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Figaro rips the innards out of things people say and reveals the rhetorical tricks and pratfalls. For terms and definitions, click here.
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    Sex! Betrayal! Aristotelian Logic!

    We’re titillated. Oh, yes, we’re titillated. After the endless Obama-Romney campaign, with the bland leading the bland, we’re finally back to tawdry scandal.

    The formerly untouchable General David Petraeus, head of the CIA, messes with his hardbody biographer. Then the top general in Afghanistan gets in trouble for sending thousands of emails to the woman who tipped off an FBI agent, who in turn emailed shirtless pictures of himself to… Can you just feel the rhetoric, people?

    No, we can’t either. But all those emails raised privacy questions, which produced a good quote in the New York Times, which gives us today’s figure.

    If the C.I.A. director can get caught, it’s pretty much open season on everyone else.

    Marc Rotenberg, executive director of theElectronic Privacy Information Center in Washington

    Figure of Speech: argumentum a fortiori (ah-for-tee-OR-ee), argument from strength.

    The a fortiori argument goes like this: If it works for a hard case, it will certainly work for an easy one.You’d think the head of the CIA could conduct a clandestine affair, you know, clandestinely. And if he can’t, think what government investigators could do with the emails of us non-spy types. (You’ll find a fortiori on page 7 of Thank You for Arguing.)

    Figaro uses fortiori with his work all the time. “Hey,” he tells clients. “High school kids are learning these techniques. Sophisticated persuaders like you can learn them, too.” Of course, high school kids also learn calculus. But Figaro doesn’t mention that.

    So what’s your own best argument from strength? Put it in the comments below. No shirtless photos, please.

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    Reader Comments (13)

    Nice post, Fig! I used the argument from strength the other day--though I didn't know it was called that. My sister was complaining that she didn't have time to work out. I said, "I'm holding down two jobs and commuting an hour each way for one of them. If I can work out, you can."

    It didn't convince her, but at least my logic was good, right?
    November 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarl D.
    After the American Revolution, Alexander Hamilton got the nation to eliminate its crippling debt. And America was a poor, weak country. If it could deal with its debt, why can't modern America?

    That's an a fortiori argument, right?
    November 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Wolff
    It is indeed, Sarah. Carl, your argument from strength made us feel stronger.
    November 14, 2012 | Registered CommenterFigaro
    Just about any argument that begins, "If we can put men on the moon..." constitutes a fortiori. Correct, Figaro?
    November 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMary Elphinstone
    Right, Mary. It's probably the most common American argument from strength. Or used to be. We don't put men on the moon anymore.
    November 14, 2012 | Registered CommenterFigaro
    if America(replace as aproriate) can thrive independant of westminster, just think what an independant Scotland could acheive.

    think thats one.
    November 14, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjoe
    Of course, that assumes America is the weaker culture, Joe. Which is probably your point.
    November 14, 2012 | Registered CommenterFigaro
    Here's one I often use on my six year-old daughter at the dinner table, "Your brother is only four and sits calmly at the table, why can't you?" Never mind the fact that he is trapped in a booster seat that limits how much he can wiggle.
    November 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterErik
    Ah, the old argument by restraint.
    November 14, 2012 | Registered CommenterFigaro
    Hamilton didn't eliminate the national debt. He created it. So the argument should go "if a small, poor, war wearied nation can thrive while incurring national debt, why can't our richer, larger nation?"
    November 14, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge
    I believe the Revolution created the debt, George. Hamilton insisted on paying it. But your argument still holds up logically (if not historically).
    November 14, 2012 | Registered CommenterFigaro
    OK, I get the argue from strength concept. Is there a latin term that describes the opposite: "I'm so weak, If I can lift 20lbs, anyone can."?
    November 16, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTom
    Believe it or not, Tom, your weakling argument is another argument from strength. If the hard case is true, then the easy one must be as well.
    November 16, 2012 | Registered CommenterFigaro

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