Thursday, January 8, 2009


Bulverism is a term coined Lewis which refers to the mode of discourse many revert to in an argument.  Mostly everyone uses this strategy in which one assumes his opponent to be wrong and then explain his error without logically breaking down the argument or statement with reason.  Instead of responding to the actual statement a Bulverist will attack the person that made the statement.  This is quite destructive as this practice can upset a powerful mode by which humans operate to discover knowledge.

It is interesting to consider the implications of Bulverism on society.  It can be observed in the ad hominem attacks that politicians unleash on their opponents, contributing to a distrust and disgust of the occupation.   It can also be noticed almost daily in my own life where I have discredited someone’s argument based on his or her personal background and not on a logical proposition based on irrefutable reason.  For example, I have a friend with whom I have had many discussions on the subject of homosexuality.  We have, on occasion, considered whether homosexuality is a choice or whether it is simply a part of our genetic makeup such as being born male or female.  My friend always takes the side of genetic predisposition and says that “I was born homosexual, I didn’t choose it, its just built into the fabric of my nature.”  Too my shame I have used the bulveristic strategy of attacking him personally by exclaiming, “Of course you think that… You’re homosexual.”  I refute his argument based on his own bias.  Although this is a very effective method of winning an argument, it does not support or encourage the pursuit of knowledge. 

Winning an argument may boost the ego and be initially gratifying but it doesn’t accomplish anything.  An argument is an effective and powerful tool.  Just as a rifle is an effective and powerful to tool that can be used for hunting or protection, so can discourse be used to discover and protect the truth.  However, just as the same rifle can be used for murder and destruction so can discourse sow the seeds of resentment and result in the distortion of the truth.  The Apostle Paul warned Timothy of the dangers of senseless contention when he wrote: “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.” (2 Ti 2:23)  When we practice bulverism we change an argument from being a useful exercise to find the truth to a foolish quarrel because the sole purpose of the bulverizer is to win.

The easiest course of action in a discussion is to attack the opponent personally.  It is quite simple and effective to win an argument by pointing toward bias or even things irrelevant to the discussion.  The point of a meaningful discourse is not to win.  It is to locate and determine the truth behind something.  Thus it is important to realize that reason instead of ad hominem should be used to pull apart an opponents statement.   When reason is coupled with humility during a discourse, the truth will be found and those involved will have the strength to change their opinions and grow both intellectually and spiritually.

1 comment:

  1. Dude I thought I was gonna be offended lol. Don't worry I wasn't. And I've gotten that various times. It hasn't been just from you, but from most people who hold the same opinion as you. I'm not offended, though, because if I were you, I'd be thinking the same. Now whether I'd be defending homosexuality as an inborn trait if I were hetereosexual is a question even I don't know the answer to. But I like to think that since we homosexuals have done a lot of thinking and self-inspection (an inevitable part of the coming out process), we know ourselves quite well. But this post isn't about being gay, it's about a debate fallacy. Good analysis.