Schopenhauer was a philosopher who was known for his sarcastic frankness and for speaking his mind all the time, no exceptions. In his small book – The Art of Being Right, he raises questions about the meaning of dialogue among humans. He also speaks about a new form of dialectic that has emerged in modern times that he calls Controversial Dialectic:
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. 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.
So, it is a new form of arguing, with being right set as the ultimate goal. Being right, per fas et nefas – by all means, with no sense of morality. We don’t have to be right, objectively, but if our interlocutor runs out of arguments and the people around give their verdict as to us being right – who can deny us that victory? In the atmosphere of controversial dialectic, it doesn’t really matter what the truth is, all that matters is whether or not my truth beats yours.
But where does this need to dominate in a dispute come from? According to Schopenhauer:
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. […]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.
Schopenhauer provides us with a total of 38 tricks on how to be right in all circumstances and win every argument. Here are some of the sneakiest ones (and the funniest ones, too):
- If you can’t beat them – don’t join them. Make them angry.
Using his profound knowledge of psychology and human nature, Schopenhauer suggests putting your opponent off balance. A person who doesn’t control his emotions well won’t be able to put up valid arguments for his point of view. Schopenhauer says:
You can make him angry by doing him repeated injustice, or practising some kind of chicanery, or being generally insolent.
- Claim victory despite defeat.
This one seems a bit off limits, but come to think of it – I’ve actually entered discussions with people who acted this way:
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.
From my personal experience, entering into a dialogue with this type of person is as effective as washing your car on a rainy day. So, the smartest thing you can do is let them be.
- Annoy your opponent. Ad hominem at its finest.
It doesn’t matter that he has a point, all you want to do is create the illusion that he is contradictory:
For example, should he defend suicide, you may at once exclaim, “Why don’t you hang yourself?” Should he maintain that Berlin is an unpleasant place to live in, you may say, “Why don’t you leave by the first train?”
- Use what your opponent is saying against him. Use logic, turn the tables.
As Schopenhauer says, in this form of dialectic, it can happen that you and your opponent actually share an opinion. But that doesn’t matter, silly. What matters is to prove him wrong:
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”.
- If you can’t beat them – confuse them. Just talk gibberish.
Use big words with ostentatious confidence, even though deep down you don’t have a clue what you’re saying. Maybe you’ve even made up some new words. Nice. It’s all in the attitude:
If he is secretly conscious of his own weakness, and accustomed to hearing much that he does not understand, and making as though he did, you can easily impose upon him by some pretentious foolishness that sounds very deep or learned, and deprives him of hearing, sight, and thought; and by giving out that it is the most indisputable proof of what you assert. It is a well-known fact that in recent times some philosophers have practised this trick on the whole of the public with the most brilliant success.
Schopenahuer surely wrote this book with humorous intent, but it does have a strong message about the way we communicate and the reason we do it. When was the last time you changed your perspective about something? When was the last time you entered a dialogue without any intention of defeating your interlocutor? It certainly does make you think.