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This is Beyond Me

 

Techniques General persuasion > The Art of Being Right > This is Beyond Me

Description | Example | Discussion | See also

 

Description

If you know that you have no reply to the arguments which your opponent advances, you may, by a fine stroke of irony, declare yourself to be an incompetent judge: "What you now say passes my poor powers of comprehension; it may be all very true, but I can't understand it, and I refrain from any expression of opinion on it". In this way you insinuate to the bystanders, with whom you are in good repute, that what your opponent says is nonsense. Thus, when Kant's Kritik appeared, or, rather, when it began to make a noise in the world, many professors of the old eclectic school declared that they failed to understand it, in the belief that their failure settled the business. But when the adherents of the new school proved to them that they were quite right, and had really failed to understand it, they were in a very bad humour.

This is a trick which may be used only when you are quite sure that the audience thinks much better of you than of your opponent. A professor, for instance, may try it on a student.

Strictly, it is a case of the preceding trick: it is a particularly malicious assertion of one's own authority, instead of giving reasons. The counter-trick is to say: "I beg your pardon; but, with your penetrating intellect, it must be very easy for you to understand anything; and it can only be my poor statement of the matter that is at fault"; and then go on to rub it into him until he understands it nolens volens, and sees for himself that it was really his own fault alone. In this way you parry his attack. With the greatest politeness he wanted to insinuate that you were talking nonsense; and you, with equal courtesy, prove to him that he is a fool.

Example

 Eh? I've no idea about all that. I couldn't possibly comment.

Well that's very interesting, I'm sure. Let's wait until Jane gets here. She knows more than me.

Discussion

Feigning ignorance is a very simple response to something where you seem likely to lose the argument or have to concede. If you can avoid discussion you can also avoid any embarrassment that could arise.

A variant or addition to this this is to pass the buck on to somebody else who may or may not be available to pick up the topic. This third party may be cast as the owner of the decision or simply someone more expert than you.

'This is Beyond Me' is the thirty-first of Schopenhauer's stratagems.

See also

Denial, Authority principle

 

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