The Art of Always Being Right

George Walden reviews The Art of Always Being Right, Arthur Schopenhauer, with an introduction by A C Grayling, in The New Statesman:

SchopenhauerSchopenhauer’s sardonic little book, laying out 38 rhetorical tricks guaranteed to win you the argument even when you are defeated in logical discussion, is a true text for the times. An exercise in irony and realism, humour and melancholy, this is no antiquarian oddity, but an instruction manual in intellectual duplicity that no aspiring parliamentarian, trainee lawyer, wannabe TV interviewer or newspaper columnist can afford to be without.

The melancholy aspect comes in the main premise of the book: that the point of public argument is not to be right, but to win. Truth cannot be the first casualty in our daily war of words, Schopenhauer suggests, because it was never the bone of contention in the first place. “We must regard objective truth as an accidental circumstance, and look only to the defence of our own position and the refutation of the opponent’s . . . Dialectic, then, has as little to do with truth as the fencing master considers who is in the right when a quarrel leads to a duel.” Such phrases make us wonder whether his book was no more than a bitter satire, an extension of Machiavellian principles of power play from princes to individuals by a disappointed academic whom it took 30 years to get an audience for his major work, The World as Will and Idea. Perhaps, but only partly. With his low view of human nature, Schopenhauer is also saying that we are all in the sophistry business together.

The interest of his squib goes beyond his tricks of rhetoric: “persuade the audience, not the opponent”, “put his theory into some odious category”, “become personal, insulting, rude”. Instinctively, we itch to apply it to our times, whether in politics, the infotainment business or our postmodern tendency to place inverted commas, smirkingly, around the very notion of truth.

More here.