Around 350 years B.C. lived Aristotle, who founded the Peripatetic school. Aristotle and his disciples’ aim was to find truth by discussing, and bouncing ideas of each other while taking nice walks under the Athenian sun. Aristotle would ask questions to find truth by induction, arriving at conclusions from known facts to reach higher levels of understanding.
Fast forward to 1831. German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, example of philosophical pessimism, wrote “The art of being right: 38 ways to win an argument” , his goal was not to find the truth, but to win dialectic fights. He saw discussion as a competition to which the goal was to win, instead of a way to enrich each other and humanity through arriving at better understanding of the universe.
In my life I have met many people with which it is very nice to discuss, because their clear goal is to use logic to progress together, to shine a light on the unknown, and to help each other.
I have also met quite a few people who believe the most important thing is to be right, who will use every trick in the book to win the conversation and come out on top. It is not difficult to know when you’ve met one.
Here are a few of Schopenhauer’s logical fallacies, so you can be ready to point them out and avoid these traps:
- The Homonymy: extend the understanding of a particular word, and the refute it triumphantly. Claiming credit for having refuted the original stament.
“You are not yet initiated into the mysteries of the Kantian philosophy.”
…”Oh, if it’s mysteries you’re talking of, I’ll have nothing to do with them.”
- Generalize your opponent’s specific statements: Take a proposition which has been said concretely, as though it had been said with absolute application.
“A Moor is black; but in regard to his teeth he is white; therefore, he is black and not black at the same moment.”
- Bandwagon Fallacy: Arguments that appeal to the growing popularity of an idea as a reason for accepting it is true.
“Increasingly, people are coming to believe that Eastern religions help us to get in touch with our true inner being. Therefore: Eastern religions help us to get in touch with our true inner being.”
- Fallacy of Division: If the whole has a property, then every part has this property.
“Water is liquid, therefore H20 molecules are liquid”, “Atoms are invisible, I am made of Atoms, therefore I am invisible”
- Straw Man Fallacy: Misrepresent a position to make it appear weaker than it actually is. Refute the misrepresentation and claim the real position has been refuted.
After Will said that we should put more money into health and education, Warren responded by saying that he was surprised that Will hates our country so much that he wants to leave it defenceless by cutting military spending.
- False Cause: Explain correlation as causation
Pointing to a fancy chart, Roger shows how temperatures have been rising over the past few centuries, whilst at the same time the numbers of pirates have been decreasing; thus pirates cool the world and global warming is a hoax.
- Slippery Slope: If we allow A to happen, then Z could happen. Therefore A should not happen.
Colin Closet asserts that if we allow same-sex couples to marry, then the next thing we know we’ll be allowing people to marry their parents, their cars and even monkeys.
- Ad Hominem: attack your opponent’s personal traits in an attempt to undermine their argument.
After Sally presents an eloquent and compelling case for a more equitable taxation system, Sam asks the audience whether we should believe anything from a woman who isn’t married, was once arrested, and smells a bit weird.
We need to work together in search of the solutions to our daily struggles, hence a positive Aristotelian attitude is helpful and very appreciated, whereas trying to “win” conversations is damaging and discouraging.