The Art of Being Right

The Art of Being Right: 38 Ways to Win an Argument’ (1831) is an acidulous (biting) treatise written by the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer in sarcastic deadpan. He examines a total of thirty-eight methods of showing up one’s opponent in a debate. Schopenhauer introduces his essay with the idea that philosophers have concentrated in ample measure on the rules of logic, but have not (especially since the time of Immanuel Kant) engaged with the darker art of the dialectic, of controversy.

Whereas the purpose of logic is classically said to be a method of arriving at the truth, dialectic, says Schopenhauer, ‘…on the other hand, would treat of the intercourse between two rational beings who, because they are rational, ought to think in common, but who, as soon as they cease to agree like two clocks keeping exactly the same time, create a disputation, or intellectual contest.’

In ‘Parerga and Paralipomena’ (‘Appendices and Omissions’), Schopenhauer wrote: ‘The tricks, dodges, and chicanery, to which they resort in order to be right in the end, are so numerous and manifold and yet recur so regularly that some years ago I made them the subject of my own reflection and directed my attention to their purely formal element after I had perceived that, however varied the subjects of discussion and the persons taking part therein, the same identical tricks and dodges always come back and were very easy to recognize. This led me at the time to the idea of clearly separating the merely formal part of these tricks and dodges from the material and of displaying it, so to speak, as a neat anatomical specimen.’

He ‘collected all the dishonest tricks so frequently occurring in argument and clearly presented each of them in its characteristic setting, illustrated by examples and given a name of its own.’ As an additional service, Schopenhauer ‘added a means to be used against them, as a kind of guard against these thrusts….’ However, when he later revised his book, he found ‘that such a detailed and minute consideration of the crooked ways and tricks that are used by common human nature to cover up its shortcomings is no longer suited to my temperament and so I lay it aside.’

The documents found after Schopenhauer’s death include a forty–six page section on ‘Eristic Dialectics,’ which includes thirty–eight stratagems: The Extension; The Homonymy; Generalize Your Opponent’s Specific Statements; Conceal Your Game; False Propositions; Postulate What Has to Be Proved; Yield Admissions Through Questions; Make Your Opponent Angry; Questions in Detouring Order; Take Advantage of the Nay-Sayer; Generalize Admissions of Specific Cases; Choose Metaphors Favorable to Your Proposition; Agree to Reject the Counter-Proposition; Claim Victory Despite Defeat; Use Seemingly Absurd Propositions; Arguments Ad Hominem; Defense Through Subtle Distinction; Interrupt, Break, Divert the Dispute; Generalize the Matter, Then Argue Against it; Draw Conclusions Yourself; Meet Him With a Counter-Argument as Bad as His; Petitio principii; Make Him Exaggerate His Statement; State a False Syllogism; Find One Instance to the Contrary; Turn the Tables; Anger Indicates a Weak Point; Persuade the Audience, Not the Opponent; Diversion; Appeal to Authority Rather Than Reason; This Is Beyond Me; Put His Thesis into Some Odious Category; It Applies in Theory, but Not in Practice; Don’t Let Him Off the Hook; Will Is More Effective Than Insight; Bewilder Your opponent by Mere Bombast; A Faulty Proof Refutes His Whole Position; and Become Personal, Insulting, Rude (argumentum ad personam).

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One Comment to “The Art of Being Right”

  1. The actual translation of the title is: “The art of keeping being right” (or: Recht zu behalten)

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