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Advocatus Diaboli

Lat. “devil’s advocate”. A legitimate rhetorical technique in which a discussant takes an opposing position in order to test and sharpen arguments in debate.

Unlike the straw man argument, the advocatus diaboli does not take a weaker or easily attackable position, but on the contrary, argues as solidly as possible.

Origin of the name

The term “advocatus diaboli ” originally comes from eccle­si­asti­cal law and refers to a party in a process for can­oni­za­tion whose task is to argue against the evi­dence pre­sented by the Church (whose re­pre­sen­ta­tive is the “advo­catus dei”).

Description

It is an experience that every­body must have made at some point, that an argu­ment, which seemed to be com­pletely clear and plau­sible to one­self or to peers who were of the same opinion anyway, sud­denly becomes much less con­vinc­ing when one is actually con­fronted with counter-arguments.

It there­fore helps to sharpen the argument if someone takes on the role of the opponent in a (friendly) argument and helps to question one’s own position – for example, to prepare answers to expected counter-arguments and possibly also to modify one’s position to one that is easier to defend.

For this type of role-playing, it is important that the advocatus diaboli  argues pro­verbi­ally “tough but fair“, i.e., does not spare the oppo­nents, but also does not use unfair tricks (unless one wants to practice precisely how to respond to unfair rhetorical tricks).

Avoiding groupthink

In many groups of people, some form of con­sensus is estab­lished about cer­tain ways of think­ing and basic as­sump­tions that can no longer be questioned ( group­think). In this situation, an “advocatus diaboli ” can help to question these basic assumptions and ensure that they remain grounded in reality.

Self-criticism

A kind of “inner” advocatus diaboli, i.e. a self-critical re­flection on possible counter­argu­ments, can help to avoid certain forms of fallacious thinking and cog­ni­tive bias­ses (e.g. confirmation or overconfidence biasses).

See also

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About this site

Ad Hominem Info is a project to explain and categorize the most common systematic fallacies and fallacies. On this page, you will find a background article that briefly explains an important rhetoric concept, which may be needed to better understand another article in this area.
For more information, please see the main category “rhetoric

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