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January 08, 2007



Pirie's book does indeed sound depressingly Thrasymachan.

But if it *is* ironic, in an old-boys' rhetoric kind of way, then do you really think that "most readers of the book won't spot this"? If the reader has picked up a book ostensibly on critical thinking, you don't think they'd also be attuned to a bit of mischievous irony?


OK. Fair point. But at least some readers will take 'It also teaches how to perpetrate fallacies with mischief at heart and malice aforethought'(from Introduction, p.ix) literally.

On the page I'm not even sure when he refers to Margaret Thatcher as 'Lady Thatcher' whether he is being deferential, sycophantic, or poking fun, though this would be easy to discern if I could hear his tone of voice and watch the movement of his eyebrow.

Gail Renard


… and other winning, obfuscatory Latin terms. I understand your point about How To Win Every Argument (though personally I would settle for every second one.) And you’re obviously a civilised critical thinker of great integrity, who are few and far between. But isn’t Pirie’s ethos just taking Machiavelli’s The Prince one step further though, of course, not in the same Premiership League?

Machiavelli deemed it was acceptable to perform cruel and evil actions for the health and stability of the state. To stretch a point, anyone taking Pirie’s book seriously could just say, “L’Etat, c’est moi.” (Another point to me for a winning, obfuscatory French term.) But winning at all costs is nothing new; in fact it’s a modern growth industry. What’s the difference between that and a President and/or Prime Minister stating that countries have weapons of mass destruction which can be deployed in 45 minutes? Or paying foreign footballers a fortune to play for teams they can’t even spell? Like it or not, the desire to win for winning’s sake, by means fair or foul, is human nature. Or, as Mel Brooks put it more succinctly, “It’s good to be King”… and other winning, obfuscatory English terms.

Alex Leibowitz

Well I'm not sure -- I think using the term 'fallacy' in an argument already makes it sound as if the interlocutor has committed a grievous sin. On the other hand, I think that the difference between 'logic' and 'rhetoric' is itself a very fruitful philosophical problem -- a distinction upon which, as I needn't remind you, I am sure, ancient philosophy as such founds itself.

I think a book that seriously resurrects sophistry can only lead to some very interesting new debates about what philosophy essentially is -- especially when what the practise of philosophy means is taken for granted among many in, if not by the many circles themselves (for insn't it precisely this issue, and a profound disagreement as to its resolution, that separates analytic from continental thought?).

Gary Curtis

I haven't read Pirie's new book, but I have read his earlier Book of the Fallacy, and I certainly took the approach to be ironic.


From the sounds of it, the comparison to The Prince is apposite - but then, I always took The Prince to be satire, too...

The tone seems to echo that of The Woolly-Thinker's Guide to Rhetoric: Learn, for example: how to play the 'biological reductionist' card to maximum effect; how 'language games' can help you out of a sticky situation; and how lucky it is that 'truth' is relative to particular discourses (especially yours).

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