Rules of Argument

Eysenck's Rules

"These rules are simple, but I recommend them to anyone who has occasion to engage in public arguments. Briefly, they are as follows:
  1. Never argue about something about which you are fundamentally ignorant.
  2. Do your homework, so that you really know everything there is to know about the topic in question.
  3. Keep what you have to say short, because if you go on for any length of time the audience will forget the points you are making.
  4. Concentrate on the most important points, and don't go hunting after those that matter less.
  5. Having decided what are the most important points, force your opponent to answer these points, and don't let him [or her] escape by dragging in all sorts of irrelevant matters" (Eysenck, 1997, p. 76).
"Among the many errors committed are having no central theme, concentrating too much on unimportant aspects rather than vital ones, giving too much detail, ...over-estimating the background knowledge of the audience, failing to set the research in its proper background, and so forth ad nauseam. I consciously tried to avoid all these errors, and think of the particular audiences I was addressing, their needs, interests and requirements..." (Eysenck, 1997, p. 122).

"[My father] taught me that it is very important indeed to have a particular high spot in your presentation, something which stands out and which will be remembered by the audience for a long time" (Eysenck, 1997, p. 122).

Russell's Rules

"[The peer commentator] implied that my alleged misrepresentations and distortions were deliberate.... Any such implication is false, but I cannot think that [he] meant what he said. Such remarks distract from the scientific issues and discourage debate. [He] and I have always agreed on the value of a good debate. Mistakes are corrected, questions are raised, ambiguities are clarified, alternative interpretations arise, and future possibilities are suggested" (Russell, 1995, p. 388).

Wilson's Rules

"All my life I have placed great store in civility and good manners, practices I find scarce among the often hard-edged, badly socialized scientists with whom I associate. Tone of voice means a great deal to me in the course of debate. I remember to say 'With all due respect' or its equivalent at the start of a rebuttal, and mean it. I despise the arrogance and doting self-regard so frequently found among the very bright" (Wilson, 1994, p. 25).


Eysenck, H. J. (1997). Rebel with a cause: The autobiography of Hans Eysenck (Revised and expanded edition). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

Russell, J. A. (1995). Facial expressions of emotion: What lies beyond minimal universality? Psychological Bulletin, 118, 379-391.

Wilson, E. O. (1994). Naturalist. Washington, DC: Island Press.

Last modified February 2001
Visited times since July 2001

Home to Speaking

Home to Great Ideas in Personality