When a person is so insecure that every discussion becomes a quest for victory and every disagreement a personal affront, six essential steps come into play in the form of the all-too-familiar pseudo-argument. Such arguers ironically betray their desperate attempt to allay fears over a subconscious belief.
With all deference to German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, and recognizing that some of the elucidating elements herein are also reflected inside his work ‘The Art of Being Right’,1 we hereby summarize our ‘Art of Pseudo-Argument’. In his referenced work however, Schopenhauer teetered between contexts of both ‘invalid approaches used by charlatans’ and ‘recommended techniques for successful arguing’. I found this irritating, lacking in utility, and incomplete as a work. Akin to an extract pulled verbatim from a stack of loose notes and not a completed work of philosophy.
Below I have fixed his dialogue approach with a more consistent context of ‘what one should not do as an arguer’. As well I have added a logical structure and order, with the purpose of elucidating a methodology and not simply a list of disjointed thoughts from a philosophical diary. However, most all of these points and more can be found in The Tree of Knowledge Obfuscation, and despite some overlap were not principally derived from Schopenhauer’s famous work.
There are six essential steps to pseudo-argument:
- Establish that the opponent is making a ‘claim’. Frame argument inside a well-known bifurcation.
- Demand ‘the evidence’ or ‘proof’ as the first step of science. Appeal to authority/ridicule.
- J.A.Q. (‘Just Asking Questions’) the idea to death.
- Challenge the notion with a full array of rhetorical and straw man perspectives.
- Get personal, gaslight your opponent, or feign personal offense. Conflate disagreement with insult.
- Declare victory. Change topic.
Aside from the reality that many off-kilter pseudo-arguers skip right to step 5, this is pretty much how the dilettante and pretend skeptics do it folks.
The Art of Pseudo-Argument
The astute reader will notice the triad of hypocrisy woven through this method. It consists of a trio of arguer habits:
- fake ignorance and lack of interest because the topic is ‘conspiracy theory’,
- belied thereafter by a surprising detailed knowledge about the topic (Nelsonian knowledge), and a
- finely honed skill at straw man, ignoratio elenchi, and rhetoric over the issue itself.
Collectively these betray a subconscious belief on the part of the arguer. A belief wherein the threatening stimulus (dissonance) is what prompts adoption of this six point method of pseudo-argument in the first place. In undertaking the following method, the arguer is playing out their dissonance through abusing both you and the topic. You are for them, nothing more than a therapeutic whipping-horse-in-denial – an artifice which they perceive might allow them to dismiss the issue from their conscience for one more day, one more hour. It is a fix they desperately crave.
So without further ado, The Art of Pseudo-Argument.
1. Establish that the opponent is making a ‘claim’. Frame argument inside a well-known bifurcation.
The most essential trick of the pseudo-arguer is to convert an observation, notion, or hypothesis into a ‘claim’. Claims have to be proven right on the spot according to very familiar fake skeptic apothegm. In this manner the pseudo-arguer forces the fatal nature of the discussion artificially. A potential final step of the scientific method, falsification, becomes instead, its first one. Backasswards, conclude-at-the-beginning, pseudoscience. No research, only rhetoric. In other words there is not really a discussion at play for them – it is a war, and they are there to win it at all costs. Frame the argument as an offensive notion which should not enter the mind of normal person.
The first thing you, as a pseudo-arguer need do, is identify what side your opponent is on, and which issues they regularly engage with, so you know a priori to discussion whether or not to oppose them. It’s all a formula from there on.
Undertake a strategy of win at all costs. Consider the argument a war, in which victory is the goal, not truth.
Cite that the opponent’s ‘claim’ is final, exclusive, superficial, ad hoc, and/or just made up as a kind of religious explanation. Pretend it has never been broached before by anyone, save for crackpots. Cite that real scientists don’t ponder the issue.
Whip out ‘Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence’ or something of a similar misleading nature.
Cite the club in which you would like the opponent to be bucket characterized. Use a well-worn-out pejorative buzzword to describe the club, and query if the opponent is a member of that club.
Google a fallacy. Go fallacy-naming early. Makes you appear smart. Puts opponent on defensive immediately.
Cite that the person believes or is exercising belief. Slip this by as an assumption, not a stated contention.
Set the bifurcation or paradox in place that there are only two perspectives: the accepted science and the ridiculous conspiracy theory.
However, make it clear that you are willing to demonstrate your magnanimity through your patience in hearing yet once again, a argument which has been ‘well debunked’ already.
Never, never, never allow your own (implicit) position to be challenged as to evidence and soundness. If it is broached, always act as if your position has already been proven or is accepted science. The burden of evidence or any examination thereof must never shift to your position.
If you mess up and get caught needing to provide accountability for you own position, feign neutrality and that you are not defending it, so therefore do not need to defend it. This is why epoché is not the same as neutrality. Neutrality can be employed as a rhetorical device.
Frame the argument in a domain of public derision/disdain, drunkenness, or talk of fools. Imply that it never has crossed your mind much, and furthermore that it should not cross any normal person’s mind.
2. Demand ‘the evidence’ or ‘proof’ as the first step of science. Appeal to authority/ridicule.
Typically when the person conducting a pseudo-argument first enters the fray, they will ask for the ‘proof’, ‘evidence’, or ‘data’ backing the ‘claim’. Notice that observation, hypothesis, precaution, plurality, and null hypothesis – all of these don’t exist to the pseudo-arguer – only ‘claims’. Under the rhetoric of the ‘claim’, an idea must be proven before it is allowed to be researched/considered, and proven immediately.
Most often in this case, the arguer is far behind on the actual information regarding the subject – and will take the opponent’s inability to summarize decades of data and research for them right on the spot, as constituting a lack of evidence for their ‘claim’.
Despite ‘hearing the argument again in your magnanimity’, suddenly feign absolute ignorance as to any details of the argument being made or any evidence, observation, study, or epistemology at all which exists to support it.
Conduct extensive sea lioning demands. Mention the scientific method often, but never actually demonstrate nor explain how it works.
Whip out another appropriate apothegm by Carl Sagan or Richard Feynman. Hope that it applies, and also that it ends the argument with an ace.
Feign objectivity. Conceal your personal favorite conclusion so that your motive cannot be questioned. Touch on a series of seemingly unrelated concepts which will later be found to support your cryptic conclusion. In this way you appear to have derived only the very answer with which you came to the argument. Act surprised at the outcome.
Pretend as if you are agreeing to the ethic of the argument and can understand why a person might hold those beliefs. Lull opponent into a less-aware state.
Make an appeal to authority rather than soundness of argument. Equivocate applicability of the recitation or imply that it is derived from a realm of logic/science under which the opponent has not be trained.
On any evidence which appears to be threatening, declare yourself unqualified to understand it or judge it as sound. Toss out the evidence as disqualified based on this failure to broach discussion relevance.
Cite that the opponent’s argument is overly complex, or worded in overly complex language, that prevents his ability to communicate its soundness or principles. So sad, if only they were of average skill in communication.
Dazzle the opponent with bombast, your learned background, appeal to credential, or the persons you have defeated in debate on this issue before. Feign impatience.
3. J.A.Q. (Just Asking Questions) the idea to death.
Plausible deniability is the goal here. Keep asking questions until you find one single point of trivia which might appear to be a weakness. Overblow this supposed weakness until you can spin it into a counter argument. Such arrogant clowns are a dime-a-dozen in professional circles and society at large – so it is important that you appear to be the smartest person in the room during this process.
It is extremely important that you ‘fail to understand’ a point which you secretly comprehend but do not like.
You must try and force your opponent to re-express the point as a flawed version of itself first (your preferred straw man). Then and only then, should sudden understanding and full grasp of the error your opponent has made, dawn upon you. Make sure that this act is not laid on too thick, so as not to be detected as shtick.
Despite your supposed ‘disinterest’ and the issue being a waste of time, suddenly reveal a bevy of well-thought-out questions and cherry-picked case examples which betray your ongoing keen interest both the subject and its need for suppression (Nelsonian knowledge).
Cite that you are ‘just asking questions’ (J.A.Q.). It is important to avoid any form of logical sequence for the questions. They must be almost random, so as to minimize the potential for inference – maximizing confusion and doubt.
Equivocate the principal contentions of your opponents argument or shift the goalposts by which you and/or they are using to judge its soundness.
Attack terminology. Act clueless about what the opponent is saying. Too long didn’t read.
Always pose questions which will tickle an audience and fail to probe any form of insight.
Be careful that your questions do not betray too deep a knowledge of the subject at hand or what it is exactly which is embargoed as knowledge. Remember, this is ‘not worth studying’.
Ask many disjointed and ignoratio elenchi questions – never in a critical path of logical calculus (dangerous). In this way you feign the objectivity of considering all the alternatives, looking at all the data, or implying that your opponent has not thought things through completely.
Attack any apparent inconsistency or loophole as one can find, no matter how irrelevant. Create an apparent conflict between two recent responses by the opponent.
Avoid inferential arguments, adopt only those cul-de-sac arguments which leave the argument stuck in a ‘halo of doubt’. Doubt, as was the case for tobacco companies, is easy to establish and is your best friend.
When your opponent offers a sound contention, find inconsistency with their other contentions, prior beliefs, actions, or lack thereof.
Criticize your opponent’s spelling or use of punctuation.
If your opponent offers a sound contention, cherry pick an exception of find a subtle distinction which serves to disqualify it, no matter how ludicrous. Shift its meaning or constraint to a realm of Wittgenstein logical manipulation.
If your opponent challenges you to produce a counterargument, claim or insert ambiguity into their argument.
Incite your opponent into anger, impatience, or defensiveness. They will be more apt to focus on their emotion than upon the entailed logical calculus. They may slip up, exaggerate, or reveal more ludicrous forms of their argument which are easier to refute.
If your opponent is making a generalization, go specific. If they are being specific, go general. Never reside on their preferred playing field, and always choose a discussion-ground which makes refutation easier.
If your opponent does not have a good answer to one of your questions, no matter how irrelevant – never let the discussion leave that point. Make it central to your thesis as to how weak their argument is. Remember, your thesis is that they are stupid, not anything pertaining to the argument at hand.
4. Challenge the notion with a full array of rhetorical and straw man perspectives.
Create a series of ignoratio elenchi, red herring, arguing about arguing, or straw man objections. For example, cite that considering the opponent’s hypothesis is anathema to rationality or unethical as a consideration – attempt to gaslight the idea that the arguer is the only one who holds the notion or that the notion is self-cancelling. Certify that hypothesis is sure to offend a culture, race, or those who hold the research data, causing them to be righteously uncooperative and indignant. Push ludicrous versions of the opponent’s argument and/or cite how they fail some ad hoc standard. Or finally conduct an ‘if-then’ push-to-extreme, where one cites ridiculous extrapolations of the hypothesis inside non-relevant domains of consideration, in order to appear to weaken its viability.
If you are faced with the opponent presenting a set of challenging case studies or observations, undertake the process of debunking. Debunking requires a much more developed skill level, so an appeal to celebrity debunker is also effective (Note: a debunker is someone who is an expert at nothing, but who can leverage celebrity into being an authority on everything).
Force your opponent’s proposition beyond its intended scope or logical limits; exaggerate it. Make them appear foolish.
Gaslight the opponent with the idea that they are the only one who thinks like this, or that if they were in a bar fight, everyone else would be on one side and they would be standing all alone.
Use equivocal meanings of your opponent’s words or objective criteria to refute his or her argument.
Cite instances where thinking like your opponent’s has served to or will produce disaster.
Lure your opponent into defending something different and more ludicrous than they actually contended. Ask a question which appears to address the topic, but is critically altered so as to converge upon only one single desired answer, or impugns your opponent (ignoratio elenchi).
Cite that your opponent’s evidence seems to suggest the very opposite of what they have concluded.
Refer your opponent to an article that takes a while to read, but really does not address the critical path question, so that your opponent has to read it all the way to the end, in their search for anything salient.
Ingens vanitatum is the tactic of citing a great deal of expert irrelevance. Pepper the opponent with this. Toss out anything you know which serves to dis-inform as to the nature of the argument being vetted or the critical evidence or question being asked.
Waste as much time as is possible, hoping the opponent will simply give up and go away.
Cite your opponent’s fallacy, in an unskilled manner or usage of that fallacy. Preferably use the Latin handle for it if possible.
If the opponent agrees with any of your counterargument, bank this. Later, introduce your conclusion as a settled fact, already admitted by the opponent.
If the evidence in support of the opponent’s argument is good, shift the argument into a rhetorical realm. Cite an answer which is begging for a question.
Cite where the opponent’s argument is offensive to some protected group, is racist, bigoted, or anti-science. Cite that this offense will shut down research or offend an entire culture or discipline of study.
Employ a ‘broaches the question’ argument. Suggest a reasonable proposition which leads into your conclusion. If the opponent detects the trick, cite their disagreement as evidence of their unreasonable position or entrenched belief.
Cite your contention as the assumption basis for the entire argument (beg the question). Confuse and conflate the principles – ‘broaches the question’ (linear logic) and ‘begs the question’ (circular logic). Hopefully then they will treat your circular logic as being linear.
Extrapolate twisted forms of your opponent’s logical structure into realms where the logic does not apply, in order to make it appear ridiculous.
Never admit that any portion of your opponent’s argument may be sound. If their conclusion is reasonable, never admit this either. Avoid soundness at all costs (providing you know what that even is)
Pretend that your opponent’s lack of ability to communicate the argument effectively stands as proof of its invalidity.
5. Get personal, gaslight your opponent, or feign personal offense. Conflate disagreement with insult.
If it is not personal by this point in the discussion, you are in danger. Take it personal, but make it appear to be their fault. Remember, in a war, they are either for us or against us.
Broaden the discussion to include an attack upon your opponent’s unrelated core beliefs or stereotype. If they argue about a specific topic, broaden it to include their weaker, fanatic, or religious beliefs.
Conduct a full slate of gaslighting tactics (A strong person does not try and convince another that they are alone, crazy, anti-_______, nonsensical, and insignificant. Only a weak or demonic mind does this. So be clever in your wording, so as to not make these accusations too manifest. Intimate rather than outright accuse):
– you’re the only one who thinks this
– you’re a loon, batshit, mouth-breather
– been debunked widely already
– bucket group assignment (conspiracy theorist, anti-______, ‘flat-earther’, etc.)
– no one understands you
– you committed this past error or ‘sin’
– you’re just a random person
– you’re a liar
Make your opponent angry, impatient, or frustrated. Cast shade their way. An intellectually disheveled person is less capable of using sound logic, science, or argument method.
Cite that the opponent’s own arguments have either established their irrationality, or disproved their contention altogether.
Cite ‘fact-checking’ from a syndicate media or propaganda source, and pretend that it is objective and balanced.
Always seek to leverage emotion into apparent fanaticism on your opponent’s part.
Appeal to the opponent’s motive. Assign them membership in a club.
Reiterate that the opponent’s argument is overly complex, or worded in overly complex language, that prevents his ability to communicate its soundness or principles. However, now also feign objectivity that you would gladly hear the argument if only this sad shortfall on their part were not so. A second insult of this nature may get them angry.
Shift the argument to become one of a personal nature. Offer a pseudo-compliment or cite that the opponents is ‘probably smart’, however then cleverly insult your opponent and their ability. Feign pity for them. Wonder how somebody supposedly so smart could believe such a thing.
Appear to be offended by some personal attack your opponent can be equivocally framed to have made. If your opponents cites a portion of your argument as ‘unethical’ – cite that they are accusing you of being unethical. Feign indignance.
Claim that the opponent has made a personal statement about you. Use or argue varieties of ad hominem accusations and exclusions. This endless debate about what is, and is not ‘ad hominem’, is often a very effective cul-de-sac of doubt inside which you can mire the argument.
Fail to separate yourself from your argument. Appear pragmatic yet indignant.
If you sense that your opponent has the skill/evidence to defeat you in debate, make sure that you insult them early and often – so that they end up leaving the conversation and blocking you. You can cite their refusal to speak with you any longer, as evidence that their argument is weak.
6. Declare victory. Change topic.
Exit, stage (I am) right.
Summarize your conclusion that your opponents entire argument is invalid, and declare victory in your unilateral war.
Gunsling with the ‘Three Razors’ (never hint that they have limitations or qualifications):
– Occam’s Razor: The simplest explanation is the correct one
– Hanlon’s Razor: Always select for stupidity over malice
– Hitchens’ Razor: What can be claimed without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.
Break off the discussion as being a waste of your time, or beneath you, or having been resolved already.
Interpret any agreement on the part of your opponent as evidence of your victory.
Introduce a red herring, popular controversy, or change the subject entirely. It should be visceral enough to deflect attention.
Appeal to the audience. Always frame your summary to the intellectual or knowledge level of the audience.
Finally, admit all your opponent’s premises to appease them, but then deny the conclusion regardless.
Finish by reasserting the pejorative you gave your opponent in step 1 above (conspiracy theorist, anti-science, racist, etc.)
Cite that you have actual professional work or something else important that you need to get back to, that there are more important problems in the world, or that real scientists don’t worry about this.
Run around telling everyone who will listen, that your opponent ‘blocked you’ (how dare anyone deny your right to have them be forced to hear you), and ‘runs away from a question or challenge’. Never say what that question indeed was – because the audience might spot your bias/ignoratio elenchi themselves. Remember, this is about appearances and victory, and never truth.
As an ethical skeptic you will find that one can often detect this process in a person very early on inside a discussion. The masquerade has a certain familiar shtick to it. Remember, you will never convince the person who is using this method. They were only attempting to aggrandize themself with a victory. If you exhaust their methodology through to the end, they will simply declare to all that the subject has been put to rest.
This is how oppression functions. Be skilled in its opposition.
The Ethical Skeptic, “The All-too-Familiar Art of Pseudo-Argument”; The Ethical Skeptic, WordPress, 25 Oct 2021; Web, https://theethicalskeptic.com/?p=53698
- Schopenhauer, A. “The Art of Being Right”; https://www.amazon.com/Art-Being-Right-Arthur-Schopenhauer/dp/1981262644
Beautiful article thank you. I would only add that “argument” predates Corona. I haven’t found anybody to ‘argue with’ for nearly 3 years. Still today old friends, family, colleagues acquaintances and friends, neighbours and locals one has known for years: none of them seems prepared to hold an opinion on anything anymore.
How do we cope with this silence?
The straw man, the gaslighting, the feigned ignorance, then the feigned outrage…we were all used to that.
What do you recommend to do if we find ourselves in an argument with someone who does this? Is the only way to win not to play the game?
They are using the argument to promote themself, and harm you – rather than prosecute the subject at hand. Yes, ignore such people… Keep focused on construction of your argument, rather than detracting others’ or defeating any particular ongoing research.
This is a beautiful exposition of the problem. Some others have coined terms like “the hatchling” for the people apparently born yesterday why say “what is a nation then?”, “What is a border exactly” “In what way is porn different to looking at your girlfriend naked”. And “squirting squid ink” for those who scatter tangential arguments to deflect thinking about the main point. Also “motte and Bailey” is used for roughly the same thing of defending a far off boundary aggressively to stop any you getting anywhere near the weak centre of their argument. “We all have the potential to… Read more »
Your description of pseudo-argument seems to be a description of what university students are actively taught to do.
What is J A Q?
It was in bullet point #2 ‘Just Asking Questions’ – but I went ahead and added into the title of that section as well.
Thanks for reading!
Great article, as always! This works very well to expose the way in which these things are handled nowadays – and it is much clearer than Schopenhauer’s extremely sarcastic notes which were indeed compiled “from a stack of loose notes and not a completed work of philosophy” – not to mention published after his death (1864). He mentioned his manuscript somewhat dismissively in Parerga and Paralipomena, but didn’t want to finish and systematize it … but wanted others to build on it, LOL! In the form in which it is presented here, it is unambiguous what this kind of sophistry… Read more »
Absolutely TS… thanks for the feedback. I don’t get much of it, but the Google Analytics reports tell a completely different story. Lots of hits, lots of dwell time and lots of multiple page sessions. That is encouraging, even if my audience is the contemplative and quiet type.
I sure am dwelling on your blog for long periods of time and reread many of its articles – because there is nothing like it. Speaking hypothetically, it would be a crushing loss to philosophy if it ever were to vanish into the ether. This may sound somewhat grandiose, but I really think that you can learn more from TheEthicalSkeptic.com than from any other contemporary source of philosophy. It is like a compendium of truly rational independent thought, without the usual short-sighted badmouthing of everything even somewhat metaphysical-sounding, yet all the more rational for it. No stupid materialism vs. idealism… Read more »
[…] The Clean Energy Narrative is used without acknowledging the dirty inputs needed and real analysis required as (The Ethical Skeptic does below) to make any social changes this large. (Not that this matters to the climate screamers). Maybe, we should just go back to bikes and stop all air travel as well. Stop building ships of all sorts. One means here, if we have to kill all humanity’s aspirations, and industry, while drinking up the remaining soy lattes, raising our kids in masks, teaching them to hate another’s skin color, or shame them into a lifetime guilt complex for… Read more »
Sounds familiar. Pro-vaxxers anybody?