How to argue against an opponent’s points of view

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This summer, I will be posting some rhetoric theory, as we finish up our rhetoric handbook.

You may, I hope, recognize some political tactics that occur across the entire political spectrum in terms or explanations, accusations, spins, and general misconstruction of reality.

Here is one post:


Why not just ignore your opposition, you may ask. Well, your reader knows that there is another point of view to be considered. You need to deal with the opposition’s point of view. You appear weak if your reader thinks that you are avoiding this point of view.

However, though you need to deal with your opposition’s point of view, you do not need to dwell on it too long. The longer you dwell on it, the more you might lend it credence in the mind of your reader. Balance is the key to dealing with the opposition. You need to spend just enough time on the opposition to dismiss it sufficiently, yet not so much that it appears as if your opposition could seriously undermine you, and certainly not so little that you look superficial and flippant.

When to Address the Opposition

Your opposition’s points of view should be addressed in the middle of your essay, that is, after the introduction and presentation of how you will lay out your case (division). You should address it early in the body of your essay. You want to get it out of the way, so you can talk about the things that are most relevant to the case you are setting forth.
The exception to this rule is when you know that the opposition’s arguments are foremost in your audience’s mind. In that case, you need to mention the opposition in your introduction. State your awareness of the opposition’s arguments along with a confident statement that you will refute these arguments in the body of your essay. This approach to the opposition is one you might want to adopt when you are arguing for a case that is generally misunderstood and misconstrued in the minds of most of your audience. Your bringing the opposition up early will set your audience’s minds at Ease. They will know that you do have an understanding of the issues that concern the audience, and that you are fully aware of how these issues are to be addressed.


We define refutation as a strategy used to tackle the opinions of those who are opposed to a claim.
Aristotle names several options for dealing with the opposition.

1. Deny the alleged fact.
2. Admit the fact, but balance it with circumstances that ameliorate it.
3. Admit the fact, and say it was due to a mistake or bad fortune.
4. Admit the fact, but say it was not intended in the way that it has been perceived.
5. Discredit the person who alleged the fact.

Which one you use depends—we hope, always—on what the truth really is. If you know the alleged fact to be true, you should obviously not deny that it is true.

Quintilian on Refutation

Refutation of an argument may be understood in two senses,

1. If you are defending an issue that has been misunderstood, your essay consists wholly in refutation.
2. Under normal circumstances, if there is an opposition to your point of view, you need to refute whatever has been said in opposition.

Refutation needs to stay within the appeal to logos. Your reader is best persuaded by reasonable discourse, says Aristotle.

Note, it is more difficult to defend than it is to accuse.

Why is this?

First of all, accusation is simpler because it is sufficient for the accuser to allege what appears to be true. The accuser just has to sow a seed of doubt about the virtue of a person or an issue, and he has already half-conquered.
Secondly, when you are defending, you start from a point of weakness where you have to acknowledge that someone already has attacked your point of view. A defender, when fighting against even a tiny seed of doubt has to deny, justify, make exceptions, excuse, deprecate, soften, extenuate, avert, or ridicule, to undo the damage of the allegation.

Refuting the Opposition

In order to refute your opposition, you need to first understand what your opposition’s point of view is.

• What is your opposition’s main argument?
• What are your opposition’s proofs?
• Can you find evidence that reveals the weaker sides of your opposition’s claims?
• What are the weak points on your side of the argument, and how would your opposition attempt to refute those points?

When refuting something it is important to consider what the opposition has already said, and how it was. As a writer you must answer the following questions.

1. Is the argument you want to refute inherent to the issue or extraneous?
2. Do you need to deny it, justify it, or excuse it; or do you need to show it is irrelevant?

In other words, there are two types of negation of an event.

1. It did not happen.
2. It is irrelevant.

If you say that it did not happen, you will argue that either it is unclear whether it happened, or it is incredible to believe that it happened, or it is impossible that it could have happened, or it is highly unlikely that it happened.)
In ceremonial rhetoric, you are refuting misconceptions about the status quo. Something is alleged to have happened a certain way, but you will argue that the event has been misunderstood. After you have asserted this, you need to describe the person, place, event, situation or idea, as it really is.
In deliberative rhetoric, you are refuting your opponent’s point of view about a future action to be taken. In this case, you need to show that your opponent’s understanding of the issue is either

1. Irrelevant
2. In error.

You can either refute your opponent’s points one-by-one, or you may want to overthrow them as a whole. If they are weak arguments that are obvious and easy to refute, you may deal with them as a whole.
If they are sophisticated and harder to see through, you may want to address them one at a time.

Arguments are examined

1. By conjecture, whether the arguments are true or false.
2. By definition, whether the arguments properly concern the issue at hand.
3. With regard quality: Is the situation really as bad or as good as alleged?
4. Whether the arguments are dishonorable, unjust, scandalous, inhuman, cruel, or deserve any other designation that falls under the head of quality.

Remember, to be persuasive you need to write polite but strong paragraphs that will not only demolish your opponent’s arguments but also strengthen your own point of view.

About Lene Jaqua

Co-author of Classical Writing books
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