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Epoché: A Journal for the History of Philosophy

Volume 24, Issue 1, Fall 2019

Ethan Stoneman
Pages 133-154

Everyone Is at Liberty to Be a Fool
Schopenhaur’s Philosophical Critique of the Art of Persuasion

Retrieved from unpublished manuscript remains, Arthur Schopenhauer’s Eristic Dialectics (1830–1831) has been largely ignored both by philosophers and rhetoricians. The work is highly enigmatic in that its intended meaning vacillates between playful irony and Machiavellian seriousness. Adopting an esoteric perspective, this article argues that the tract can be read as simultaneously operating on two levels: an exoteric, cynical one, according to which Schopenhauer accepts that people are going to argue irrespective of the truth and as a result provides tools for defeating one’s opponents, and a deeper, esoteric level, which functions not cynically but, in Peter Sloterdijk’s language, kynically, as a satirical unmasking of the cynical impulses animating the study and practice of argumentation, especially as evinced in the rhetorical-humanist tradition. Such an interpretation reveals that, while a minor work, Eristic Dialectics offers a sophisticated philosophical critique of “the art of persuasion.”

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