - as it were, admits it; and replies by reproaching his antagonist on some other ground. This is a stratagem like that pursued by Scipio when he attacked the Carthaginians, not in Italy, but in Africa. In war, diversions of this kind may be profitable; but in a quarrel they are poor expedients, because the reproaches remain, and those who look on hear the worst that can be said of both parties. It is a trick that should be used only faute de mieux.
Sophistic & Logic
This trick consists in stating a false syllogism. Your opponent makes a proposition, and by false inference and distortion of his ideas you force from it other propositions which it does not contain and he does not in the least mean; nay, which are absurd or dangerous. It then looks as if his proposition gave rise to others which are inconsistent either with themselves or with some acknowledged truth, and so it appears to be in directly refuted. This is the diversion, and it is another application of the fallacy non causae ut causae.
Sophistic & Logic
Contradiction and contention irritate a man into exaggerating his statement. By contradicting your opponent you may drive him into extending beyond its proper limits a statement which, at all events within those limits and in itself, is true; and when you refute this exaggerated form of it, you look as though you had also refuted his original statement. Contrarily, you must take care not to allow yourself to be misled by contradiction into exaggerating or extending a statement of your own. It will often happen that your opponent will himself directly try to extend your statement further than you meant it; here you must at once stop him, and bring him back to the limits which you set up: "That's what I said, and no more".
The Art of Controversy - Schopenhauer
- 01 - Extension
- 02 - Homonymy
- 03 - Generalize your Opponent's Specific Statements
- 04 - Conceal your game
- 05 - False propositions
- 06 - Postulate What Has To Be Proved
- 07 - Yield Admissions through questions
- 08 - Make Your Opponent Angry
- 09 - Questions in Detouring Order
- 10 - Take Advantage of The Nay-Sayer
- 11 - Generalize Admissions of Specific Cases
- 12 - Choose Metaphors Favourable to Your Proposition
- 13 - Agree to Reject the Counter-Proposition
- 14 - Claim Victory Despite Defeat
- 15 - Use Seemingly Absurd Propositions
- 16 - Arguments Ad Hominem
- 17 - Defense Through Subtle Distinction
- 18 - Interrupt, Break, Divert the Dispute
- 19 - Generalize the Matter, Then Argue Against it
- 20 - Draw Conclusions Yourself
- 21 - Meet him With a Counter-Argument as Bad as His
- 22 - Petitio Principii
- 23 - Make Him Exaggerate his Statement
- 24 - State a False Syllogism
- 25 - Find One Instance to The Contrary
- 26 - Turn The Tables
- 27 - Anger Indicates a Weak Point
- 28 - Persuade the Audience, Not The Opponent
- 29 - Diversion
- 30 - Appeal to Authority Rather Than Reason
- 31 - This is Beyond Me
- 32 - Put His Thesis Into Some Odious Category
- 33 - It Applies in Theory, But Not in Practice
- 34 - Don't Let Him Off The Hook
- 35 - Will is More Effective Than Insight
- 36 - Bewilder Your opponent by Mere Bombast
- 37 - A Faulty Proof Refutes His Whole Position
- 38 - The Ultimate Stratagem
- Intro I - Logic And Dialectic
- Intro II - Controversial Dialectic
- Intro III - The Basis Of All Dialectic