Here I'm going to talk about some dirty tactics that bad and dishonest people often use to try to win arguments without actually finding a flaw in your reasoning. (Though note that most of these aren't always done intentionally.) I'll go ahead and not talk about the obvious technique of interrupting your opponent so they can't make their case, since that one is pretty universally looked down on to the point that it's often suicidal (kind of like flaming).
- The invincible lie
- Ideograph abuse
- One-sided hostility exploit
They let me interrupt, I counter their argument, and then they try to use the fact that I interrupted them as an excuse to not deal with my rebuttal. This works for me because I can say, "Okay, your turn. Explain why my objection is invalid". And then I've accomplished what I wanted. I showed how the first complete thing they said is invalid and now they can't build on it.
- They don't let me interrupt after multiple tries, and speak for way longer than it should take to make a valid and complete point. This amplifies the power of the complaint when I call them out for filibustering, because I can say something like "How am I supposed to answer you if you won't let me speak?" which better exposes how dishonorable they're being. If they go for "I'm letting you speak now", be ready with "I tried to speak earlier but you kept cutting me off. Why don't you go through your arguments one at a time this time so I can actually answer them?"
- Linguistic cloaking
- Virtue signal with something uncontroversial
- Disallowing opinion
- Ridiculing hypotheticals
- Independence shaming
- Definition hijacking
- Relativist rhetoric
This technique consists of making a false factual assertion that you would know and that would win the argument if it were true, and then when your opponent calls you on it, you say "Are you accusing me of lying?" and shame your opponent for this ad hominem attack.
When someone uses this tactic on you, the best way I've found to counter it is to point out two things: firstly, that if no one can be accused of lying then everyone will lie, and secondly, lying to win an argument is not nearly as deplorable as most people think it is. After all, if you're having an argument about something like politics or religion, you can even argue it's morally right to lie if it convinces someone to believe something less harmful. Still, there's no telling how closed to reason the audience might be. I can only wish you good luck when someone plays this card on you.
I detail this one in the linked article, as it contains enough sub-forms to warrant its own page.
As for how to beat this, pointing out what your opponent is doing probably won't end well in a verbal argument. They'll just take the opportunity to sidetrack you into a sub-argument about whether they're trying to inflame you or not, which isn't what you want - you want to focus on the actual debate. What I'd recommend doing against this is honestly inflaming back - if they're doing it too then they can't call you out. Even if it doesn't succeed in provoking them, it'll likely help you keep your own cool, as it's a way of symbolically taking out your anger. Especially the inflammatory technique of laughing at your opponent - if you're enjoying the argument you're going to be a lot more resistant to any attempts to inflame you. Whatever you do, don't give into the temptation to flame them; it's what they want, because it turns the audience against you.
An ideograph is a word with a strong (usually positive) connotation attached, especially one with no clearly defined meaning. Examples of these in modern American political discourse include "freedom", "justice", "equality", "terrorism", "feminism", etc. Almost everyone has some words that trigger them like this. The danger is that a smart adversary knows how to use your ideographs against you to manipulate your emotions and make you more receptive to their position. For example, if someone were trying to convince me to support some policy change, they would have much better odds of succeeding if they could find a way to use a word like "freedom" to represent their side. It's important to watch out for your opponent doing this to you in an argument, and try your best to remind yourself that their side isn't actually the one that promotes whatever ideograph they're using on you.
In the case that the danger is more other listeners being swayed by the emotional manipulation than you, this is a lot more worrisome. In those cases it might be worth making a short detour to point out how utterly meaningless these words are until explicitly defined.
This technique works by making it look like your opponent is being one-sidedly hostile and thus guilting them into cutting you some slack. It takes two main forms:
Form 1: your opponent strongly condemns your position at the start of an argument, and so you start by telling them how much you agree with them. Point out as much common ground between your philosophies as possible and make it seem like the difference is smaller than it is. After you've done this and showed your willingness to discuss amicably with someone who thinks your position is horrifyingly evil, you've scored a huge point for yourself in terms of apparent moral high ground. The opponent is forced to either continue the appearance of one-sided hostility or de-escalate their rhetoric, implicitly admitting that they were wrong.
For dealing with this, one thing I'd recommend is just to be careful in an opening statement to not go too far with your rhetoric. If you must (because the opponent's position is genuinely horrifyingly evil), attach clear explanations of why everything you say is evil is so, and perhaps repeat these after the opponent responds. For example, if you're arguing for Anarchism and you righteously point out all the horrific evils of government and then the opponent reveals that they're a minarchist and agrees with most of what you said but claims there should be a "minimal government" purely to protect people from crime, you should say something like, "That's an improvement, but it doesn't change that you're funding your activities through coercive theft backed by the threat of violence and therefore are a partial communist". (Note the use of three different ideographs in that rebuttal. Yes, it's ideograph abuse, but that's not immoral when you're using it to urge people to question their indoctrination rather than to indoctrinate them.)
This technique can be made even nastier. I know someone who routinely employs this and every time he agrees with something you said, he ends it with, "you know?" prompting you to agree with him in return before he goes on to disagree with you. This extension makes the psychological manipulation significantly stronger by pressuring you to return the gesture, making it much harder not to internalize it. Worse, the language of "you know?", at least if you give the expected "Yes" or "Yeah" response, makes it sound like they're the one explaining something to you, which gives them an air of intellectual high ground.
When people go there, I think there's no way it can be a good strategy to let it stand. I think you have to call them out for it to get a decent result. Depending on the specifics, maybe something like, "Yes, I do know; I just made that point myself". This shows how your opponent is wasting time repeating what you already said. It might be seen as excessive picking on your opponent's word choice though. Another possible version might be to say, "Exactly my point", in a tone of voice that suggests you're still waiting for their point to come. This is less intrusive, but might be less potent at exposing their bullshit.
Form 2 is what I call "the gift ploy". This one applies especially to non-intellectual arguments (ie. where the objective is to get them to apologize or agree to do something rather than to change their beliefs). After a heated argument, you bring someone a gift, often food (although you can do this to a small extent with just a compliment) and once they take a bite you make another foray into the argument. It's bullshit because it uses what is ostensibly a gift just to put the opponent in a low-status position where they feel like they owe you a favor, and leverage that to win the argument. And because it's ostensibly a gift, it makes them feel guilty if they call you on it, since you just deny that you meant it as a trick and there's no way for them to prove it. I really haven't found any half-decent way to counter this technique :(
Another thing people do in in-person arguments to mess with your mind is to simply speak for so long that by the time they're done, you've forgotten what their original point was, and so you can't refute it. This leaves you with no in-the-box option except to ask them to remind you. And that just makes it look like you're not really paying attention to your opponent's arguments, which of course casts a horrible light on you. It might be that I'm abnormally vulnerable to this since I clearly have difficulty holding a lot of abstract thought or information in my mind at once. Regardless, it shouldn't usually be hard to beat this by calling them out for filibustering; something like "Why don't you go through your arguments one at a time so I have a chance to respond?"
The defense can be made stronger with a technique I call submissive interrupting. Start to speak between their sentences (if you don't have any words prepared you can try something like "Wait a minute" or "Can I speak?" to show you have a rebuttal to make if given a second), but don't force the interruption. Stop and let them continue if they try. Two scenarios can play out from here:
This is the practice of using words with no clearly defined meaning to prevent the opponent from answering your argument, because they can't figure out exactly what it is. This is separate from ideograph abuse, since these often aren't words with a polarized moral connotation. For example, someone criticizing a work of fiction might say, "the ending is inconsistent with the tone of the story." But to make a criticism like that and expect it to persuade a reasonable adversary you need to have a clear idea of what a "tone" even is in this context (which I'm sure most people don't - I don't) and why it's important.
You'd think it should be easy to just ask for a clear definition and instantly counter this technique. I've had great success countering it that way. But I see this get played on other people all the time on the internet and in real life and they seem to almost never challenge it. I think it's because most people don't have a clear and comprehensive ontology that they believe in. Not having one makes it hard to identify this trick in time to stop its argumentative power, because you can't pinpoint what the concepts you believe in are either.
I guess there's also the case where someone keeps using unclear words in a definition train and you keep pressing them for a real answer and they finally accuse you of only pretending to not know what they mean. (This has been played on me several times.) It's pretty dirty. But even that's usually not hard to counter by asking them to confirm that they're accusing you of lying (important to use that exact word), as the people who employ this rotten technique are normally the same ones who wouldn't dare say yes to that.
Very popular in politics. Debaters often open with a statement like, "I believe violence is wrong" or "America has had a past of racism and slavery, and it's important that we demolish the last remains of that". A remark like this, since everyone can get behind it, charms the audience into being instinctively more receptive to your actual claim, which is yet to come. It also subconsciously implies that the opponent does support violence or racism, since they're being contrasted with someone who doesn't. Obviously, there's a lot of overlap with ideograph abuse, but I don't think the two are the same.
As for how to counter this, there's not much you can do since they haven't really committed a fallacy or done anything necessarily dishonest, but you can at least emphasize when it's your turn to speak that you also don't support racism, or whatever the case may be.
This is the act of trying to make people feel that certain positions are "out of bounds" and aren't allowed to even be proposed. (The Overton Window is basically this in politics.) This tactic is often whipped out whenever someone questions what are seen as the foundational principles of the society they live in, such as the legitimacy of government, the non-aggression principle (note the enormous contradiction between the two), that democracy is the best form of government, the legitimacy of taxation, the acceptability of eating animals, or similar. It usually takes the form of someone expressing shock and horror at your opinion and perhaps calling it "anti-American" or some other completely bullshit negative ideograph.
To counter the effect this has on you, all you need is sufficient confidence to not be intimidated out of your position by some asshole's scare tactics. Preventing its effects on whatever audience might be present is quite a bit harder. My usual recommendation would be to point to examples of opinions that were considered unthinkable in the past or in other circles, but are now widely accepted. For example, America's laws used to condone slavery, and even many of the people fighting for "liberty" in the American Revolution owned slaves. Clearly slavery was evil despite how widely accepted it was, so just because an idea is considered radical does not make it false.
In the case of contingent facts with consequences for philosophy or politics, this often takes a form like "It's been scientifically proven ..." or "You can claim X if you like, but there's no disputing that ...". Of course, there is never "no disputing" a contingent fact known only through other people. Common fallacies relating to citations and statistics apply.
This is the practice of trying to stop your opponent from using a hypothetical example to show how your principle doesn't hold. It takes the form of something like "that's ridiculous, such a situation would never happen" or "but that isn't the case" (Read: I prefer to limit my thinking to a narrow range of scenarios so I don't have to deal with the numerous possibilities showing that my principle doesn't hold water). The truth of the matter is (at least for philosophy and morality) a valid principle must be able to work in any possible situation. It doesn't matter how obscure it is; if it could happen in any world that could exist then philosophy has to cover it.
I don't have any concrete advice on countering this. Our culture has an intensely "realist" mindset that makes its subscribers instinctively averse to considering situations very different from they believe is "real". And it's really dangerous, because thought experiments are one of the main ways of getting through to someone through reason. But I don't know what to do about someone who won't accept them.
This mostly shows up in debates about morality, where a bad person says something like "It's insane to think that you are the one who gets to decide what is right". Of course, nothing is less insane. Everyone has conscience and telling someone else that theirs is wrong and they should listen to your word instead is what is really insane. There are a lot of possible approaches to countering this. What I just said is one, but it's by no means the only one.
One possible counterplay is the immediate response, "But you are?" This is quick, simple, and powerful. It's not as in-depth as the explanation I gave, but might be a better version, perhaps depending on how the independence shaming was phrased.
Important to note is that this statement actually also has a strawman built into it. It's cleverly phrased so that it implies the good person is saying they are the only one who "gets" to decide what is right, when of course no one thinks that. Perhaps the best angle (assuming you won't be interrupted) is, "That's not what I think. No one 'decides' what is right. That's why everyone has to go by their own conscience."
Another possible angle is, "of course I get to decide that. So do you". This has the benefit of likely catching your opponent off-guard by elevating them to your level when they're bullshitting you. Of course, the natural question after this is, "but what if we disagree? Who gets to decide?" In some cases the shamer automatically defeats themselves if they ask that (because then it's clear the arbiter can't be them). But more often this is about statism (they're trying to shame you for holding your own beliefs above the democratic process), and so depending on the specifics the right answer is either "the property owner" (an obviously correct answer that clearly shows the evil of taxation), or it's moral conflict. In that case you might be in a bit of a pinch, because that's a hard idea to stomach for a lot of people (the thought of violence being the right thing even outside of anyone being evil), and somewhat understandably so.
When a good person explicitly defines a word and then makes an argument using that definition, bad people will often have trouble countering it, so one thing they might resort to is to plug their own definition of the word into the good person's argument, show that the result is absurd, and then call the good person's argument invalid because it leads to this conclusion.
I've never seen anyone actually lose an argument to this cheat. That might be because I can't remember seeing it used on anyone but me. Regardless, it can be an effective way to waste time (and thus avoid losing) or frustrate the good person, especially if the bad person makes the resolution take a long time by at first simply stating that the valid argument leads to the bogus conclusion without explaining what they did and leave the good person to figure it out through a chain of questions (which will likely be given dodgy answers laced with linguistic cloaking).
Pandering to the popular attitude that no one is wrong because telling someone they're wrong is mean. "That's just your opinion" is the cliched phrase. A lot of people know that this is bullshit, but I still see it thrown around absolutely everywhere. In fact this is kind of similar to the one-sided hostility exploit.
The worst part though is when it gets asymmetric (which it usually does when you advocate ideas farther from the Overton window, such as Anarchism). When someone accuses you of bigotry or intolerance for not "respecting their opinion", but at the same time they refuse to respect yours. Whatever "respect" even means at that point...
If someone plays this on you in an argument about something like morality or politics, it should be pretty easy to respond by making them agree that there is an objective truth that is right for everyone. After that this usually moves into independence shaming and can be dealt with the same way. When the argument is about something like game design or storytelling philosophy, the person will often claim that there genuinely isn't an objective truth.
In that case you can point to an example of a game/story that is obviously objectively bad. Most often they'll respond that some things about those fields are objective but others are subjective, which puts them in a horrible position if you pressure them to explain what the pattern is ("Huh, it seems like whatever you dislike is objectively bad but whatever I dislike is a matter of opinion"). If they stick to their guns and say it's all subjective, then you still win in some sense because you can point out that this means your opponent can never call a work bad again or say that it "should" have gone a certain way, only that they "personally didn't like it".