Examples and enthymemes

Posted on December 16, 2011 by

For example

Feminism has been good to me.

This is very interesting, as I have an anti-feminist blog, but it should have little effect upon whether or not feminism or patriarchy are preferable systems for the majority of women. But try telling most women that. They don’t want to hear it. The fact that they can say, “Aha! Feminism has been good to you, and to a woman I know named Sarah,” is enough proof to persuade them of the superiority of feminism as a system of societal order. No amount of statistics, evidence, research, or even counterexamples will convince them otherwise.

If their argument can be backed by a singular example, they consider it to be completely true. This is why they are prone to apex-fallacies (i.e. if there are men at the top, men are all on top). It is also why it can be extremely frustrating to argue with a woman; it can feel like talking to a wall. No matter what you say to defend your side, she will simply repeat her example and consider your argument beaten.

What is the alternative to an example?

Women think almost entirely in example (an instance), which is the most common and least rational sort of proof. Men can slide into this habit, as well, but they’re generally less prone to it, and it is easier to change their minds using an enthymeme (a general rule). This is the reason why most men consider women to be less intelligent overall, which isn’t actually true. It is simply that their arguments are more concrete and less abstract.

Although it’s best to use both types of proof in every speech, the better arguments are actually enthymemes, which are based upon signs and probabilities. As Aristotle writes in The Rhetoric:

Every one who effects persuasion through proof does in fact use either enthymemes or examples: there is no other way… When we base the proof of a proposition on a number of similar cases, this is induction in dialectic, example in rhetoric; when it is shown that, certain propositions being true, a further and quite distinct proposition must also be true in consequence, whether invariably or usually, this is called syllogism in dialectic, enthymeme in rhetoric.

It is plain also that each of these types of oratory has its advantages. Types of oratory, I say: for what has been said in the Methodics applies equally well here; in some oratorical styles examples prevail, in others enthymemes; and in like manner, some orators are better at the former and some at the latter. Speeches that rely on examples are as persuasive as the other kind, but those which rely on enthymemes excite the louder applause.

But I am getting ahead of myself…

Let us look at the difference between the two types of proof:

Example 1
Susan said she's shopped at Target, and that it's cheaper.

Examples are most persuasive in larger numbers (people equate frequency with constancy) and higher specificity, so it is best to use multiple examples and be more exact. So let’s improve upon that example.

Example 2
Susan and Mary both say they've shopped at Target, and that it's cheaper than Walmart.

I have compared the prices on the goods commonly purchased by middle-class families between Target and Walmart, and I have found Target to have lower prices.

This enthymeme is an informal form of the
I can tell which store has lower average prices by comparing the goods commonly purchased by middle-class families. (major premise — assumed)
When comparing prices on these items at Target and Walmart, Target has lower average prices. (minor premise — stated)
Target has lower prices. (conclusion — deduced)

As you can see, examples are less conclusive than enthymemes, but they are also harder to refute. Susan and Mary did say that, after all, so the burden of proof falls on the enthymeme-bearer, who must undermine the importance of the example. The common method is to say that the example is an exception, but then they can always find (or invent) more examples to counter that. In any case, their example weakens the persuasive power of your enthymeme by proving that it is not absolute.

Because of this, the bearer of deductive proof has the stronger hand, but is put in a defensive position, where their argument is picked and nicked apart, example by example. You should defend an enthymeme with your own examples, rather than dismissing your opponent’s examples. Your examples are a support to your counterargument that their examples are exceptions to the general rule (enthymeme).

It is best to precede your enthymeme with your own example, to refute their counterargument preemptively. They then have to counter both your enthymeme and your example in order to win the argument. At this point, baseless statistics and “studies have shown” start being thrown around, the argument will degrade into chaos, and everyone will remember the part at the beginning where you sounded like you knew what you were talking about.

Woe is men

Women tend to win most disagreements with men, despite the fact that their proofs are rarely truly persuasive. It is exhausting maintaining an enthymeme in the face of an endless flow of examples, especially as the examples are often far-fetched, incoherent, and only tangentially related. In fact, they will prefer bizarre examples, as those are more confusing to their opponent. They don’t persuade their audience (their opponent), they just wear them down and discombobulate them until they give up.

An insistence upon logic is the basis of the AFC, which is why dumber men tend to be more naturally dominant than clever ones. The less clearly and logically you can think, the more likely you are to greet an incoherent feminine tirade with an order to Shut up! — which is actually the correct answer to her true argument! Her argument being, “Is he dominant?” not “Did he remember to bring home the right kind of milk?” She doesn’t usually care about the milk, she’s just using it as a pretext to launch her argument.

It is not a logical disagreement, but a question of establishing dominance because status is women’s primary concern. Women don’t really care about logic, so winning a logical argument doesn’t really interest them — they just want to assert themselves. This is why it’s important for men to disengage from fruitless discussions with women, and to concentrate on maintaining their hierarchical position instead. Only enter into logical discussions with women when they seem willing to engage with you logically. If they emote, distract, or try to emotionally manipulate you, disengage and ignore them immediately. Simply note that they are not arguing about what you are arguing about, and that the conversation is therefore a waste of time.

To know why that works, you have to remember that women think in examples.

Her argument
I have seen a sign of weakness in you, so now I don't think you are dominant.

His response
*intimidating silence, disengagement, dismissal, etc.*

He wins the argument. His silence is an example proof of his dominance, and a single example is enough to persuade her. This is one major reason why Aristotle tells us that empathizing with your audience is vital to designing a persuasive argument — you need to know what the argument is actually about!

The infamous “shit test” is not about women being crazy, but about them being disinclined to voice their arguments openly, or to even be fully aware of their argument. So if she freaks out over something inconsequential realize that she’s actually freaking out about something else, but she’s too confused or embarrassed to address what she’s really upset about. Your goal is to figure out her argument (what she’s upset about) and address that, while ignoring the milk tantrum.

So, the general rule is…

As I noted above, women are more inclined to examples, men more to enthymemes, which is why men’s speeches tend to “excite the louder applause”, and men are generally considered smarter than women. Logical arguments are more impressive than anecdotal ones, but not necessarily more persuasive (especially if you have many women or effeminate men in the audience). Hence, you should always use both, to be on the safe side.

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