Debating Techniques

38 Ways To Win An Argument

The Art of Being Right by Arthur Schopenhauer

  1. The extension.
  2. Use different meanings of your opponent’s words to refute his argument.
  3. Generalize your opponent’s specific statements.
  4. Hide your conclusion from your opponent until the end.
  5. Use your opponent’s beliefs against him.
  6. Postulate what has to be proven.
  7. Yield admission through questions.
  8. Make your opponent angry.
  9. Questions in detouring order.
  10. Take advantage of the nay-sayer.
  11. Generalize admissions of specific cases.
  12. Choose metaphors that support your position.
  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 the conclusion yourself.
  21. Meet him with a counter-argument as bad as his.
  22. Circular argumentation.
  23. Make him exaggerate his statement.
  24. State a false syllogism.
  25. Find one instance to the contrary.
  26. Use your opponents arguments against him.
  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 in some odious category.
  33. You admit your opponent’s premises but deny the conclusion.
  34. Don’t let him off the hook.
  35. Will is more effective than insight.
  36. Bewilder your opponent with mere bombast.
  37. A faulty proof refutes the whole position.
  38. Become personal, insulting, rude.

Full text on wikisource.


1 The extension.

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.

This trick is to extend a proposition to something which has little or nothing in common with the matter in question but the similarity of the word; then to refute it triumphantly, and so claim credit for having refuted the original statement.

It may be noted here that synonyms are two words for the same conception; homonyms, two conceptions which are covered by the same word. “Deep,” “cutting,” “high,” used at one moment of bodies at another of tones, are homonyms; “honourable” and “honest” are synonyms.

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 Generalise your opponent’s specific statements.

Another trick is to take a proposition which is laid down relatively, and in reference to some particular matter, as though it were uttered with a general or absolute application; or, at least, to take it in some quite different sense, and then refute it.


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 Postulate what has to be proven.

For example, confuse the issue by changing your opponent’s words or what he or she seeks to prove.

Or, another example, call something by a different name: “good repute” instead of “honor,” “virtue” instead of “virginity,” “red-blooded” instead of “vertebrates”.

Second, generalize an individual case to prove the general case.

Third, if one follows from the other, postulate that from which the other follows.

Fourth, reverse number 2, prove the general case by postulating its specific cases.

7 Yield admissions through 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. Those who are slow of understanding cannot follow accurately, and do not notice any mistakes or gaps there may be in the demonstration.

8 Make your opponent angry.

An angry person is less capable of using judgment or perceiving where his or her advantage lies.


9 Questions in detouring order.

Or you may put questions in an order different from that which the conclusion to be drawn from them requires, and transpose them, so as not to let him know at what you are aiming. He can then take no precautions. You may also use his answers for different or even opposite conclusions, according to their character. This is akin to the trick of masking your procedure, similar to number 4.
You can even use your opponent’s answers to your question to reach different or even opposite conclusions.


10 Take advantage of the nay-sayer.

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 Generalize admissions of specific cases.

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 Choose metaphors that support your proposition.

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 Agree to reject the counter-proposition.

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 do 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 Claim victory despite defeat.

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 Use seemingly absurd propositions.

If you have advanced a paradoxical proposition and find a difficulty in proving it, you may submit for your opponent’s acceptance or rejection some true proposition, the truth of which, however, is not quite palpable, as though you wished to draw your proof from it. Should he reject it because he suspects a trick, you can obtain your triumph by showing how absurd he is; should he accept it, you have got reason on your side for the moment, and must now look about you; or else you can employ the previous trick as well, and maintain that your paradox is proved by the proposition which he has accepted. For this an extreme degree of impudence is required; but experience shows cases of it, and there are people who practise it by instinct.


16 Arguments Ad Hominem

When your opponent puts forth a proposition, find it inconsistent with his or her other statements, beliefs, actions or lack of action.


17 Defense through subtle distinction.

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 Interrupt, break, divert the dispute.

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 Generalize the matter, then argue against it.

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 Draw the conclusion yourself.

When you have elicited all your premises, and your opponent has admitted them, you must refrain from asking him for the conclusion, but draw it at once for yourself; nay, even though one or other of the premises should be lacking, you may take it as though it too had been admitted, and draw the conclusion. This trick is an application of the fallacy non causae ut causae.


21 Meet him with a counter-argument as bad as his.

When your opponent uses an argument that is superficial and you see the falsehood, you can refute it by setting forth its superficial character.
But it is better to meet the opponent with a counter-argument that is just as superficial, and so dispose of him. For it is with victory that you are concerned, not with truth. Example: If the opponent appeals to prejudice, emotion or attacks you personally, return the attack in the same manner.


22 Circular argumentation.

If your opponent asks you to admit something from which the point in dispute will immediately follow, you must refuse to do so, declaring that it begs the question, ie. assuming the conclusion in the premises.


23 Make him exaggerate his statement.

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”.


24 State a false syllogism.

Your opponent makes a proposition, and by false inference and distortion of his ideas you force from the proposition other propositions that are not intended and that appear absurd. It then appears that opponent’s proposition gave rise to these inconsistencies, and so appears to be indirectly refuted.


25 Find one instance to the contrary.

If your opponent is making a generalization, find an instance to the contrary.
Only one valid contradiction is needed to overthrow the opponent’s proposition. Example: “All ruminants are horned,” is a generalization that may be upset by the single instance of the camel.


26 Use your opponent’s arguments against him.
A brilliant move is to turn the tables and use your opponent’s arguments against himself. Example: Your opponent declares: “so and so is a child, you must make an allowance for him.” You retort, “Just because he is a child, I must correct him; otherwise he will persist in his bad habits.”


27 Anger indicates a weak point.

Should your opponent surprise you by becoming particularly angry at an argument, you must urge it with all the more zeal.
No only will this make your opponent angry, but it will appear that you have put your finger on the weak side of his case, and your opponent is more open to attack on this point than you expected.


28 Persuade the audience, not the opponent.

When the audience consists of individuals (or a person) who is not an expert on a subject, you make an invalid objection to your opponent who seems to be defeated in the eyes of the audience. This strategy is particularly effective if your objection makes your opponent look ridiculous or if the audience laughs. If your opponent must make a long, winded and complicated explanation to correct you, the audience will not be disposed to listen to him.


29 Diversion.

If you find that you are being beaten, you can create a diversion–that is, you can suddenly begin to talk of something else, as though it had a bearing on the matter in dispute. This may be done without presumption if the diversion has some general bearing on the matter.


30 Appeal to authority rather than reason.

If your opponent respects an authority or an expert, quote that authority to further your case. If needed, quote what the authority said in some other sense or circumstance. Authorities that your opponent fails to understand are those which he generally admires the most. You may also, should it be necessary, not only twist your authorities, but actually falsify them, or quote something that you have entirely invented yourself.


31 This is beyond me.

If you know that you have no reply to the arguments that your opponent advances, you by a fine stroke of irony declare yourself to be an incompetent judge.
Example: “What you say passes my poor powers of comprehension; it may well be all very true, but I can’t understand it, and I refrain from any expression of opinion on it.” In this way you insinuate to the audience, with whom you are in good repute, that what your opponent says is nonsense. This technique may be used only when you are quite sure that the audience thinks much better of you than your opponent.


32 Put his thesis in some odious category.

A quick way of getting rid of an opponent’s assertion, or of throwing suspicion on it, is by putting it into some odious category.
Example: You can say, “That is fascism” or “Atheism” or “Superstition.” In making an objection of this kind you take for granted

1)That the assertion or question is identical with, or at least contained in, the category cited; and

2)The system referred to has been entirely refuted by the current audience.


33 You admit your opponent’s premises but deny the conclusion.

Example: “That’s all very well in theory, but it won’t work in practice.”


34 Don’t let him off the hook.

When you state a question or an argument, and your opponent gives you no direct answer, or evades it with a counter question, or tries to change the subject, it is sure sign you have touched a weak spot, sometimes without intending to do so. You have, as it were, reduced your opponent to silence. You must, therefore, urge the point all the more, and not let your opponent evade it, even when you do not know where the weakness that you have hit upon really lies.


35 Will is more effective than insight.

Instead of working on an opponent’s intellect or the rigor of his arguments, work on his motive. If you success in making your opponent’s opinion, should it prove true, seem distinctly prejudicial to his own interest, he will drop it immediately. Example: A clergyman is defending some philosophical dogma. You show him that his proposition contradicts a fundamental doctrine of his church. He will abandon the argument.


36 Bewilder your opponent by mere bombast.

You may also puzzle and bewilder your opponent by mere bombast. If your opponent is weak or does not wish to appear as if he has no idea what your are talking about, you can easily impose upon him some argument that sounds very deep or learned, or that sounds indisputable.


37 A faulty proof refutes his whole position.

Should your opponent be in the right but, luckily for you, choose a faulty proof, you can easily refute it and then claim that you have refuted the whole position. This is the way in which bad advocates lose good cases. If no accurate proof occurs to your opponent, you have won the day.


38 Become personal, insulting, rude.

Become personal, insulting and rude as soon as you perceive that your opponent has the upper hand. In becoming personal you leave the subject altogether, and turn your attack on the person by remarks of an offensive and spiteful character. This is a very popular technique, because it takes so little skill to put it into effect.

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