20 Ways To Win An Argument
Adapted from The Art of Controversy by Arthur Schopenhauer
1 Carry your opponent’s proposition beyond its natural limits; exaggerate it.
The more general your opponent’s statement becomes, the more objections you can find against it.
The more restricted and narrow your own propositions remain, the easier they are to defend.
2 Use different meanings of your opponent’s words to refute his argument.
Example: Person A says, “You do not understand the mysteries of Kant’s philosophy.”
Person B replies, “Oh, if it’s mysteries you’re talking about, I’ll have nothing to do with them.”
3 Ignore your opponent’s proposition, which was intended to refer to some particular thing.
Rather, understand it in some quite different sense, and then refute it.
Attack something different than what was asserted.
4 Hide your conclusion from your opponent until the end.
Mingle your premises here and there in your talk.
Get your opponent to agree to them in no definite order.
By this circuitous route you conceal your goal until you have reached all the admissions necessary to reach your goal.
5 Use your opponent’s beliefs against him.
If your opponent refuses to accept your premises, use his own premises to your advantage.
Example, if the opponent is a member of an organization or a religious sect to which you do not belong, you may employ the declared opinions of this group against the opponent.
6 Confuse the issue by changing your opponent’s words or what he or she seeks to prove.
Example: Call something by a different name: “good repute” instead of “honor,” “virtue” instead of “virginity,” “red-blooded” instead of “vertebrates”.
7 State your proposition and show the truth of it by asking the opponent many questions.
By asking many wide-reaching questions at once, you may hide what you want to get admitted.
Then you quickly propound the argument resulting from the proponent’s admissions.
8 Make your opponent angry.
An angry person is less capable of using judgment or perceiving where his or her advantage lies.
9 Use your opponent’s answers to your question to reach different or even opposite conclusions.
10 If your opponent answers all your questions negatively and refuses to grant you any points, ask him or her to concede the opposite of your premises.
This may confuse the opponent as to which point you actually seek him to concede.
11 If the opponent grants you the truth of some of your premises, refrain from asking him or her to agree to your conclusion.
Later, introduce your conclusions as a settled and admitted fact.
Your opponent and others in attendance may come to believe that your conclusion was admitted.
12 If the argument turns upon general ideas with no particular names, you must use language or a metaphor that is favorable to your proposition.
Example: What an impartial person would call “public worship” or a “system of religion” is described by an adherent as “piety” or “godliness” and by an opponent as “bigotry” or “superstition.”
In other words, insert what you intend to prove into the definition of the idea.
13 To make your opponent accept a proposition, you must give him an opposite, counter-proposition as well.
If the contrast is glaring, the opponent will accept your proposition to avoid being paradoxical.
Example: If you want him to admit that a boy must to everything that his father tells him to do, ask him, “whether in all things we must obey or disobey our parents.”
Or , if a thing is said to occur “often” you are to understand few or many times, the opponent will say “many.”
It is as though you were to put gray next to black and call it white; or gray next to white and call it black.
14 Try to bluff your opponent.
If he or she has answered several of your question without the answers turning out in favor of your conclusion, advance your conclusion triumphantly, even if it does not follow.
If your opponent is shy or stupid, and you yourself possess a great deal of impudence and a good voice, the technique may succeed.
15 If you wish to advance a proposition that is difficult to prove, put it aside for the moment.
Instead, submit for your opponent’s acceptance or rejection some true proposition, as though you wished to draw your proof from it.
Should the opponent reject it because he suspects a trick, you can obtain your triumph by showing how absurd the opponent is to reject an obviously true proposition.
Should the opponent accept it, you now have reason on your side for the moment.
You can either try to prove your original proposition, as in #14, maintain that your original proposition is proved by what your opponent accepted.
For this an extreme degree of impudence is required, but experience shows cases of it succeeding.
16 When your opponent puts forth a proposition, find it inconsistent with his or her other statements, beliefs, actions or lack of action.
Example: Should your opponent defend suicide, you may at once exclaim, “Why don’t you hang yourself?”
Should the opponent maintain that his city is an unpleasant place to live, you may say, “Why don’t you leave on the first plane?”
17 If your opponent presses you with a counter-proof, you will often be able to save yourself by advancing some subtle distinction.
Try to find a second meaning or an ambiguous sense for your opponent’s idea.
18 If your opponent has taken up a line of argument that will end in your defeat, you must not allow him to carry it to its conclusion.
Interrupt the dispute, break it off altogether, or lead the opponent to a different subject.
19 Should your opponent expressly challenge you to produce any objection to some definite point in his argument, and you have nothing to say, try to make the argument less specific.
Example: If you are asked why a particular hypothesis cannot be accepted, you may speak of the fallibility of human knowledge, and give various illustrations of it.
20 If your opponent has admitted to all or most of your premises, do not ask him or her directly to accept your conclusion.
Rather, draw the conclusion yourself as if it too had been admitted.