Humans have been arguing and debating since the very dawn of time. Well…no. At the dawn of time humans threw rocks at each other. But humans have been throwing thoughts at each other for a very long time. And, as in any field of human endeavour, there are some dirty tricks.
The Ad Hominem Argument
If you can’t be bothered to question your opponent’s intellectual position, question your opponent.
OPPONENT: We’re not doing enough to fight unemployment.
YOU: Yes, well, that’s just what a communist like you would say!
The Straw Man Argument
If you can’t attack your opponent’s position, invent a new one and attack that.
OPPONENT: We should look after old people.
YOU: Looking after old people costs money. It is crazy to put up taxes to look after old people. Taxes are not the
answer to our problems in society.
The Post Hoc Argument
This is one very popular with children and superstitious adults. If A happens after B, just assume that A caused B. Utter nonsense but you might get away with it!
You used my computer and it crashed. So you broke my computer!
Petitio Principii or Begging the Question
This is a circular argument in which the premise assumes the conclusion is true.
YOU: God exists because the Bible says so.
OPPONENT: How do I know the Bible is true?
YOU: Because it was written by God.
Arguing from Misleading Vividness
This is a favourite of racists. Something striking happens which is statistically improbable. You can claim it is commonplace.
NEWS ITEM: An old lady was robbed by a Rumanian in Madrid yesterday.
RACIST: Rumanians are thieves!
The Guilt by Association Argument
This is a good one for bullies. You make someone feel bad just because of who else shares their opinion and not by evaluating their argument.
OPPONENT: I agree with Barry.
YOU: What? How can you? He’s a Republican!
The Slippery Slope Argument
You see this one all the time! It works by taking as inevitable something which is not necessarily inevitable.
If you allow Nigerians to immigrate with their children, the next thing there will be no places for our children in schools.
The ‘Tu Quoque’ Argument
This is the opposite of “two wrongs don’t make a right.�? In this argument, they do.
OPPONENT: 5,000 people have been killed by Zorg troops in Zumbiland.
YOU: Yeah, well… the Zumbilanders have killed innocent
And remember, if you make enough claims and you ask enough questions, you may never have to define your own position! Arguing is like judo. Maximum effect from minimum effort. So now that I have shared some dirty tricks, let me just say that you are not encouraged to practice them in your English classes or on our Weekly Letter website. Let’s face it. If we use tricks, we only fool ourselves.