Schopenhauer's 36 Stratagems for Winning Arguments

Jul 16, 2023

Schopenhauer's "36 Stratagems" is a series of rhetorical techniques for winning an argument that isn’t based on logic, many of which are derived from manipulative or deceptive tactics. A brief summary of each of them.

  1. The Extension: Overstate your opponent's argument to absurdity, making it easier to attack.
  2. The Homonymy: Confuse the issue by interpreting your opponent's words in an unintended way.
  3. Generalize Admissions of Specific Cases: Apply your opponent's specific case admission to all cases.
  4. Conceal Your Game: Hide your true intentions until the last possible moment.
  5. False Propositions: Use an irrelevant or incorrect proposition to distract your opponent.
  6. Postulate What Has to Be Proved: Assert as a fact what you're trying to prove.
  7. Yield Admissions Through Questions: Frame your questions to make your opponent unknowingly admit your point.
  8. Make Your Opponent Angry: An angry opponent may make mistakes or contradict themselves.
  9. Questions in Detouring Order: Ask questions indirectly to lead your opponent to your conclusion.
  10. Take Advantage of the Nay-Sayer: If your opponent denies all your propositions, use this tendency against them.
  11. Generalize Your Opponent's Specific Assertions: Make your opponent's arguments sound extreme by applying them universally.
  12. Choose Metaphors Favorable to Your Proposition: Use metaphors and analogies that strengthen your argument.
  13. Agree to Reject the Counter-Proposition: Get your opponent to agree with you in denying the counter-argument.
  14. Claim Victory Despite Defeat: Act as though you've won the argument even when you've been proven wrong.
  15. Use Seemingly Absurd Propositions: Use ridiculous propositions to confuse and distract your opponent.
  16. Arguments Ad Hominem: Attack your opponent's character instead of their argument.
  17. Defense Through Subtle Distinction: Use subtle distinctions to defend your argument.
  18. Interrupt, Break, Divert the Dispute: Change the subject or interrupt your opponent to throw them off track.
  19. Generalize Admissions of an Exception: Extend a conceded exception to the rule as though it were the rule itself.
  20. Stratagem of Falsehood and Deceit: Deliberately use a lie or deceit to confuse or mislead your opponent.
  21. State a False Syllogism: Use incorrect logic to support your argument.
  22. Find One Instance to the Contrary: Use a single counter-example to disprove a universal proposition.
  23. Turn the Tables: Use your opponent's arguments against them.
  24. Envelop Your Opponent in a Fog: Use vague or unclear language to confuse your opponent.
  25. Claim That the Opponent's Arguments are Old and Therefore Invalid: Discredit your opponent's argument based on its age.
  26. Use Your Opponent's Beliefs Against Them: Turn your opponent's own principles and beliefs against them.
  27. Pass from Logical to Psychological Arguments: Shift from logical reasoning to psychological manipulation.
  28. Force Your Opponent to Contradict Themselves: Put your opponent in a position where they must contradict their previous statements.
  29. State Your Proposition and Show the Contrary to be Impossible: Present your argument as the only logical conclusion.
  30. Anger Indicates a Weak Point: If your opponent gets angry, you've likely found a weak spot in their argument.
  31. Persuade the Audience, Not the Opponent: Aim to convince the audience, not your opponent.
  32. Divert Your Opponent While Attacking: Distract your opponent to weaken their defense.
  33. Indirectly Attack Something That is Difficult to Attack Directly: If a direct attack isn't possible, attack something related to it.
  34. If Your Opponent is Making a General Accusation, Make a Specific One: Make a precise counter-accusation against a vague one.
  35. Make a Counter-Attack in the Same Direction: Respond to an attack by making a similar one.
  36. If the Opponent is Entangled, Help Them Deeper In: If your opponent gets tangled in their argument, push them further into confusion.
The tricks, dodges, and chicanery, to which they [men] resort in order to be right in the end, are so numerous and manifold and yet recur so regularly that some years ago I made them the subject of my own reflection and directed my attention to their purely formal element after I had perceived that, however varied the subjects of discussion and the persons taking part therein, the same identical tricks and dodges always come back and were very easy to recognize. This led me at the time to the idea of clearly separating the merely formal part of these tricks and dodges from the material and of displaying it, so to speak, as a neat anatomical specimen. — Arthur Schopenhauer