The ~Texas~ Mustang Project's Blog

Working for better management options and cohabitation through compromise and communication for the American Wild Mustang

“Playing the Devil’s Advocate”

A friend of mine sent this to me yesterday. He said this was the best way to describe his interpretation of the You Be the Judge series. I agreed and decided to share it with you all.

Devil’s Advocate: noun One who argues against something for the sake of argument, for example, to provoke discussion and subject a plan to thorough examination; One who argues against a cause or position either for the sake of argument or to help determine its validity. For example, “My role in the campaign is to play devil’s advocate to each new policy before it’s introduced to the public.”

In common parlance, a devil’s advocate is someone who takes a position he or she does not agree with for the sake of argument. This process can be used to test the quality of the original argument and identify weaknesses in its structure.

A devil’s advocate is someone who argues against an idea, position, or cause for the sake of argument, rather than out of actual opposition. While a devil’s advocate can simply play a contrary role, someone who argues against an idea can also stimulate discussion which can identify weak points in an argument which need to be addressed. Therefore, one could consider this office incredibly useful, albeit stressful for someone advocating alone against an accepted idea in a group.

In casual conversation, a devil’s advocate can seem extremely annoying, especially in a group which is generally in agreement on a topic, and even more so when it is clear that the person is arguing just to be contrary. In situations like this it can be helpful to remember the historical role of the devil’s advocate; rather than reacting with irritation, it can be interesting to actually discuss the issue with someone taking a contrary position.

In a more serious context, like that of a group of people making a major business or foreign policy decision, the devil’s advocate is a crucial person in the group. Groups tend to enter a state of mind called “groupthink” in which members of the group make poor decisions because they want to maintain their collective cohesiveness. Groupthink is marked by things like self-censorship and the idea that everyone in the group agrees when this is not, in fact, the case. A devil’s advocate can help to test a concept, ensuring that it really is sound.

Many people also use the term to excuse themselves before making a contradictory or potentially offensive statement, often saying something like “not to play the devil’s advocate, but …”

This measure is often undertaken out of a desire to keep discussions calm and rational, as many people react unfavorably when their ideas are challenged. Don’t be afraid to be the devil’s advocate in a group, or even with yourself; by doing so, you can promote a probing of ideas, opinions, concepts, and positions to test their soundness. It also prepares you for arguing with someone who is genuinely opposed to the issue.

Playing the Devil’s Advocate is a tool which can be used to promote open-minded skepticism. It involves strong advocacy of negations to the proposition in question. Like a good debater, the advocate employs reason to examine a position or argument in order to test its validity. Specifically, a position is tested by bringing up facts or points that are unfavorable to the position or argument.
The Devil’s Advocate’s role is to be skeptical and to find flaws in the proponent’s case despite the fact that the person playing Devil’s advocate often believes the proposition or case that he or she is arguing against. Whether the Devil’s Advocate ultimately believes the points he or she is making is irrelevant. This is a process to go through in order to ensure an argument is as flawless as possible through the proponent’s systematic rebuttal of the points made by the Devil’s Advocate.


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