Saturday, August 6, 2016

Schopenhauer: Try not to argue with a fool

This great little chapter:

Outlines 28 ways to argue from a weak position, starting with the extension of the opponent's argument beyond its natural limit, then knocking it down. Strategem number 28 is to personally abuse your opponent. (As an aside that seems to be what the current "go to" method is when people get instantly shouted down as sceptic, homophobe, islamophobe or advocating cruelty to refugees. This default to the lowest form of argument does a disservice to the valid causes of climate science, marriage equality, tolerance and human responsibility.)

But Schopenhauer's best point here is a more eloquent version of "don't argue with an idiot - they drag you down to their level and beat you with experience":

The only safe rule, therefore, is that which Aristotle mentions in the last chapter of his Topica: not to dispute with the first person you meet, but only with those of your acquaintance of whom you know that they possess sufficient intelligence and self-respect not to advance absurdities; to appeal to reason and not to authority, and to listen to reason and yield to it; and, finally, to cherish truth, to be willing to accept reason even from an opponent, and to be just enough to bear being proved to be in the wrong, should truth lie with him. From this it follows that scarcely one man in a hundred is worth your disputing with him. You may let the remainder say what they please, for every one is at liberty to be a fool — desipere est jus gentium. Remember what Voltaire says: La paix vaut encore mieux que la vérité. Remember also an Arabian proverb which tells us that on the tree of silence there hangs its fruit, which is peace.

So if I go quiet when we're talking please don't assume you've won the argument - I probably just realised I made a mistake entering the discussion.


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  2. I wish people enjoyed being wrong more than they do being right, then they could be open to learning something new. It would also make for productive use of time and energy. I downloaded the epub for that book; not because I liked the content but because the "stratagems" are somewhat upsetting. I don’t disagree with the last paragraphs, but I see the contradiction and hypocrisy.

    I don’t know if the true winner is the person who condescends to insults and logical fallacies but abandons the argument when their opponent does the same. I suppose two wrongs don’t make a right, and two idiots can’t comprise an argument. Regardless, I can only imagine the constant worry of being a phony and the paranoia of being called out on mistakes by the modern, educated bystander (or anyone with a smartphone).

    Winning should not be the goal, but learning and understanding should be one. I get your predicament though, I had an experience at school not long ago where I called someone out for being wrong, it did not particularly teach them anything and I’ve lost time I could spend elsewhere. Perhaps silence is truly golden.

  3. Nice. Thanks. Something for me to ponder.

  4. That chapter tends to remind me of Machiavelli - and I think written with the same idea in mind. Create a "how to" guide about how to succeed at the worst possible activity - hoping that an educated reader will see the satire. I know that's what Maciavelli was doing, not sure about Schopenhauer.