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Will is More Effective Than Insight


Techniques General persuasion > The Art of Being Right > Will is More Effective Than Insight

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



There is another trick which, as soon as it is practicable, makes all others unnecessary. Instead of working on your opponent's intellect by argument, work on his will by motive; and he, and also the audience if they have similar interests, will at once be won over to your opinion, even though you got it out of a lunatic asylum; for, as a general rule, half an ounce of will is more effective than a hundred-weight of insight and intelligence. This, it is true, can be done only under peculiar circumstances. If you succeed in making your opponent feel that his opinion, should it prove true, will be distinctly prejudicial to his interest, he will let it drop like a hot potato, and feel that it was very imprudent to take it up.

In such cases every man feels how thoughtless it is to sanction a law unjust to himself - quam temere in nosmet legem sancimus iniquam! Nor is it otherwise if the bystanders, but not your opponent, belong to the same sect, guild, industry, club, etc., as yourself. Let his thesis be never so true, as soon as you hint that it is prejudicial to the common interests of the said society, all the bystanders will find that your opponent's arguments, however excellent they be, are weak and contemptible; and that yours, on the other hand, though they were random conjecture, are correct and to the point; you will have a chorus of loud approval on your side, and your opponent will be driven out of the field with ignominy. Nay, the bystanders will believe, as a rule, that they have agreed with you out of pure conviction. For what is not to our interest mostly seems absurd to us; our intellect being no siccum lumen. This trick might be called "taking the tree by its root"; its usual name is the argumentum ab utili.


Schopenhauer suggests:

 A clergyman, for instance, is defending some philosophical dogma; you make him sensible of the fact that it is in immediate contradiction with one of the fundamental doctrines of his Church, and he abandons it.

A landed proprietor maintains that the use of machinery in agricultural operations, as practised in England, is an excellent institution, since an engine does the work of many men. You give him to understand that it will not be very long before carriages are also worked by steam, and that the value of his large stud will be greatly depreciated; and you will see what he will say.


People often argue with a certain amount of purpose. If you can show that their purpose is unfounded or will not succeed, then you can tap their will-power to the point where they will give in.

This can be often done by providing them with additional information that deflates their argument. It may even be done apologetically, indicating that you have sympathy for their cause and owe it to them to give them this extra knowledge in order to avoid their later disappointment. Such an approach can build rapport and so position you well to argue your own case.

'Will is More Effective Than Insight' is the thirty-fifth of Schopenhauer's stratagems.

See also

Persistence principle


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