Often when arguing points of reason we are faced with "38 ways to win an argument".  I find it hard to know how to respond.  Should I simply use similar tactics to win the argument, or should I be nice and aim to "win friends and influence people"?

38 Ways to Win an Argument:

  1. 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 your own propositions remain, the easier they are to
  2. Use different meanings of your opponent’s words to refute his

    Example: Person A says, “You do not understand the
    mysteries of Kant’s philosophy.”
    Person B replies, “Of, if it’s
    mysteries you’re talking about, I’ll have nothing to do with them.”
  3. Ignore your opponent’s proposition, which was intended to refer
    to some particular thing.

    Rather, understand it in some quite different sense,
    and then refute it.
    Attack something different than what was asserted.
  4. Hide your conclusion from your opponent until the end.
    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 goal until you have reached all the admissions
    necessary to reach your goal.
  5. Use your opponent’s beliefs against him.
    If your opponent
    refuses to accept your premises, use his own premises to your advantage.
    Example, if the opponent is a member of an organization
    or a religious sect to which you do not belong, you may employ the
    declared opinions of this group against the opponent.
  6. Confuse the issue by changing your opponent’s words or what he
    or she seeks to prove.

    Example: Call something by a different
    name: “good repute” instead of “honor,” “virtue” instead of
    “virginity,” “red-blooded” instead of “vertebrates”.
  7. 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 proponent’s admissions.
  8. Make your opponent angry.
    An angry person is less capable of
    using judgment or perceiving where his or her advantage lies.
  9. Use your opponent’s answers to your question to reach different
    or even opposite conclusions.
  10. If you opponent answers all your questions negatively and
    refuses to grant you 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 him to concede.
  11. If the opponent grants you the truth of some of your premises,
    refrain from asking him or her to agree to your conclusion.

    introduce your conclusions as a settled and admitted fact.
    opponent and others in attendance may come to believe that your
    conclusion was admitted.
  12. If the argument turns upon general ideas with no particular
    names, you must use language or a metaphor that is favorable to
    your proposition.

    Example: What an impartial person would call
    “public worship” or a “system of religion” is described by an adherent
    as “piety” or “godliness” and by an opponent as “bigotry”
    or “superstition.”
    In other words, inset what you intend to prove
    into the definition of the idea.
  13. To make your opponent accept a proposition , you must give him
    an opposite, counter-proposition as well.

    If the contrast is
    glaring, the opponent will accept your proposition to avoid being
    Example: If you want him to admit that a boy must to
    everything that his father tells him to do, ask him, “whether in
    all things we must obey or disobey our parents.”
    Or , if a thing
    is said to occur “often” you are to understand few or many times,
    the opponent will say “many.”
    It is as though you were to put gray
    next to black and call it white; or gray next to white and call it
  14. Try to bluff your opponent.
    If he or she has answered several
    of your question 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 technique
    may succeed.
  15. 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 some true proposition, as though
    you wished to draw your proof from it.
    Should the opponent reject
    it because he suspects a trick, you can obtain your triumph by
    showing how absurd the opponent is to reject an obviously true
    Should the opponent accept it, you now have reason on
    your side for the moment.
    You can either try to prove your
    original proposition, as in #14, maintain that your original
    proposition is proved by what your opponent accepted.
    For this an
    extreme degree of impudence is required, but experience shows cases
    of it succeeding.
  16. When your opponent puts forth a proposition, find it
    inconsistent with his or her other statements, beliefs, actions or
    lack of action.

    Example: Should your opponent defend suicide, you
    may at once exclaim, “Why don’t you hang yourself?”
    Should the opponent
    maintain that his city is an unpleasant place to live, you
    may say, “Why don’t you leave on the first plane?”
  17. If your opponent presses you with a counter-proof, 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.
  18. If your opponent has taken up a line of argument that will end
    in your defeat, you must not allow him to carry it to its conclusion.

    Interrupt the dispute, break it off altogether, or
    lead the opponent to a different subject.
  19. Should your opponent expressly challenge you to produce any
    objection to some definite point in his argument, and you have
    nothing to say, try to make the argument less specific.

    If you are asked why a particular hypothesis cannot be accepted,
    you may speak of the fallibility of human knowledge, and give
    various illustrations of it.
  20. If your opponent has admitted to all or most of your premises,
    do not ask him or her directly to accept your conclusion.

    draw the conclusion yourself as if it too had been admitted.
  21. When your opponent uses an argument that is superficial and you see
    the falsehood, you can refute it by setting forth its superficial

    But it is better to meet the opponent with acounter-argument that is just
    as superficial, and so dispose of him.
    it is with victory that you are concerned, not with truth.
    Example: If the opponent appeals to prejudice, emotion or attacks you
    personally, return the attack in the same manner.
  22. 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.
  23. Contradiction and contention irritate a person into exaggerating
    their statements.

    By contradicting your
    opponent you may drive him 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.
    Contrarily, if your
    opponent tries to extend your own statement further than your intended,
    redefine your statement’s limits and
    say, “That is what I said, no more.”
  24. State a false syllogism.
    Your opponent makes a proposition, and by
    false inference and distortion of his
    ideas you force from the proposition other propositions that are not
    intended and that appear absurd.
    It then
    appears that opponent’s proposition gave rise to these inconsistencies,
    and so appears to be indirectly refuted.
  25. If your opponent is making a generalization, find an instance to the

    Only one valid contradiction
    is needed to overthrow the opponent’s proposition.
    Example: “All
    ruminants are horned,” is a generalization
    that may be upset by the single instance of the camel.
  26. A brilliant move is to turn the tables and use your opponent’s
    arguments against himself.

    Example: Your
    opponent declares: “so and so is a child, you must make an allowance for
    You retort, “Just because he is
    a child, I must correct him; otherwise he will persist in his bad habits.”
  27. Should your opponent suprise you by becoming particularly angry at an
    argument, you must urge it with all
    the more zeal.

    No only will this make your opponent angry, but it will
    appear that you have put your finger on
    the weak side of his case, and your opponent is more open to attack on
    this point than you expected.
  28. When the audience consists of individuals (or a person) who is not an
    expert on a 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 your opponent look
    ridiculous or if the audience laughs.
    If your
    opponent must make a long, winded and complicated explanation to correct
    you, the audience will not be
    disposed to listen to him.
  29. 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 a bearing on the matter in dispute.

    may be done without presumption if the diversion has some general bearing on the matter.
  30. 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
    Authorities that your opponent fails to understand are
    those which he generally admires the
    You may also, should it be necessary, not only twist your
    authorities, but actually falsify them, or quote
    something that you have entirely invented yourself.
  31. If you know that you have no reply to the arguments that your
    opponent advances, you by a find stroke of
    irony declare yourself to be an incompetent judge.

    Example: “What you say
    passes my poor powers of
    comprehension; it may well be all very true, but I can’t understand it,
    and I refrain from any expression of
    opinion on it.”
    In this way you insinuate to the audience, with whom you
    are in good repute, that what your
    opponent says is nonsense.
    This technique may be used only when you are
    quite sure that the audience thinks
    much better of you than your opponent.
  32. A quick way of getting rid of an opponent’s assertion, or of throwing
    suspicion on it, is by putting it into
    some odious category.

    Example: You can say, “That is fascism” or
    “Atheism” or “Superstition.”
    In making an
    objection of this kind you take for granted
    1)That the assertion or
    question is identical with, or at least
    contained in, the category cited;
    2)The system referred to has been
    entirely refuted by the current audience.
  33. You admit your opponent’s premises but deny the conclusion.
    “That’s all very well in theory, but
    it won’t work in practice.”
  34. When you state a question or an argument, and your opponent gives you
    no direct answer, or evades it
    with a counter question, or tries to change the subject, it is sure sign
    you have touched a weak spot,
    sometimes without intending to do so.

    You have, as it were, reduced your
    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.
  35. Instead of working on an opponent’s intellect or the rigor of his
    arguments, work on his motive.

    If you
    success in making your opponent’s opinion, should it prove true, seem
    distinctly prejudicial to his own interest,
    he will drop it immediately.
    Example: A clergyman is defending some
    philosophical dogma.
    You show him that
    his proposition contradicts a fundamental doctrine of his church.
    He will
    abandon the argument.
  36. You may also puzzle and bewilder your opponent by mere bombast.
    your opponent is weak or does
    not wish to appear as if he has no idea what your are talking about, you
    can easily impose upon him some
    argument that sounds very deep or learned, or that sounds indisputable.
  37. 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 good cases.

    If no accurate proof occurs to your opponent, you have won the day.

  38. Become personal, insulting and rude as soon as you perceive that your
    opponent has the upper hand.

    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 technique,
    because it takes so little skill to put it into
    effect. (this is wha trolls like to do)

Taken from Arthur Schopenhauer’s Art of Controversy.

How to Win Friends and Influence People

  1. Get you out of a mental rut, give you new thoughts, new visions, new ambitions.
  2. Enable you to make friends quickly and easily.
  3. Increase your popularity.
  4. Help you to win people to your way of thinking.
  5. Increase your influence, your prestige, your ability to get things done.
  6. Enable you to win new clients, new customers.
  7. Increase your earning power.
  8. Make you a better salesman, a better executive.
  9. Help you to handle complaints, avoid arguments, keep your human contacts smooth and pleasant.
  10. Make you a better speaker, a more entertaining conversationalist.
  11. Make the principles of psychology easy for you to apply in your daily contacts.
  12. Help you to arouse enthusiasm among your associates.

The book has six major sections. The core principles of each section are quoted below.

[edit] Fundamental Techniques in Handling People

  1. Don't criticize, condemn, or complain.
  2. Give honest and sincere appreciation.
  3. Arouse in the other person an eager want.

[edit] Six Ways to Make People Like You

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people.
  2. Smile.
  3. Remember that a person's name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.
  4. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  5. Talk in terms of the other person's interest.
  6. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.

[edit] Twelve Ways to Win People to Your Way of Thinking

  1. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.
  2. Show respect for the other person's opinions. Never say "You're Wrong."
  3. If you're wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.
  4. Begin in a friendly way.
  5. Start with questions to which the other person will answer yes.
  6. Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.
  7. Let the other person feel the idea is his or hers.
  8. Try honestly to see things from the other person's point of view.
  9. Be sympathetic with the other person's ideas and desires.
  10. Appeal to the nobler motives.
  11. Dramatize your ideas.
  12. Throw down a challenge.

[edit] Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment

  1. Begin with praise and honest appreciation.
  2. Call attention to people's mistakes indirectly.
  3. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.
  4. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.
  5. Let the other person save face.
  6. Praise every improvement.
  7. Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.
  8. Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.
  9. Make the other person happy about doing what you suggest.

[edit] Letters That Produced Miraculous Results

In this chapter, notably the shortest in the book, Carnegie analyzes two letters and describes how to appeal to someone's vanity with the term "do me a favor" as opposed to directly asking for something which does not offer the same feeling of importance to the recipient of the request.

[edit] Seven Rules For Making Your Home Life Happier

  1. Don't nag.
  2. Don't try to make your partner over.
  3. Don't criticize.
  4. Give honest appreciation.
  5. Pay little attentions.
  6. Be courteous.
  7. Read a good book on the sexual side of marriage.


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Replies to This Discussion

Maruli - OK I get what you are saying now - rather than oppose something, it is better to come up with a better idea that can replace it perhaps - such as Sam Harris has done with regards to secular morals in his book - the moral landscape.

I do not mean that coming up with new ideas is better.     I just think it is not sufficient to fight something, as long as there is not also something better to replace it. 

Maruli - well I agree - why have a fight about something when you have nothing useful to contribute - rather go away and come up with a better option....

Thank you, Maruli; I too now understand your earlier post.

After 12 years in Catholic schools, a traumatic event caused the break and I needed two kinds of arguments:

1. Arguments to help me free myself, and then

2. Arguments to explain my departure to those I left behind who did not become defensive or hostile.

The first of many arguments in #1 above was realizing that all of the major religions have their own forms of the golden rule, so I was not entering a moral void.

After I freed myself, words I'd heard from many nuns and priests ("Faith is a gift.") helped me see an argument in #2 above: "I don't have that gift."

Because Catholicism has had almost 2000 years to devise answers to some hard questions, I say to well-meaning, non-Catholic xians, "If I hadn't gone to Catholic schools, I might still believe there is a god." I am of course taking advantage of the reality that their xianity has not answered some hard questions.

"...in English-speaking countries debating is taught in school and university."

Maruli, thank you for raising that point.

In America, lawyers designed a courtroom model (a statement and a yes/no decision) to help them develop courtroom skills. Rephrase the "38 ways...." above and each one's probable success or failure could be debated in this courtroom model.

Every time I can, I encourage a parliamentary model in which people are developing a policy and they are free to change sides.

The advice given in the original post with its 38 proposals provides help contrariwise too,

i.e. by warning you of tricks that debaters will be trying against you. 

Dr. Terence - good point.  For years I've had these tactics used on me, and succumb to the hapless emotion elicited by such tactics.  When ignorant of such strategies and without other support, we can be easy victim to our own biochemistry.

Finding support on AN for my world view has given me much backing to stand my ground.

How you can conduct a debate always depends on the other party. All plans you make can be upset by the opposite party. Secondly, we can only follow tactics that suit our nature. You will get lost if you follow others. The best argument is one that is sincere, honest and correctly adresing the main thread of the discussion. We should remeber that there would other people hearing our argumets, whom we may antagonise by negative tactics.

Madhukar - it seems that what you are saying is that maintaining integrity even in the face of your opponants negative tactics is best.  I agree with you also in your observations.

I think knowing your subject well is key also.

I may also add that if we are sincere and honest in out discussion, we also can have the advantage of exposing the negative tactics of the opponent.

I confess that I have failed in the past to be able to remain sincere and honest when others use such tactics - I have often taken things personally, and either yielded defeat feeling humiliated or taken to shouting and name calling...  in more recent times I have managed to maintain more integrity and have simply stuck to my position in the face of it, felt hurt, but walked away without humiliation or rage.

But ideally I would like to be able to agree to disagree, or have some sort of mutual understanding - I'm just not sure how much causal ability I have in me, to create this outcome.

Alice, the ancient Roman Seneca is alleged to have said that violence arises from powerlessness. He was probably referring to physical violence but his words are true as well of verbal violence.

The 38 ways are forms of verbal violence, some of them more violent than others, and the person in an argument who first feels powerless might use them. So how does one, when engaged in verbal combat, avoid taking power from an opponent?

I sometimes talk politics with people who have right wing religious beliefs. When we disagree--we always do, on means if not on ends--I avoid taking power from them by acknowledging their First Amendment right to their beliefs. Saying so in a respectful way makes it easy to agree to disagree, to disengage and walk away with neither humiliation or rage.

Understanding First Amendment rights may be the best mutual understanding.



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