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The Art of Being Right


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I was going to talk about this previously and decided against it, but I think it might be of some benefit to people. I've always personally found psychological bullying far worse in its effects and general torment than physical bullying. The following link is to Schopenhauer's "The Art of Being Right: 38 Ways to Win an Argument". I think this text must be required reading for forum trolls and anyone else who makes a living on controversy and confrontation. The reason I post it is because I think it may help some people realize the best option is to simply walk away from an argument because of the utter pointlessness of it in nearly every case, as well as being on guard for psychological/intellectual bullies whose only purpose in life is to "stir the pot". 


Here are a few pertinent quotes:


...Controversial Dialectic is the art of disputing, and of disputing in such a way as to hold one's own, whether one is in the right or the wrong - per fas et nefas.[1] A man may be objectively in the right, and nevertheless in the eyes of bystanders, and sometimes in his own, he may come off worst. For example, I may advance a proof of some assertion, and my adversary may refute the proof, and thus appear to have refuted the assertion, for which there may, nevertheless, be other proofs. In this case, of course, my adversary and I change places: he comes off best, although, as a matter of fact, he is in the wrong.

If the reader asks how this is, I reply that it is simply the natural baseness of human nature. If human nature were not base, but thoroughly honourable, we should in every debate have no other aim than the discovery of truth; we should not in the least care whether the truth proved to be in favour of the opinion which we had begun by expressing, or of the opinion of our adversary. That we should regard as a matter of no moment, or, at any rate, of very secondary consequence; but, as things are, it is the main concern. Our innate vanity, which is particularly sensitive in reference to our intellectual powers, will not suffer us to allow that our first position was wrong and our adversary's right. The way out of this difficulty would be simply to take the trouble always to form a correct judgment. For this a man would have to think before he spoke. But, with most men, innate vanity is accompanied by loquacity and innate dishonesty. They speak before they think; and even though they may afterwards perceive that they are wrong, and that what they assert is false, they want it to seem the contrary. The interest in truth, which may be presumed to have been their only motive when they stated the proposition alleged to be true, now gives way to the interests of vanity: and so, for the sake of vanity, what is true must seem false, and what is false must seem true...

... Thus it is that the weakness of our intellect and the perversity of our will lend each other mutual support; and that, generally, a disputant fights not for truth, but for his proposition, as though it were a battle pro aris et focis. He sets to work per fas et nefas; nay, as we have seen, he cannot easily do otherwise. As a rule, then, every man will insist on maintaining whatever he has said, even though for the moment he may consider it false or doubtful...

....Accordingly, in a dialectical contest we must put objective truth aside, or, rather, we must regard it as an accidental circumstance, and look only to the defence of our own position and the refutation of our opponent's.

In following out the rules to this end, no respect should be paid to objective truth, because we usually do not know where the truth lies. As I have said, a man often does not himself know whether he is in the right or not; he often believes it, and is mistaken: both sides often believe it. Truth is in the depths. At the beginning of a contest each man believes, as a rule, that right is on his side; in the course of it, both become doubtful, and the truth is not determined or confirmed until the close.

Dialectic, then, need have nothing to do with truth, as little as the fencing master considers who is in the right when a dispute leads to a duel. Thrust and parry is the whole business. Dialectic is the art of intellectual fencing: and it is only when we so regard it that we can erect it into a branch of knowledge. For if we take purely objective truth as our aim, we are reduced to mere Logic; if we take the maintenance of false propositions, it is mere Sophistic: and in either case it would have to be assumed that we were aware of what was true and what was false: and it is seldom that we have any clear idea of the truth beforehand. The true conception of Dialectic is, then, that which we have formed: it is the art of intellectual fencing used for the purpose of getting the best of it in a dispute: and, although the name Eristic would be more suitable, it is more correct to call it controversial Dialectic, Dialectica eristica.

Dialectic in this sense of the word has no other aim but to reduce to a regular system and collect and exhibit the arts which most men employ when they observe, in a dispute, that truth is not on their side, and still attempt to gain the day. Hence, it would be very inexpedient to pay any regard to objective truth or its advancement in a science of Dialectic; since this is not done in that original and natural Dialectic innate in men, where they strive for nothing but victory. The science of Dialectic, in one sense of the word, is mainly concerned to tabulate and analyse dishonest stratagems, in order that in a real debate they may be at once recognised and defeated. It is for this very reason that Dialectic must admittedly take victory, and not objective truth, for its aim and purpose....

Here are a few of the tricks that I've most commonly encountered, especially in a forum environment: 


Make Your Opponent Angry[edit]

This trick consists in making your opponent angry; for when he is angry he is incapable of judging aright, and perceiving where his advantage lies. You can make him angry by doing him repeated injustice, or practising some kind of chicanery, and being generally insolent.



Claim Victory Despite Defeat[edit]

This, which is an impudent trick, is played as follows: When your opponent has answered several of your questions without the answers turning out favourable to the conclusion at which you are aiming, advance the desired conclusion, — although it does not in the least follow, — as though it had been proved, and proclaim it in a tone of triumph. If your opponent is shy or stupid, and you yourself possess a great deal of impudence and a good voice, the trick may easily succeed. It is akin to the fallacy non causae ut causae



Use Seemingly Absurd Propositions[edit]

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.



Will is More Effective Than Insight[edit]

There is another trick which, as soon as it is practicable, makes all others unnecessary. Instead of working on your opponent's intellect by argument, work on his will by motive; and he, and also the audience if they have similar interests, will at once be won over to your opinion, even though you got it out of a lunatic asylum; for, as a general rule, half an ounce of will is more effective than a hundred-weight of insight and intelligence. This, it is true, can be done only under peculiar circumstances. If you succeed in making your opponent feel that his opinion, should it prove true, will be distinctly prejudicial to his interest, he will let it drop like a hot potato, and feel that it was very imprudent to take it up.

A clergyman, for instance, is defending some philosophical dogma; you make him sensible of the fact that it is in immediate contradiction with one of the fundamental doctrines of his Church, and he abandons it.

A landed proprietor maintains that the use of machinery in agricultural operations, as practised in England, is an excellent institution, since an engine does the work of many men. You give him to understand that it will not be very long before carriages are also worked by steam, and that the value of his large stud will be greatly depreciated; and you will see what he will say.

In such cases every man feels how thoughtless it is to sanction a law unjust to himself — quam temere in nosmet legem sancimus iniquam! Nor is it otherwise if the bystanders, but not your opponent, belong to the same sect, guild, industry, club, etc., as yourself. Let his thesis be never so true, as soon as you hint that it is prejudicial to the common interests of the said society, all the bystanders will find that your opponent's arguments, however excellent they be, are weak and contemptible; and that yours, on the other hand, though they were random conjecture, are correct and to the point; you will have a chorus of loud approval on your side, and your opponent will be driven out of the field with ignominy. Nay, the bystanders will believe, as a rule, that they have agreed with you out of pure conviction. For what is not to our interest mostly seems absurd to us; our intellect being no siccum lumen. This trick might be called "taking the tree by its root"; its usual name is the argumentum ab utili.


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The point of this topic is to educate people about the ways in which psychological bullies can use dialectic to harass and annoy and how to identify and resist their methods. I was motivated to post it based on my experiences with specific members in this community and the phenomena of "trolling", the definition of which can be extended to cover other forms of harassment outside of a forum medium. 

Disclaimer: this thread is not going to become a sounding board for political discussion; besides being essentially opposed to the purpose of the whole post, I believe it also violates forum rules.

Any posts that attempt to politicize this topic or gratuitously harass will be flagged for removal at the moderators' discretion.

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2 hours ago, mts said:

Hi Pax. I am so glad you posted this! Looking forward to further updates.

Well I'm not sure I have anything to add, and I haven't read the whole post but it'll be good to read when I get home later; thanks.

You're welcome, Mts, hope it's a useful post. Bottom line after years and years of not backing down: WALK AWAY. It's simply not worth it, and the people who argue for the reasons given above nearly always win, often out of sheer relentlessness, to which I would label as the 39th "trick" - simply exhaust your opponent into giving up. This is the real meaning behind "turn the other cheek", it's simply a waste of time and becomes an endless tit for tat until someone gets knocked out or killed. 

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9 hours ago, TooOld4This said:

Deleted by poster.

I wasn't singling you out or meaning to sound harsh, TO4T. I'm just trying to head off anything before it starts. Please feel free to contribute. I also removed generalizations in the OP that some might find offensive or objectionable.

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i think these points mostly apply to live (verbal) debates. otherwise, on a forum, one has more time to respond and can therefor prepare his response better (and cool off if needed), and also avoid many of the traps set by an opponent. one can also call his opponent on some of these tactics more easily because his opponent's posts are in front of him and he can keep going over them in case he missed something.

of course, having an adequately intelligent (and objective) audience/readers is another matter.

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Those are valid statements, Resolute, and normally a written debate does include more rigor. Bear in mind though that Schopenhauer wrote this almost 200 years ago; books would have been the only form of reference material available, and he points this out in one of the tricks when he says that the opponent won't have books available or time to consult them in a debate of that era. However, these tricks can be translated to an online forum because the tone is generally conversational, there are no formal rules for debate, and one is free to use the propositions one already has in one's head - essentially it would be the same as a live debate except that there is no explicit or implicit time limit which gives a clear advantage in "forming a correct judgement before speaking", as Schopenhauer says because one can research a topic with which one may be unfamiliar. 

There is also the question of "voice" which Schopenhauer makes mention. This concept can be analogically applied to the written word in reference to dialectic or commentary because the author's voice is represented through the syntax, grammar, style, and, nowadays, emoticons which can add those vocal and non-verbal inflections that accompany face-to-face dialogue. So it is possible to influence and persuade using these "tricks" through the written word. Unless one adopts a strictly academic tone of dialogue (as in a doctoral thesis) that is completely mathematical and formal (in which case only a few would be interested), "voice" is still present and able to influence. 

Additionally, one crucial point in which Schopenhauer was ahead of his time is this, in which he presages the rise of The Internet::


Appeal to Authority Rather Than Reason[edit]

...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 to speak seriously, the universality of an opinion is no proof, nay, it is not even a probability, that the opinion is right. Those who maintain that it is so must assume (1) that length of time deprives a universal opinion of its demonstrative force, as otherwise all the old errors which were once universally held to be true would have to be recalled; for instance, the Ptolemaic system would have to be restored, or Catholicism re-established in all Protestant countries. They must assume (2) that distance of space has the same effect; otherwise the respective universality of opinion among the adherents of Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam will put them in a difficulty.

When we come to look into the matter, so-called universal opinion is the opinion of two or three persons; and we should be persuaded of this if we could see the way in which it really arises.

We should find that it is two or three persons who, in the first instance, accepted it, or advanced and maintained it; and of whom people were so good as to believe that they had thoroughly tested it. Then a few other persons, persuaded beforehand that the first were men of the requisite capacity, also accepted the opinion. These, again, were trusted by many others, whose laziness suggested to them that it was better to believe at once, than to go through the troublesome task of testing the matter for themselves. Thus the number of these lazy and credulous adherents grew from day to day; for the opinion had no sooner obtained a fair measure of support than its further supporters attributed this to the fact that the opinion could only have obtained it by the cogency of its arguments. The remainder were then compelled to grant what was universally granted, so as not to pass for unruly persons who resisted opinions which every one accepted, or pert fellows who thought themselves cleverer than any one else.

When opinion reaches this stage, adhesion becomes a duty; and henceforward the few who are capable of forming a judgment hold their peace. Those who venture to speak are such as are entirely incapable of forming any opinions or any judgment of their own, being merely the echo of others' opinions; and, nevertheless, they defend them with all the greater zeal and intolerance. For what they hate in people who think differently is not so much the different opinions which they profess, as the presumption of wanting to form their own judgment; a presumption of which they themselves are never guilty, as they are very well aware. In short, there are very few who can think, but every man wants to have an opinion; and what remains but to take it ready-made from others, instead of forming opinions for himself?

Since this is what happens, where is the value of the opinion even of a hundred millions? It is no more established than an historical fact reported by a hundred chroniclers who can be proved to have plagiarised it from one another; the opinion in the end being traceable to a single individual. It is all what I say, what you say, and, finally, what he says; and the whole of it is nothing but a series of assertions.

Nevertheless, in a dispute with ordinary people, we may employ universal opinion as an authority. For it will generally be found that when two of them are fighting, that is the weapon which both of them choose as a means of attack. If a man of the better sort has to deal with them, it is most advisable for him to condescend to the use of this weapon too, and to select such authorities as will make an impression on his opponent's weak side. 

Before a tribunal the dispute is one between authorities alone, — such authoritative statements, I mean, as are laid down by legal experts; and here the exercise of judgment consists in discovering what law or authority applies to the case in question. There is, however, plenty of room for Dialectic; for should the case in question and the law not really fit each other, they can, if necessary, be twisted until they appear to do so, or vice versâ.

The Internet itself has become an authority, and what is the Internet itself (besides legitimate factual databases) other than a collection of opinions? 

As I am primarily concerned with written debates, I am going to post more on logical fallacies, their types and how to identify them. Often people don't recognize these faults and will allow themselves to be persuaded through one of the tricks given above, several of which are really logical fallacies. 

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Just another note about projection that could apply to online interactions, I do think it can be easier to project during online interactions than it is offline. You aren't getting the visual cues or hearing a tone of voice that you normally would so I think it becomes easier to attribute one's own feelings to another person.

I recall when I first came here to the site, there was an online therapist here who I had some difficulty interacting with. Several times I was certain I was being talked down to, but when I went back and reread what had been written...without adding any emotion to the person's words...the meaning/content came across quite differently. It turns out that his position represented something to me that would trigger a feeling of inferiority...so I projected my feelings to his words. In reality, this was coming from me because of an insecurity I had with feeling stupid. Once I became aware of this, our interactions became smoother. There was also another instance (or two) years ago when I responded to a member here with compassion and my words were interpreted as an attack. This was painful to me, but I also realized the member was struggling and had probably projected this because of an insecurity they had. We all have insecurities, so very understandable and human..

Just something to keep in mind as a possibility during online interactions.


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I hope you won’t attach anything negative to your responses or feelings and instead observe and gain awareness, understanding. I know that can be difficult, I struggle with it too. 

I studied fallacies and biases some in school, though I'm not certain I remember them all now. I would be interested in reading more about them when you share that, thank you. I'm glad you posted this thread and I hope you and others here find it helpful.

Take care and I hope your day is serene.

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  • 2 weeks later...
11 hours ago, mts said:


I've never read any of Aristotle's original works on logic, but I would encourage you to do so if it interests you. I had to study logic indirectly through my mathematics coursework, and I also took some philosophy courses as electives that covered logic in a modern format using a modern textbook. I was trying to find my old textbook, but couldn't. I've been very busy, and I've wanted to delete thris thread about 5 times already. If I get a break and feel better I'll try to continue it. 

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  • 2 years later...

 Turn The Tables

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".


Me: I’m angry at this person for making rude, insulting, cruel comments about my masculinity and sexual prowess.  

Society: Man up, ignore it, they’re just being childish. He’s acting childish. 

Also society: Think of thee children! The poor, innocent blameless children! “From the mouth of babes thou hears perfect praise”!!

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  • 3 months later...

Lately, I've been noticing the fallacy of purposely exaggerating, mis-stating and/or mis-characterizing your opponent's thesis for the purpose of creating easier target.  Your opponent's thesis can easily be made into a caricature easily dismissed WITHOUT ARGUMENT.

This was particularly obvious when I argued that phallocracies exist in some threads at LPSG.

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