Quotations about   argument

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Anger blows out the lamp of the mind. In the examination of a great and important question, every one should be serene, slow-pulsed and calm.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
“The Christian Religion,” Article 3, The North American Review (1881)
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Our disputants put me in mind of the scuttle-fish, that when he is unable to extricate himself, blackens all the water about him, till he becomes invisible.

Joseph Addison (1672-1719) English essayist, poet, statesman
The Spectator, #476 (5 Sep 1712)
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The intoxication of anger, like that of the grape, shows us to others, but hides us from ourselves; and we injure our own cause, in the opinion of the world, when we too passionately and eagerly defend it.

Charles Caleb "C. C." Colton (1780-1832) English cleric, writer
Lacon, Vol. 1, #240 (1820)
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Every man has a certain sphere of discretion, which he has a right to expect shall not be infringed by his neighbors. This right flows from the very nature of man. First, all men are fallible: no man can be justified in setting up his judgment as a standard for others. We have no infallible judge of controversies; each man in his own apprehension is right in his decisions; and we can find no satisfactory mode of adjusting their jarring pretensions. If every one be desirous of imposing his sense upon others, it will at last come to be a controversy, not of reason, but of force.

William Godwin (1756-1836) English journalist, political philosopher, novelist
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Book 2, ch. 5 (1793)
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To have a discussion coolly waived when you feel that justice is all on your side is even more exasperating in marriage than in philosophy.

George Eliot (1819-1880) English novelist [pseud. of Mary Ann Evans]
Middlemarch, Book 3, ch. 24 (1871)
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One of the greatest advantages of the totalitarian elites of the twenties and thirties was to turn any statement of fact into a question of motive.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951)
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A technical objection is the first refuge of a scoundrel.

Heywood Broun (1888-1939) American journalist, author
“‘Jam-Tomorrow’ Progressives,” The New Republic (15 Dec 1937)
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See Johnson.
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Yet at this very point it becomes quite clear that only an act of liberation, not instruction, can overcome stupidity. Here we must come to terms with the fact that in most cases a genuine internal liberation becomes possible only when external liberation has preceded it. Until then we must abandon all attempts to convince the stupid person. This state of affairs explains why in such circumstances our attempts to know what “the people” really think are in vain and why, under these circumstances, this question is so irrelevant for the person who is thinking and acting responsibly.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) German Lutheran pastor, theologian, martyr
“On Stupidity” (1942)
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Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed — in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical — and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for when dealing with a stupid person than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) German Lutheran pastor, theologian, martyr
“On Stupidity” (1942)
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If I know your sect, I anticipate your argument.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“Self-Reliance,” Essays: First Series (1841)
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Aravis also had many quarrels (and, I’m afraid even fights) with Cor, but they always made it up again: so that years later, when they were grown up they were so used to quarreling and making it up again that they got married so as to go on doing it more conveniently.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
The Horse and His Boy (1954)
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When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser.

Socrates (c.470-399 BC) Greek philosopher
(Spurious)

Of recent coinage. See here for more discussion.
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Anger is the common substitute for logic among those who have no evidence for what they desperately want to believe.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American author, polymath, biochemist
“The Tyrannosaurus Prescription”
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The test of a man or woman’s breeding is how they behave in a quarrel.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) British playwright and critic
The Philanderer, Act 4 (1893)
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To avoid dissensions we should ever be on our guard, more especially with those who drive us to argue with them, with those who vex and irritate us, and who say things likely to excite us to anger. When we find ourselves in company with quarrelsome, eccentric individuals, people who openly and unblushingly say the most shocking things, difficult to put up with, we should take refuge in silence, and the wisest plan is not to reply to people whose behavior is so preposterous.

Those who insult us and treat us contumeliously are anxious for a spiteful and sarcastic reply: the silence we then affect disheartens them, and they cannot avoid showing their vexation; they do all they can to provoke us and to elicit a reply, but the best way to baffle them is to say nothing, refuse to argue with them, and to leave them to chew the cud of their hasty anger. This method of bringing down their pride disarms them, and shows them plainly that we slight and despise them.

St. Ambrose (339-397) Roman prelate, Bishop of Milan [Aurelius Ambrosius]
De Officiis Ministrorum, ch. 5
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If a couple could see themselves twenty years later they might not recognize their love, but they would recognize their argument.

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays, # 20 (2001)
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Reasoning will never make a man correct an ill opinion, which by reasoning he never acquired.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) English writer and churchman
“Letter to a Young Clergyman” (9 Jan 1720)
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Everyone is prejudiced in favor his own powers of discernment, and will always find an argument most convincing if it leads to the conclusion he has reached for himself; everyone must then be given something he can grasp and recognize as his own idea.

Pliny the Younger (c. 61-c. 113) Roman politician, writer [Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus]
Letters, Book 1, Letter 20 [tr. Radice (1963)]
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Earthly minds, like mud walls, resist the strongest batteries: and though, perhaps, sometimes the force of a clear argument may make some impression, yet they nevertheless stand firm, and keep out the enemy, truth, that would captivate or disturb them. Tell a man passionately in love that he is jilted; bring a score of witnesses of the falsehood of his mistress, it is ten to one but three kind words of hers shall invalidate all their testimonies.

John Locke (1632-1704) English philosopher
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book 4, ch. 20, “Of Wrong Assent, or Error” (1690)
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Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one.

Marcus Aurelius (121-180) Roman emperor (161-180), Stoic philosopher
Meditations, Book 10, #16 [tr. Staniforth (1964)]
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There is almost no marital problem that can’t be helped enormously by taking off your clothes.

Garrison Keillor (b. 1942) American entertainer, author
“The Old Scout,” The Writer’s Almanac (4 Oct 2005)
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This is the character of truth: it is of all time, it is for all men, it has only to show itself to be recognized, and one cannot argue against it. A long dispute means that both parties are wrong.

Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer [pseud. of Francois-Marie Arouet]
Philosophical Dictionary, “Sect” (1764) [tr. Gay (1962)]
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Our errors and our controversies, in the sphere of morality, arise sometimes from looking on men as though they could be altogether bad, or altogether good.

[Nos erreurs et nos divisions dans la morale viennent quelquefois de ce que nous considérons les hommes comme s’ils pouvaient être tout à fait vicieux ou tout à fait bons.]

Luc de Clapiers, Marquis de Vauvenargues (1715-1747) French moralist, essayist, soldier
Reflections and Maxims [Réflexions et maximes], # 31 (1746) [tr. Stevens (1940)]
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Arguments only confirm people in their own opinions.

Booth Tarkington (1869-1946) American novelist and dramatist
Looking Forward to the Great Adventure (1926)
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It would be almost unbelievable, if history did not record the tragic fact that men have gone to war and cut each other’s throat because they could not agree as to what was to become of them after their throats were cut. Many sins have been committed in the name of religion. Alas! the spirit of proscription is never kind. It is the unhappy quality of religious disputes that they are always bitter. For some reason, too deep to fathom, men contend more furiously over the road to heaven, which they cannot see, than over their visible walks on earth.

Walter P. Stacy (1884-1951) American jurist
State v. Beal, 199 N.C. 278 (1930)
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In disputes upon moral or scientific points, ever let your aim be to come at truth, not to conquer your opponent: so you never shall be at a loss in losing the argument, and gaining a new discovery.

James Burgh (1714-1775) British politician and writer
The Dignity of Human Nature, Sec. 5 “Miscellaneous Thoughts on Prudence in Conversation” (1754)
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The Argument from Intimidation is a confession of intellectual impotence.

Ayn Rand (1905-1982) Russian-American writer, philosopher
The Virtue of Selfishness (1964)
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An eagerness and zeal for dispute on every subject, and with every one, shows great self-sufficiency, that never-failing sign of great self-ignorance.

William Pitt the Elder (1708-1778) British statesman, orator [1st Earl of Chatham]
Correspondence of William Pitt, vol 4 (1840) [ed. Taylor and Pringle]
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If you mean to make your side of the argument appear plausible, do not prejudice the people against what you think truth by your passionate manner of defending it.

James Burgh (1714-1775) British politician and writer
The Dignity of Human Nature, Sec. 5 “Miscellaneous Thoughts on Prudence in Conversation” (1754)
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What Tully said of war may be applied to disputing: “It should be always so managed as to remember that the only true end of it is peace.” But generally true disputants are like true sportsmen, — their whole delight is in the pursuit; and the disputant no more cares for the truth than the sportsman for the hare.

Alexander Pope (1688-1744) English poet
“Thoughts on Various Subjects” (1727)
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Prejudice, not being founded on reason, cannot be removed by argument.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
(Spurious)
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Frequently attributed without citation, and not found in Johnson's works.  However, the phrase can be found in other contexts:

  • "This objection on the score of color is founded upon prejudice, and hence cannot be removed by argument, for prejudice is blind and listens not to reason." -- Rep. Godlove S. Orth of Indiana, speech before the House of Representatives (5 Apr 1869) on the question of admitting the Dominican Republic as a US territory.
  • "This persuasion of the power of the priest is, as we have said, a traditional prejudice; it is not founded on any reasons or proofs addressed to the understanding, and therefore it cannot be removed by argument." -- John Eliot Howard, The Island of the Saints (1855), quoting from the Achill Herald (Jun 1855).

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Every absurdity has now a champion to defend it: and as he is generally much in the wrong, so he has always much to say; for error is ever talkative.

Oliver Goldsmith (1730-1774) Irish poet, playwright, novelist
The Traveller: Or, A Prospect of Society (1764)
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Lower your voice and strengthen your argument.

Other Authors and Sources
Lebanese proverb
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In stating prudential rules for our government in society, I must not omit the important one of never entering into dispute or argument with another. I never saw an instance of one or two disputants convincing the other by argument. I have seen many, on their getting warm, becoming rude, and shooting one another. Conviction is the effect of our own dispassionate reasoning, either in solitude, or weighing within ourselves, dispassionately, what we hear from others, standing uncommitted in argument ourselves.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Thomas Jefferson Randolph (24 Nov 1808)
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When a subject is highly controversial — and any question about sex is that — one cannot hope to tell the truth. One can only show how one came to hold whatever opinion one does hold. One can only give one’s audience the chance of drawing their own conclusions as they observe the limitations, the prejudices, the idiosyncrasies of the speaker.

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) English modernist writer [b. Adeline Virginia Stephen]
A Room of One’s Own, ch. 1 (1929)
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An association of men who will not quarrel with one another is a thing which never yet existed, from the greatest confederacy of nations down to a town meeting or a vestry.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to John Taylor (1 Jun 1798)
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In the end is it not futile to try and follow the course of a quarrel between husband and wife? Such a conversation is sure to meander more than any other. It draws in tributary arguments and grievances from years before — all quite incomprehensible to any but the two people they concern most nearly. Neither party is ever proved right or wrong in such a case, or, if they are, what does it signify?

Susanna Clarke (b. 1949) British author
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (2004)
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Don’t argue with idiots because they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience.

Greg King (b. 1964) American author and biographer
(Attributed)

Often attributed to Twain (compare to this), Bob Smith, George Carlin, and John Guerrero, all without citation. See also Proverbs 26:4.
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There is no arguing with Johnson; for when his pistol misses fire, he knocks you down with the butt end of it.

Oliver Goldsmith (1730-1774) Irish poet, playwright, novelist
Comment (26 Oct 1769)

In James Boswell, Life of Johnson, "26 October 1769" (1791)
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Never argue with a fool; onlookers may not be able to tell the difference.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
(Spurious)

Frequently attributed to Twain and also to Immanuel Kant (but never, in either case, with any citation). The phrase first makes recognizable (if anonymous) appearance in the late 19th Century; attributions to Twain begin in the late 1990s. See also Proverbs 26:4. For more discussion (and a shout-out to WIST) see here.
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I never make the mistake of arguing with people for whose opinions I have no respect.

Edward Gibbon (1737-1794) English historian
(Attributed)

Quoted in The Fra (May 1913) and Elbert Hubbard's Scrap Book (1923).
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Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
Proverbs 26:4 (KJV)
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If a donkey bray at you, don’t bray at him.

Other Authors and Sources
English proverb
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In a debate, rather pull to pieces the argument of thy antagonists than offer him any of thy own; for thus thou wilt fight him in his own country.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Introductio ad Prudentiam (1731)
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It is only when they cannot answer your reasons that they wish to knock you down.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
“The Assault upon Mr. Sumner,” speech, Concord (26 May 1856)
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Better shun the bait than struggle in the snare.

John Dryden (1631-1700) English poet, dramatist, critic
Epistle 13 “To My Honoured Kinsman, John Driden of Chesterton” (1699)
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How often could things be remedied by a word. How often is it left unspoken.

Norman Douglas (1868-1952) Austro-British writer
An Almanac (1945)
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Every man who attacks my belief, diminishes in some degree my confidence in it, and therefore makes me uneasy; and I am angry with him who makes me uneasy.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
Comment (3 Apr 1775)

In James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson (1791)
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I am bound to furnish my antagonists with arguments, but not with comprehension.

Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) English politician and author
(Attributed)

An frequently used saying of his. Quoted in Wilfrid Meynell, Benjamin Disraeli: An Unconventional Biography (1903). Also attributed to Samuel Johnson.
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Everybody is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people’s idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage.

Winston Churchill (1874-1965) British statesman and author
Speech, House of Commons (13 Oct 1943)
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I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) British playwright and critic
(Attributed)
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Passionate expression and vehement assertion are no arguments, unless it be of the weakness of the cause that is defended by them, or of the man that defends it.

William Chillingworth (1602-1644) English churchman and theologian
(Attributed)
    (Source)

Quoted in The Parliamentary History of England, Vol. 15, 29 George II, "Debate on a Motion for a Vote of Censor on the Treaties with Russia and Hesse Cassel (1755)" (1813)
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‘Twas blow for blow, disputing inch by inch,
For one would not retreat, nor t’other flinch.

George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824) English poet
Don Juan, canto 8, st. 77 (1823)
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In three moments a laborer will remove an obstructing rock, but three moons will pass without two wise men agreeing on the meaning of a vowel.

Ernest Bramah (1868-1942) English author [Ernest Brammah Smith]
“A Celestial Laureate” in The Living Age (12 Apr 1919)
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I do not love strife, because I have always found that in the end each remains of the same opinion.

Catherine II (1762-1796) Russian empress [Catherine the Great]
(Attributed)

Quoted in Katherine Anthony, Catherine the Great (1926).
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