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m. 29th Jan 2006 16:10

Arthur Schopenhauer: Die eristische Dialektik
The title of the Polish edition could be translated as Eristics, or the Art of Discussion. Very short, more an essay or treatise – 125 pages including two forewords and some notes, pocket format, big print. It consists of two parts, theoretical and practical. In the first part Schopenhauer concentrates on the meaning of words “dialectics”, “eristics” and “logic” and the relation between them. Generally, and maybe somewhat symplistically: logic refers to reason (Logos) – pure intellect working on its own, dialectics to the situation when two or more independent minds get into the dialogue. Schopenhauer points out that if those “independent minds” don’t agree with each other, the dialogue becomes a discussion, i.e. intellectual fight. And we are not then in the field of pure reason – if it were so, we had to agree. Discussions aren’t purely rational thing, there is always an empirical addition to them, which results in the difference of opinion. In other words (at the risk of oversimplyfing) – logic is something we have for ourselves, for the external situations we have eristics. While logic serves to discover the truth, eristics helps to win intellectual fights – and, usually, to win at all costs, per fas et nefas. This conclusion ties in with Schopenhauer’s generally pessimistic view of human nature.

No surprise then that the “practical part” is in fact a catalogue of mean tricks used by opponents in discussions. The tone in this part vary, but is quite often ironical or even bitter, when the author “recommends” some rather vile way to get the upper hand in the argument. It’s clear though that the book isn’t really endorsing intellectual dishonesty and manipulation, that it’s meant rather as a kind of self-defence manual.

Schopenhauer lists 38 tricks. Some are obvious, some overlap, some went over my head I’m afraid. Here they go:
1. Generalization – interpret your opponent’s view very broadly, exaggerate it – it makes it more vulnerable to attacks.
2. Homonymy – extend your opponent’s pronouncement onto the things which share the same name, but are in fact a different thing altogether.
3. Take in the general sense a pronouncement made in a relative sense; or at least take it from a different angle.
4. Make your opponent gradually and without their noticing accept your premises.
5. Use false premises (for the cause you think is “right”) if your opponent won’t accept the right premises.
6. Hidden “petitio principii” – propose something that should be yet proven.
7. Socratic method – ask many broad questions and in your own argument use the points where your opponent’s agreement or concession is convenient to you.
8. Make your opponent angry.
9. Ask questions in unexpected order.
10. If your opponent answers in negative to the questions which would be useful for proving your thesis, ask questions about the reverse of your thesis.
11. If you use induction, i.e. show many specific examples to prove a general theory, and your opponent agrees about the examples, treat it as if he agreed on the theory.
12. If you discuss the subject that can be described in various terms, choose the vocabulary that suits you, especially the words that are not neutral but carry emotional meaning close to your point of view.
13. Present your thesis in moderate, reasonable form and exaggerate the antithesis – then make your opponent choose.
14. Brazenly behave as if your opponent’s answers to your questions proved your point, while they didn’t.
15. If you have problems with defending some paradoxical statement, follow it with some statement that it would be hard to oppose.
16. Argumenta ad hominem or ex concessis – examine if what your opponent says agrees with his earlier statements, rules of his school, sect etc. or his behaviour. For example, if your opponent defends suicide, shout: ”Why then you don’t go and hang yourself?”
17. Make subtle distinctions in your earlier statements.
18. Change the subject when you’re losing.
19. At your opponent’s demand for some concrete arguments against his thesis, be general and talk about fallibility of human knowledge (on examples).
20. If you agreed with your opponent on the premises, draw the conclusion yourself even if the premises aren’t sufficient (fallacia not causae ut causae).
21. If your opponent presents a sophistic and fallacious argument, don’t waste your time with proving it is so; counter him with a similar argument. “It’s not about the truth, it is about the victory.”
22. If your opponent wants you to agree on something from which directly results the problem, decline, claiming it petitio principii.
23. Make your opponent exaggerate.
24. Fabricate consequences (fallacia not causae ut causae).
25. Examine if your opponent’s examples really disprove your thesis. [Well, this one isn’t an unfair trick, I think.]
26. Retorsio argumenti – use your opponent’s argument against them. For example, if your opponent says “It’s just a child, one has to take allowances” you can use retorsio: “But exactly because he’s a child, one has to punish him, so that his bad habits don’t get to hard to eradicate”.
27. Concentrate on the points that make your opponent angry.
28. Argumentum ad auditores – make an unfair charge, but the unfairness should be visible only to the expert in the field – and the general audience isn’t. If you make the audience laugh, all the better.
29. Diversion – if you’re losing, start talking about something else (see # 18...)
30. Argumentum ad verecundiam – instead of arguments you name authorities that support your position, preferably those which your opponent really respects. You can quote out of context or even fabricate quotes.
31. If you can’t find the reply to the opponent’s thesis, you can, with the subtle irony, announce your incompetence. Thus you insinuate to the audience who respect you that your opponent’s views are sheer nonsense expressed in an unintelligible way. This trick can be used only if you know that the audience respects you more than your opponent.
32. Labelling – if some of your opponent’s arguments are causing you problems, try to attribute them to some unpopular school of thought, sect etc., even if the likeness is only superficial.
33. Say: “Maybe it works in theory; in practice it’s false.”
34. Attack your opponents on those points where he’s most vague and indirect. Most likely you’ve discovered their weak spots.
35. Übertrick according to Schopenhauer – instead of appealing with arguments to your opponent’s intellect, weaken his will. Try to convince your opponent that winning the discussion is against their interest.
36. Flood your opponent with a stream of nonsensical words.
37. If the opponent’s cause is right, but he chose the wrong arguments, beat the arguments and pretend you proved the whole cause wrong.
38. As Schopenhauer says, the last means – if you’re totally losing, attack the opponent personally with the insults. Argumentum ad personam.

chillicheese 29th Jan 2006 16:51

Re: Artur Schopenhauer: Die eristische Dialektik
very good, I especially disliked these two commonly used approaches

14. Brazenly behave as if your opponent’s answers to your questions proved your point, while they didn’t.

18. Change the subject when you’re losing.

NottyImp 29th Jan 2006 20:10

Re: Artur Schopenhauer: Die eristische Dialektik
Aren't 8. and 27. pretty much the same?


Digger 30th Jan 2006 9:48

Re: Artur Schopenhauer: Die eristische Dialektik

36. Flood your opponent with a stream of nonsensical words.
Someone did this to me once recently and then looked somewhat taken aback when I paused, looked at them with a raised brow and said something along the lines of half of what you've just said weren't real words let alone an argument! and then walked away.

I felt on the field of debating victory - for about five minutes.

NottyImp 30th Jan 2006 13:50

Re: Artur Schopenhauer: Die eristische Dialektik

I felt on the field of debating victory - for about five minutes.
That would be number 21. ;-)

Digger 30th Jan 2006 14:52

Re: Artur Schopenhauer: Die eristische Dialektik

kjml 6th Oct 2011 4:39

Re: Artur Schopenhauer: Die eristische Dialektik
As a former instructor (associate professor) of logic, especially Informal Logic, I appreciate this thread and the references to Schopenhauer. What the old curmudgeon had done is a variation on the exquisite development of the idea and power of reason and argument, which had first been put forth and made famous by Aristotle.
Among all the many things he codified, fallacies ! A fallacy, according to the master, Aristotle, is an argument (a rhetorical form or device) which is convincing, though it should not be! He examined and explained, that a fallacy is an argument that mimics the form - and thereby borrows the persuasive power - of a true logical argument.
He documented for posterity the most frequent forms of this this intellectual plagiarism and handed them down to us in a catalogue --as a Greek teacher would--which is still used today, in Universities where such thngs are taken seriously.
I know I may be held "biased" in this regard, but I have to say, we would all be the better for it if, as Aristotle - not Schopenhauer - wanted, every citizen was made aware of the tricks being played every day on his psyche by spin-meisters, politicians, and the rhetoriticians who are simply better at this stuff than he is!

The glory of the enterprise is this: We don't have to be swayed and bullied by rhetoric; we can be almost immune - except from ourselves! -by just a little effort. Is it any wonder, really, that we just don't teach such intellectual competence today? (I.e. who wins, when we no longer see through the B.s.? They do, of course.)

fanshawe 6th Oct 2011 12:56

Re: Artur Schopenhauer: Die eristische Dialektik

Originally Posted by kjml (Post 127240)
The glory of the enterprise is this: We don't have to be swayed and bullied by rhetoric; we can be almost immune - except from ourselves! -by just a little effort. Is it any wonder, really, that we just don't teach such intellectual competence today? (I.e. who wins, when we no longer see through the B.s.? They do, of course.)

Interesting point. What age would you recommend this kind of training, Kjml? I currently teach 16-18 year olds and we cover the use of rhetorical devices and Aristotle's three appeals in various text types (they really are everywhere, as you note). However, another colleague of mine swears the students shouldn't be taught this until university. And I have no idea why.

kjml 6th Oct 2011 20:26

Re: Artur Schopenhauer: Die eristische Dialektik
Hi Fanshawe,
This is a very tough issue really. But I will take your stand and say, the earlier the better!
I taught my courses to kids at University level and had a hard go of it sometimes, though I do know for sure, that the same course of study could have - and should - have been given earlier. I think the high school level, at 16 or so, is better than fine. So long as we keep in mind just what we are asking them to learn!
Informal Logic, the study of fallacies, is itself not a theoretical field. It is a survey of developments of practical insight from Aristotle to the Scholastics, to Schopenhauer up to Irving Copi. Teaching these acquired insights by rote and by copious (pun intended) example can and should begin in High-school, or Gymnasium, or whatever name we use. 16 years, or so, is the age at which they first begin to grasp the significance of a broader world, a future and a need for integrity of thought and action; all of which imposes demands, restrictions, traps and possibilities. Giving them a tool which can help them navigate these demands, etc., should be as welcome as the keys to the family car. And if it is taught properly, by people who know and respect what they are teaching, it can be!
The important thing is that these insights and formal evaluations of argument be taught as a practical education - even as a refinement - of an innate ability; the way we should teach Art of Music, or Science, itself!

I taught for five years, and had plenty of time to speculate and theorize about both Logic and the children's receptivity - or resistance - to learning it. Either is a theoretical study and never came into the classroom, as such --though I did often enough mention where I found the limits of theory and practice. (It was, after all, a college course. And limitations are an honest part of what we know.)

Logic itself, at the highest level, underlies every other science. As such, it develops and changes by some pretty arcane rules. But this is not a reason to put off its rudimentary introduction in a curriculum. (Ask your colleague, should we only begin to teach Mathematics in college?)

Perhaps this is where your colleague demurs. If he, or she, is looking at Logic as a theoretical inquiry, then it is no wonder that s/he feels it is best left to University. (Young kids' minds aren't yet as ready for theoretical abstraction or psychological study as they will later be. Blah, blah, blah!) Well, the same applies to Music, doesn't it ?--and yet we teach it to children with success just the same. To some people - as a matter of dogma, pure and simple - everything is a theoretical matter. (Read: everything is suspect!) So much the worse for their students!

What I am advocating is the practical early approach to Informal Logic: This is good stuff for a 16 year old!, not the theories behind it. And, with luck, some of them will truly embrace it, and even enjoy the experience, just as a child can enjoy learning to play a tune on the piano. The same result. (You can't beat or teach the motivational force of empowerment!) Some will cherish music and hone their skills, while others will shirk the effort and feel oppressed by the requirement. The parental and societal attitude here, as in all education, is crucial.

What is interesting to me, is how we as a culture assess (value or de-value) these abilities. I am convinced that we live in an age of disrespect - even suspicion - of reason itself. Just on the face of it, consider how the use of 'Valid' and 'Invalid' - the assessments of an argument's logical form - conflicts with the modern cultural mantra "Every point of view must be validated!"The terms 'valid-invalid' were a part of eduction long before this ridiculous notion came to town. Why did advocates of such nonsense choose "validation" as the bone of contention? (There is always a reason: it may not be a good reason, but it is still there, and it is still a reason. I.e. it has a logic to it, though the premisses may be too ugly to bear scrutiny!) The political nature of this contemporary suspicion of reason cannot be overlooked.
How will the children respect what their parents deplore?

Many if not most adults, especially the so-called 'intellectual' ones, disdain such studies because they think they see a ruse. To them, again a matter of Dogma, logical argument is the soft-ware of an oppressive regime, for which guns and prisons are the hardware. They view all argument, like all valuation, as an attempt to control. Seeing themselves as a force against oppression, they claim to reject the mechanism of oppression, while in fact they only seek to control it.

Teach on, MacDuff. I applaud your efforts and your method. It wasn't Aristotle or Reason that brought Western Civilization to its unholy crises and resultant self-doubt, but maybe the failure to learn the lessons of both. The children should not be made to pay for the sins of their fathers. Logical reasoning and discernment didn't get us into the current mess and malaise --but it might just help to get us out!

fanshawe 6th Oct 2011 21:10

Re: Artur Schopenhauer: Die eristische Dialektik
Your enthusiasm is infectious, kjml. I agree with your point about the valid-invalid distinction going out of the window. There seem to be many teachers knocking about who perpetuate the view that you cannot be wrong about a poem and that any old nonsense can be dignified as a personal interpretation.

I think I'll order the Schopenhauer and teach that list, too.

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