Book Notes #61: The Art of Being Right by Arthur Schopenhauer

The Art of Being Right is a collection of debate formulas to make you always be the right person in a conversation and always be right, even if you are wrong.

Title: The Art of Being Right
Author: Arthur Schopenhauer
Year: 1891
Pages: 136

The Art of Being Right by Arthur Schopenhauer is a concise yet insightful guide to the art of persuasive argumentation with is a collection of debate formulas.

The Art of Being Right explores the psychology of argument, highlighting various methods individuals use to manipulate their opponents and secure victory. 

Through practical examples and witty observations, The Art of Being Right sheds light on the subtle nuances of rhetoric, helping readers understand how to effectively navigate intellectual battles and strengthen their persuasive abilities.

As a result, I gave this book a rating of 7.5/10.

For me, a book with a note 10 is one I consider reading again every year. Among the books I rank with 10, for example, is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

3 Reasons to read The Art of Being Right

1. Enhance Persuasive Skills: The Art of Being Right provides readers with valuable insights into the strategies of argumentation. By understanding these tactics, readers can enhance their ability to present and defend their ideas persuasively in various contexts, from personal conversations to professional settings.

2. Develop Critical Thinking: Reading Schopenhauer’s analysis of different argumentative tactics encourages readers to think critically about the methods people use to persuade others. This fosters a deeper understanding of logical fallacies and helps readers become more discerning thinkers.

3. Appreciate Historical Philosophical Works: The Art of Being Right offers a glimpse into the mind of Arthur Schopenhauer, a prominent philosopher of the 19th century. Reading his work allows readers to engage with his thoughts on human nature, rhetoric, and the dynamics of intellectual discourse.

Book Overview

Without a doubt, Schopenhauer is one of the giants of Western philosophy. 

He represents a turning point from the quest to define the external world as something apart from our experience to a recognition of our experience as the medium of our world. 

Philosophy is a discourse, a conversation spread out over centuries that explores and develops different lines of thought. 

Schopenhauer embodies the moment in Western philosophy where the snake begins to eat its own tail, where the unreasoning insistence upon an external world is finally examined with due criticism and care. 

This timeless classic is a must-read for anyone interested in the art of persuasion and the tactics and strategies that are used to win over an audience.

What are the Key Ideas

Strategies of Persuasion: Schopenhauer presents a variety of strategies individuals can employ to gain the upper hand in debates. These strategies range from logical fallacies to rhetorical devices, providing readers with insights into both ethical and manipulative approaches to argumentation.

Psychological Manipulation: The Art of Being Right delves into the psychology behind persuasive tactics, exploring how people’s emotions and vulnerabilities can be exploited to win an argument. Schopenhauer’s insights shed light on the power dynamics within debates.

Logical Fallacies: Schopenhauer dissects common logical fallacies used in arguments, such as the ad hominem attack and straw man fallacy. By recognizing these fallacies, readers can avoid falling prey to faulty reasoning and become more adept at critiquing arguments.

The Role of Style: The Art of Being Right emphasizes the significance of style and eloquence in argumentation. Schopenhauer discusses how presentation and delivery can influence the perception of an argument’s validity and impact.

Intellectual Self-Defense: The Art of Being Right equips readers with tools to defend themselves against manipulative tactics. By understanding the strategies employed by others, readers can become more resilient and less susceptible to persuasive techniques.

Schopenhauer was a master of rhetoric, and his insights into the nature of argumentation and persuasion are as relevant today as they were when he wrote this book in the 19th century.

What are the Main Lessons

Master the Strategies of Argumentation: Study and apply Schopenhauer’s strategies to effectively present and defend your ideas, enhancing your persuasive abilities and communication skills.

Cultivate Critical Thinking: Recognize logical fallacies and deceptive tactics in arguments, allowing you to engage in thoughtful discussions and make well-informed decisions.

Ethical Persuasion: While The Art of Being Right explores manipulative tactics, strive to use persuasion ethically by focusing on sound reasoning, evidence, and respectful discourse.

Focus on Substance and Style: Pay attention to both the content of your arguments and your presentation style. Eloquence and clarity can enhance the impact of your ideas.

Be an Informed Listener: Develop the ability to discern between valid arguments and manipulative techniques. Equipped with this skill, you can engage in meaningful conversations and avoid being swayed by faulty reasoning.

Whether you’re a seasoned debater or just starting out, The Art of Being Right will give you the tools you need to navigate even the most difficult arguments and come out on top.

The Art of Being Right is divided into 38 chapters, each of which focuses on a specific aspect of argumentation, such as the importance of clear thinking, the use of fallacies, and the strategies for defeating opponents. 

Schopenhauer’s 38 Stratagems

Strategy 1 – The Extension: Carry your opponent’s proposition beyond its natural limits; exaggerate it. The more general your opponent’s statement becomes, the more objections you can find against it. The more restricted and narrow his or her propositions remain, the easier they are to defend him or her.

Strategy 2 – The Homonymy: Use different meanings of your opponent’s words to refute his or her argument.

Strategy 3 – Generalize Your Opponent’s Specific Statements: Ignore your opponent’s proposition, which was intended to refer to a particular thing. Rather, understand it in some quite different sense, and then refute it. Attack something different than that which was asserted.

Strategy 4 – Conceal Your Game: Hide your conclusion from your opponent till the end. Mingle your premises here and there in your talk. Get your opponent to agree to them in no definite order. By this circuitous route, you conceal your game until you have obtained all the admissions that are necessary to reach your goal.

Strategy 5 – False Propositions: Use your opponent’s beliefs against him. If the opponent refuses to accept your premises, use his own premises to your advantage.

Strategy 6 – Postulate What Has to Be Proved: Another plan is to confuse the issue by changing your opponent’s words or what he or she seeks to prove.

Strategy 7 – Yield Admissions Through Questions: State your proposition and show the truth of it by asking the opponent many questions. By asking many wide-reaching questions at once, you may hide what you want to get admitted. Then you quickly propound the argument resulting from the opponent’s admissions.

Strategy 8 – Make Your Opponent Angry: An angry person is less capable of using judgment or perceiving where his or her advantage lies.

Strategy 9 – Questions in Detouring Order: Use your opponent’s answers to your questions to reach different or even opposite conclusions.

Strategy 10 – Take Advantage of the Nay-Sayer: If your opponent answers all your questions negatively and refuses to grant any points, ask him or her to concede the opposite of your premises. This may confuse the opponent as to which point you actually seek them to concede.

Strategy 11 – Generalize Admissions of Specific Cases: If the opponent grants you the truth of some of your premises, refrain from asking him or her to agree to your conclusion. Later, introduce your conclusion as a settled and admitted fact. Your opponent may come to believe that your conclusion was admitted.

Strategy 12 – Choose Metaphors Favourable to Your Proposition: If the argument turns upon general ideas with no particular names, you must use language or a metaphor that is favorable to your proposition.

Strategy 13 – Agree to Reject the Counter-Proposition: To make your opponent accept a proposition, you must give him or her an opposite, counter-proposition as well. If the contrast is glaring, the opponent will accept your proposition to avoid being paradoxical.

Strategy 14 – Claim Victory Despite Defeat: Try to bluff your opponent. If he or she has answered several of your questions without the answers turning out in favor of your conclusion, advance your conclusion triumphantly, even if it does not follow. 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.

Strategy 15 – Use Seemingly Absurd Propositions: If you wish to advance a proposition that is difficult to prove, put it aside for the moment. Instead, submit for your opponent’s acceptance or rejection of some true proposition, as though you wished to draw your proof from it. Should the opponent reject it because he or she suspects a trick, you can obtain your triumph by showing how absurd the opponent is to reject a true proposition. Should the opponent accept it, you now have reason on your own for the moment. You can either try to prove your original proposition or maintain that your original proposition is proved by what the opponent accepted. For this, an extreme degree of impudence is required.

Strategy 16 – Arguments Ad Hominem: When your opponent puts forth a proposition, find it inconsistent with his or her other statements, beliefs, actions, or lack of action.

Strategy 17 – Defense Through Subtle Distinction: If your opponent presses you with counterproof, you will often be able to save yourself by advancing some subtle distinction. Try to find a second meaning or an ambiguous sense for your opponent’s idea.

Strategy 18 – Interrupt, Break, or Divert the Dispute: If your opponent has taken up a line of argument that will end in your defeat, you must not allow him or her to carry it to its conclusion. Interrupt the dispute, break it off altogether, or lead the opponent to a different subject.

Strategy 19 – Generalize the Matter, Then Argue Against it: Should your opponent expressly challenge you to produce any objection to some definite point in his or her argument, and you have nothing much to say, try to make the argument less specific.

Strategy 20 – Draw Conclusions Yourself: If your opponent has admitted to all or most of your premises, do not ask him or her directly to accept your conclusion. Rather draw the conclusion yourself as if it too had been admitted.

Strategy 21 – Meet Him With a Counter-Argument as Bad as His: When your opponent uses an argument that is superficial, refute it by setting forth its superficial character. But it is better to meet the opponent with a counterargument that is just as superficial, and so dispose of him or her. For it is with a victory that you are concerned, and not with truth.

Strategy 22 – Petitio principii: If your opponent asks you to admit something from which the point in dispute will immediately follow, you must refuse to do so, declaring that it begs the question.

Strategy 23 – Make Him Exaggerate His Statement: Contradiction and contention irritate a person into exaggerating his or her statements. By contracting your opponent you may drive him or her into extending the statement beyond its natural limit. When you then contradict the exaggerated form of it, you look as though you had refuted the original statement your opponent tries to extend your own statement further than you intended, redefining your statement’s limits.

Strategy 24 – State a False Syllogism: This trick consists in stating a false syllogism. Your opponent makes a proposition and by false inference and distortion of his or her ideas you force from the proposition other propositions that are not intended and that appear absurd. It then appears the opponent’s proposition gave rise to these inconsistencies, and so appears to be indirectly refuted.

Strategy 25 – Find One Instance to the Contrary: If your opponent is making a generalization, find an instance to the contrary. Only one valid contradiction is needed to overthrow the opponent’s proposition.

Strategy 26 – Turn the Tables: A brilliant move is to turn the tables and use your opponent’s arguments against him or herself.

Strategy 27 – Anger Indicates a Weak Point: Should your opponent surprise you by becoming particularly angry at an argument, you must urge it with all the more zeal. Not only will this make the opponent angry, but it may also be presumed that you put your finger on the weak side of his or her case and that the opponent is more open to attack on this point than you expected.

Strategy 28 – Persuade the Audience, Not the Opponent: This trick is chiefly practicable in a dispute if there is an audience who is not an expert on the subject. You make an invalid objection to your opponent who seems to be defeated in the eyes of the audience. This strategy is particularly effective if your objection makes the opponent look ridiculous or if the audience laughs. If the opponent must make a long, complicated explanation to correct you, the audience will not be disposed to listen.

Strategy 29 – Diversion: If you find that you are being beaten, you can create a diversion that is, you can suddenly begin to talk of something else, as though it had bearing on the matter is disposed of. This may be done without presumption if the diversion has some general bearing on the matter.

Strategy 30 – Appeal to Authority Rather Than Reason: Make an appeal to authority rather than reason. If your opponent respects an authority or an expert, quote that authority to further your case. If needed, quote what the authority said in some other sense or circumstance. Authorities that your opponent fails to understand are those that he or she generally admires the most. You may also, should it be necessary, not only twist your authorities, but actually falsify them, or quote something that you have invented entirely yourself.

Strategy 31 – This Is Beyond Me: If you know that you have no reply to an argument that your opponent advances, you may, by a fine stroke of irony, declare yourself to be an incompetent judge.

Strategy 32 – Put His Thesis into Some Odious Category: A quick way of getting rid of an opponent’s assertion, or throwing suspicion on it, is by putting it into some odious category.

Strategy 33 – It Applies in Theory, but Not in Practice: You admit your opponent’s premises but deny the conclusion.

Strategy 34 – Don’t Let Him Off the Hook: When you state a question or an argument, and your opponent gives you no direct answer, evades it with a counter question, or tries to change the subject, it is a sure sign you have touched a weak spot, sometimes without knowing it. You have as it were, reduced the opponent to silence. You must, therefore, urge the point all the more, and not let your opponent evade it, even when you do not know where the weakness that you have hit upon really lies.

Strategy 35 – Will Is More Effective Than Insight: This trick makes all unnecessary if it works. Instead of working on an opponent’s intellect, work on his or her motive. If you succeed in making your opponent’s opinion, should it prove true, seem distinctly to his or her own interest, the opponent will drop it like a hot potato.

Strategy 36 – Bewilder Your opponent with Mere Bombast: You may also puzzle and bewilder your opponent by mere bombast. If the opponent is weak or does not wish to appear as if he or she has no idea what you are talking about, you can easily impose upon him or her some argument that sounds very deep or learned, or that sounds indisputable.

Strategy 37 – A Faulty Proof Refutes His Whole Position: Should your opponent be in the right but, luckily for you, choose a faulty proof, you can easily refute it and then claim that you have refuted the whole position. This is the way in which bad advocates lose a good case. If no accurate proof occurs to the opponent or the bystanders, you have won the day.

Strategy 38 – Become Personal, Insulting, Rude: A last trick is to become personal, insulting, and rude as soon as you perceive that your opponent has the upper hand. In becoming personal you leave the subject altogether and turn your attack on the person by remarks of an offensive and spiteful character. This is a very popular trick because everyone is able to carry it into effect.

The Art of Being Right is a skillful analysis of the mechanisms of thought and debate, and the stratagems necessary to conquer any intellectual controversy one might encounter.

My Book Highlights & Quotes

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

It is easy to say that we must yield to truth, without any prepossession in favour of our own statements; but we cannot assume that our opponent will do it, and therefore we cannot do it either

But even when a man has the right 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; nay, he must often make use of them himself, so as to beat the enemy with his own weapons…

In itself Dialectic has nothing to do but to show how a man may defend himself against attacks of every kind, and especially against dishonest attacks; and, in the same fashion, how he may attack another man’s statement without contradicting himself, or generally without being defeated

The only certain rule is the one that Aristotle already gave: do not dispute with anyone and everyone, but only with those people you know who are intelligent enough to avoid saying things that are so stupid as to expose themselves to humiliation, who appreciate the truth, and who gladly listen to good reasons, even when the opponent claims them, and who are balanced enough to bear a defeat when the truth is on the other side

Machiavelli recommends his Prince to make use of every moment that his neighbour is weak, in order to attack him; as otherwise his neighbour may do the same. If honour and fidelity prevailed in the world, it would be a different matter; but as these are qualities not to be expected, a man must not practise them himself, because he will meet with a bad return. It is just the same in a dispute: if I allow that my opponent is right as soon as he seems to be so, it is scarcely probable that he will do the same when the position is reversed; and as he acts wrongly, I am compelled to act wrongly too. It is easy to say that we must yield to truth, without any prepossession in favour of our own statements; but we cannot assume that our opponent will do it, and therefore we cannot do it either

The Art of Being Right is a book that explores the tactics and strategies of effective persuasion and argumentation. Schopenhauer draws on examples from history and literature to illustrate his points and offers practical advice for anyone looking to improve their debating skills.

One of the key themes of The Art of Being Right is the importance of understanding the psychology of your opponent and the audience.

Schopenhauer stresses the importance of knowing your opponent’s weaknesses and using them to your advantage, while also being aware of the audience’s biases and prejudices.

Overall, The Art of Being Right is a must-read for anyone interested in the art of persuasion and debate.

Schopenhauer’s insights into the nature of argumentation are as relevant today as they were when he wrote the book in the 19th century, and his practical advice is sure to help anyone looking to improve their debating skills.

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