The Art of Controversy

Nov 2016
Victoria, BC
Some recent postings have reminded me of the proper grounds for conducting an argument. One of the best (and most amusing) introductions into the subject is by Arthur Schopenhauer:

The Art of Controversy

A brilliant move is the retorsio argumenti, or turning of the tables, by which your opponent's argument is turned against himself. He declares, for instance, "So-and-so is a child, you must make allowance for him". You retort, "Just because he is a child, I must correct him; otherwise he will persist in his bad habits".


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.

[*] To the many, many things seem.
By following Schopenhauer's guidance, you should be able always to discover truth---or at least, wipe the floor with your opponent in an argument!


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