Wednesday, April 16, 2014

10 Stratagems to Win a Confrontation and Prove Yourself Right

Raphael - The School of Athens
To say that dialectic is the art of speaking is to reduce this discipline into a very broad and, at the same time, limited category. Speaking is an art, yet we all speak. It hardly follows that we all speak with art; although some speak artfully, art is different in that it involves aesthetic and the concept of beauty.

Dialectic represents, instead, a powerful ability of expression, a set of skills that our mental faculties and our personality have inherited after years and years of conditioning, training and a natural-born disposition towards the spoken word. The aims of dialectic are not necessarily concerned with speaking beautifully and other flourishes. Dialectic and, using Schopenhauer's terminology, eristic dialectic are the art of using any possible rhetorical tools to prove yourself right. Even if you are not. Mind, dialectic does not aim at demonstrating truths. The necessity of proving a point, or a thesis, usually stems from someone else's attempts to dismantle said thesis. Dialectic, then, consists of a series of powerful weapons to be used without moral scruples in the context of a debate, with one precise scope: to win.

Following are ten key dialectical stratagems that can be used in a one-to-one public debate. The stratagems are only a few among the many obtained from my study of two essential works: Aristotle's The Art of Rhetoric and Arthur Schopenhauer's The Art of Being Right, with some filtering from the works of other philosophers and rhetors:

I) Amplify:
Bring the opponent’s statement beyond its natural limits. Give it the most general interpretation; the more general, the more exposed to confutation the opponent’s thesis will be. Your thesis, on the contrary, must be as specific and particularized as possible. 

II) Exception
Use the only principle for which a universal case is not valid, and the case will be demolished.
e.g. - All ruminants have horns.
      - Camels are ruminants and have no horns.
III) Interrupt and get off to another topic
If the opponent is about to defeat us with a strong argument, we must prevent him from concluding it: interrupt his argumentation or get away from it into something else. 

IV) Retorsio Argumenti:
Use against your opponent an argument he tried to use to support his thesis.

V) Argumentum ad Auditores
Use this strategy when an audience knows less than the debaters:
-          Advance a non-valid or incorrect objection: the audience does not know enough to see the inconsistency of your objection.
-          Make your opponent look or sound ridiculous: when people smile or laugh thanks to you, they will side with you. 

VI) Anger
If the opponent shows signs of anger within a certain argument, insist on that, even if you don’t know why the opponent is reacting that way. The advantages are:
 a) anger implies loss of control.
 b) an angry reaction means we have hit a weak spot.

VII) Invent
Ignorant people love Latin and Greek expressions, even though they are not familiar with them. Simply invent quotations to your advantage.

VIII) Retorsio Argumenti
Use against your opponent an argument he tried to use to support his thesis.

IX) Cunning Stupidity:
Something stupid stated in a serious and educated way can put your opponent in trouble.   

X) Insult:
When you realize you’re being defeated: insult, offend, attack your opponent at a personal level.
      e.g. The opponent states: “This proves that suicide is absolutely justifiable.”
                You reply: “Then go hang yourself!”.

Would you like to suggest more?



  1. Dangerous in the mouths of politicians :)

  2. These will be very useful during my upcoming job evaluation! I must keep a cheat sheet with me...