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Eristic, from the ancient Greek word eris meaning "wrangle" or "strife", often refers to a type of argument that focuses on ending with successful disputation of an argument as opposed to approaching a given truth. According to T. H. Irwin, "[i]t is characteristic of the eristic to think of some arguments as way of defeating the other side, by showing that an opponent must assent to the negation of what he initially took himself to believe." That is, eristic arguments focus on being right, or being perceived as right or compelling.[1] The aim usually is to win the argument and/or to engage in a conflict for the sole purpose of wasting time through arguments, not to potentially discover a true or probable answer to any specific question or topic. Eristic is arguing for the sake of conflict as opposed to the seeking of conflict resolution.[2]

As a Rhetorical Tool[edit]

Eristic was a type of "question-and-answer"[3] teaching tool popularized by the Sophists, such as Euthydemos and Dionysodoros. Students would engage in eristic arguments to learn how to "refute their opponent, no matter whether he [said] yes or no in answer to their initial question"[4] through the practice.

Plato often contrasted this type of argument with the dialectical method and other more reasonable and logical methods (e.g., at Republic 454a). In the dialogue Euthydemus, Plato satirizes eristic.

Plato believed that the eristic style, "did not constitute a method of argument," believing that to argue eristically is to consciously use fallacious arguments therefore weakening one's position.[5]

Unlike Plato, Isocrates (often categorized with the Sophists) conflated eristic with dialectic, making no distinction between the two methods.[6] He did not include the practice of either in his teachings because he felt both lacked "'useful application'...that created responsible citizens."[7] Isocrates saw that "eristic disputations" were of no "practical service" and did not "conjecture about useful things". Furthermore, he outright stated that he thought eristic was used for little more than "men...enriching themselves at the expense of the youth."[8]

Philosophical eristic[edit]

Schopenhauer considers that only logic pursues truth. For him, dialectic, sophistry and eristic have no objective truth in view, but only the appearance of it, and pay no regard to truth itself because it aims at victory. He names these three last methods as "eristic dialectic (contentious argument)."[9]

According to Schopenhauer, Eristic Dialectic is mainly concerned to tabulate and analyze dishonest stratagems,[10] so that they may at once be recognized and defeated, in order to continue with a productive dialectic debate. It is for this very reason that Eristic Dialectic must admittedly take victory, and not objective truth, for its selfish aim and purpose.

Argumentation theory[edit]

Argumentation theory is a field of study that asks critical questions about eristic arguments and the other types of dialogue.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Irwin, T.H.. "Plato's Objection to the Sophists." The Greek World. London: Routledge, 1995. 585. Print.
  2. ^ H. D. Rankin (1983). Sophists, socratics and cynics p233-237
  3. ^ Alexander Nehamas. "Eristic, Antilogic, Sophistic, Dialectic: Plato's Demarcation of Philosophy from Sophistry". (page 6)
  4. ^ Irwin, T.H. "Plato's Objection to the Sophists." The Greek World. London: Routledge, 1995. 583. Print.
  5. ^ Alexander Nehamas. "Eristic, Antilogic, Sophistic, Dialectic: Plato's Demarcation of Philosophy from Sophistry". (page 7)
  6. ^
  7. ^ Marsh, Charles. Classical rhetoric and modern public relations: an Isocratean model. New York: Routledge, 2013. 121. Print.
  8. ^
  9. ^ Controversial Dialectic on accessed at January 19, 2008
  10. ^ In his Dialectica Eristica Schopenhauer presents 38 eristic stratagems


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