Argue like a philosopher and lose every argument. Argue like a layman instructed with philosophy and you’ll win every time

Christopher Philip

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The fact of the matter is that most people don’t argue according to any of the rules of logic. Philosophy deals very much with debate and sound reasoning. The biggest problem with reasoning with everyday people is that they aren’t informed about the fallacies or errors in reasoning that philosophers work to identify. Most people use emotions to reach a conclusion. Follow the guide below and learn to use sound premises to support your conclusion.

What is an argument?

Every argument is composed of two basic things: premises and a conclusion. The problem is that most people normally throw in other meaningless junk when they propose something, such as fallacies, invalid statements and pseudo-conclusions. To make things even more confusing, your opponent may not even be arguing at all. This is what is called a near argument. These near arguments could be either statements used simply to report someone else’s argument or they could be an explanation of why or how something happened.

philtablegirlFirst, you must be sure that the person in question is actually making an argument. You’ll know that the statement is actually an argument if it contains at least one premise and a conclusion. Premises are defined as anything intended to support a conclusion, while a conclusion is a point that the arguer is attempting to make. Often conclusions are led by indicator words or phrases such as ‘therefore’, ‘so’, ‘hence’, ‘thus’, ‘accordingly’, ‘which shows that’, ‘which means that’, ‘for that reason’, and so on.

The next step is to check for the premises. Premises are points that support, or attempt to support, the conclusion. Premises are often indicated by words or phrases like ‘since’, ‘because’, ‘for’, ‘as’, ‘follows that’, ‘as shown by’, ‘the reason is’, ‘given that’, and so on. An example of an argument is: “Bill is a jerk off because he never goes out with us when he says he will and he always steals my beer when I’m away.” The conclusion is that Bill is a jerk off and there are two premises to support it: “he never goes out with us when he says he will” and “he always steals my beer.”


Now you must determine whether or not the premises are true and whether they support the conclusion. In the above example, the premises dosupport the conclusion. This makes the argument logically strong, since the premises, in addition to supporting the conclusion, are also true (or so we can assume). This step in determining whether or not someone has a good argument involves asking the question, “Are the premises acceptable?” Premises will be unacceptable if they provide no support for the conclusion.

Relevancy and Adequacy

Does the information provide the right support for the conclusion? Keep in mind that premises are irrelevant if they do not increase the likelihood that the conclusion is true. Finally, check for adequacy. This involves asking the question, “Is there enough proof to support the conclusion?” Premises will be inadequate if they do not provide enough support for the conclusion.

Win Every Argument

If you follow the above argument style, you’ll win every time – so long as you’re arguing with a philosopher. If you’re not, here’s how to win any argument with a layman – or piss them off trying.

Pretend to be an expert

The trick is to control the argument from the beginning. If you’re going to start an argument make sure you know more than your opponent does. You’ve got to make him think that you are an expert in the field. Use big words. If you don’t know any, no problem – just make some up. When you define your words be sure to use them in your definitions. This will keep your opponent confused. If he doesn’t know what you’re talking about, how’s he going to defend himself? If he knows that you’re not an expert, then simply make an appeal to one. This fallacy is called an appeal to authority. If you haven’t got any experts in mind, then simply create some imaginary ones – they know everything!


“Bill is a real ass” is an example of the fallacy of equivocation. You’ll win this argument every time because you are defining Bill as an ass. You are in essence defining your own terms.

Set up a straw man then burn it

You can really mess with people’s heads by putting words in their mouths. A straw man is when someone attacks a position that appears similar to, but is actually different from, an opponent’s position, and thereby concludes to have refuted the argument. You can set up a straw man argument by simply repeating some of the words in your opponent’s previous sentence, as well as some of his overlying ideas, and changing them enough so that you can easily prove them wrong. Your opponent might say something like, “Bill is not a jerk, he’s just under a lot of pressure lately.” To this you say, “I can’t believe you think being a jerk is okay.” Then quickly go into a big argument about how Bill has no right to be a jerk. Cut your opponent off before he has a chance to correct your straw man.

Use a bad analogy

This is another fallacy in arguing but it can really confuse the crap out of someone. Remember, if you’re not going to win, you should at least piss your opponent off. Here’s a good one: “Bill is a real jerk off because he steals my beer. He’s like one of those parasites from the African rift whose only means of life is at the expense of his host, the Great Tit.” None of the statements in this sentence is true nor in any way supportive of Bill and his behavior. So while your opponent is busy thinking about the analogy, move onto another point.

Well, that begs the question

This fallacy occurs when the premises of the argument presuppose the truth of its conclusion. You might beg the question by saying: “Bill is an ass because he’s always doing things ‘the Bill way’, just like any ass would”. The premise is actually the conclusion – dumbfounding!

Make up a false dichotomy

“Bill is either a jerk or a real ass”. Given the two choices…

Ad hominem

This literally means ‘against the man’. It occurs when a premise provides evidence against the arguer and not the argument placed by him. To the guy who said that Bill was just under a lot of pressure, you might respond with, “If that’s what you think, you’re an idiot!”

Appeal to popularity, pity, ignorance and force

“Everyone knows Bill is an ass. Besides, no one else has anything nice to say about him and look what he did to me. You can’t say that Bill is a nice guy – he stole my beer and I feel so abused. And if you don’t believe me, I’ll punch you.”

There you have it. By using these techniques you’re sure to win a few arguments – one way or another.

No college course would be complete without a glossary of terms!

Antecedent – that which precedes
Disjunctive – separating
Syllogism – a logically consistent argument consisting of two
propositions and a conclusion deduced from them

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