August 09, 2004

Rhetorical flypaper plagiarized from inspired by Schopenhauer?

In post on August 6, I linked to a page where Birger Neilsen quotes "Thirty-eight dishonest tricks which are commonly used in argument, with the methods of overcoming them", from a 1930 work Straight and Crooked Thinking by Robert Thouless. I liked the list, but wondered "why thirty-eight?" Reader Steve Matuszek emailed the true explanation: because Thouless was inspired by Schopenhauer, who compiled a similar list of 38 Kunstgriffe ("strategems") in 1830.

I was at AAAI the week before last, so I fell way behind reading the Log. I apologize if this has already come up somewhere in the comments.

Thouless's 38 tricks looked familiar to me immediately. I submit that he was either paying homage to, or ripping off, Arthur Schopenhauer's Die Kunst, Recht zu behalten.

I have only this Web version to go by:

but if it is accurate, this was written around 1830 and translated into English in 1896.

It's a must-read in any case. German is the best Language for Philosophy because all its Nouns are capitalized.

But the classical capitalization rules are under attack by Die Rechtschreibreform! Only in some small details, but still... Of course, the classical capitalization rules of German were imposed around 1900, as I understand it, and so Schopenhauer may have capitalized in a more whimsical -- or philosophical -- fashion, I don't know.

Schopenhauer's list is quite similar in content to the one attributed to Thouless, though the order is different. I don't have a copy of Thouless' book, so I don't know if he credits Schopenhauer or not.

However, my question now regresses to this: why did Schopenhauer divide the taxonomy of rhetorical strategems into thirty eight branches?

[Update: on the question of whether Thouless credits Schopenhauer or not, Ray Girvan emailed to say

On the basis of a quick skim of my 1956 copy, only once, to cite Schopenhauer's defence against "This is Beyond Me".



Posted by Mark Liberman at August 9, 2004 08:06 PM