It’s a great question. Why do people always assume that volume will succeed when logic won’t?

Ever notice that when you have a solid argument, or when the other person’s argument is shaky, they will tend to raise their voice or become offensive by insinuation or insult? Such silliness is so patently obvious you would think to find it only among young, ill-mannered children. Alas, it’s all too common among well-mannered adults.

In October 1960, C. S. Lewis wrote a lengthy letter to the editors of Delta: The Cambridge Literary Magazine. He was writing in response to an article that had appeared in the student publication earlier that was critical of Lewis for giving an unfavorable opinion of the work of some of the students and faculty. Among his nine points was this one, number six. With a quote from Cyrano de Bergerac (“the honor to serve as target to the enemy”), and a reference to a character from Charles Dickens’s Bleak House, Lewis responds,

“But on one point, fortunately, your article provides me with the very thing. I complained that the tone of undergraduate criticism was too often ‘that of passionate resentment’. You illustrate this admirably by accusing me of ‘Pecksniffian disingenuousness’, ‘shabby bluff’ and ‘self-righteousness’. Do not misunderstand. I am not in the least deprecating your insults; I have enjoyed these twenty years I’honneur d’etre une cible and am now pachydermatous. I am not even rebuking your bad manners; I am not Mr. Turveydrop and ‘gentlemanly deportment’ is not a subject I am paid to teach. What shocks me is that students, academics, men of letters, should display what I had thought was an essentially uneducated inability to differentiate between a disputation and a quarrel. The real objection to this sort of thing is that it is all a distraction from the issue. You waste on calling me liar and hypocrite time you ought to have spent on refuting my position. Even if your main purpose was to gratify resentment, you have gone about the wrong way. Any man would much rather be called names than proved wrong.”1

When someone is getting the best of the dispute, try simply refuting their position with logic and evidence or simply concede and offer to buy coffee.

“Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” – Proverbs 17:28.

  1. Walter Hooper, ed., The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy 1950-1963, Vol. III (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2007), 1232. Italics in original.

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