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I have already talked about Schopenhauer’s Eristik, and boy that book deserves lots of commentary. Right now, i would like to direct your attention to two specific stratagems in the book and wonder about their specific value. Namely, the 35th (“argue by will” or “Will is More Effective Than Insight”) and the 16th (“demand personal corroboration” or “Arguments Ad Hominem”).

My naming for the 16th is one of the most different from traditional namings. I put it in a more positive light than usual. In fact, it almost disagrees with the very text of the book.

The reason is that, in Schopenhauer’s general structure, the 16th is almost the essence of what can be despicable in an argumentation, it is the archetypal dirty-trick. He means that you disregards your opponent’s arguments completely and treat him by his actions.

His example is most telling: For example, should he defend suicide, you may at once exclaim, “Why don’t you hang yourself?”

Now this is deliciously devious, but, deep down, i cannot but respect the kind of argument that says: if your ideas are not good enough to orient your life, they are not good enough to my ears either.

It is the same attitude of the “vote with your feet” motto. Or “put your money where your mouth is”. (In fact, those figures are one of the few things i find lacking in Portuguese).

In the suicide example you could instead of sending the opponent to the gallows demand that he don’t mistreat failed suicide attempts or that he speaks with reverence for people who actually committed suicide. That would make sense, and that would be a measure of his discourse’s consistency and value.

But there is an interesting parallel between the 16th and the 35th. I don’t know if that’s obvious, though, so here is a quote:

There is another trick which, as soon as it is practicable, makes all others unnecessary. Instead of working on your opponent’s intellect by argument, work on his will by motive; and he, and also the audience if they have similar interests, will at once be won over to your opinion, even though you got it out of a lunatic asylum; for, as a general rule, half an ounce of will is more effective than a hundred-weight of insight and intelligence.

Both stratagems actually de-emphasize the argument in favor of the person’s subjective experience. But in fact, every argument is a game on the person’s experience. That is, people do not say whatever they say just because — there are always reasons taken from his direct, concrete, specific life.

In fact, arguments and thoughts are supposed to be means to the ends of attaining our personal wills. They should help us get what we want.

That’s why will trumps understanding. And it should not be different. We are never finding truth. Instead, we are trying to advance our goals.

This should be a consistent basis for Eristik 2.0. How does it sound?


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