Arthur Schopenhauer: The Art of Always Being Right

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Schopenhauer, Arthur. The Art of Always Being Right: The 38 Subtle Ways to Win an Argument (London: Gibson Square, 2009)

My stack of books on argumentation is now slightly taller with the addition of Schopenhauer's The Art of Always Being Right. In the New Statesman, George Walden calls the book "an instruction manual in intellectual duplicity that no aspiring parliamentarian, trainee lawyer, wannabe TV interviewer or newspaper columnist can afford to be without," although Schopenhauer explains his intent as a non-Machiavellian one:

Even when a man has truth on his side, he needs dialectic in order to defend and maintain it; he must know what the dishonest tricks are, in order to meet them. In fact, he must often make use of them himself, so as to beat the enemy with his own weapons. (pp. 38-39)

When discussing the appeal to authority, Schopenhauer explains that "[t]here 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 wherever he leads them. They would sooner die than think. (p. 139)

If that sentiment seems rather familiar, it is likely due to the variant often attributed to Bertrand Russell: "We have a tendency to think that the world must confirm to our prejudices. The opposite view involves some effort of thought, and most people would die sooner than think -- in fact they do so." WikiQuote sources these words to Russell'sMortals and Others: American Essays, 1931-1935, although it is not found in the referenced book The ABC of Relativity, p. 166; the version scanned by Amazon is paginated differently and I'm unable to locate the quote for verification.

Schopenhauer writes later about those same sheep that "what they hate in people who think differently is not so much the different opinions which they have as the presumption of wanting to form their own judgment:"

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? (p. 142)

AC Graying adds some brief prefatory and supplementary remarks to pad out the book, but The Art of Always Being Right is still on the thin side, being more of an extended essay than an exhaustive treatise on the subject. The German text and English translation may be found here, for those who want to read it but don't feel the need to possess a printed copy.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on March 25, 2010 4:55 PM.

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