Thursday, January 7, 2010


Named after C.S Lewis’s fictional character Ezekiel Bulver, “Bulverism” is said to be the art (and a much practiced one too) of assuming that an opponent’s argument is wrong because the way he arrived to that conclusion is erroneous. Instead of tackling the argument itself to prove its validity, it “distracts” itself from the main point of the whole debate and attacks the arguer to win. One could say that Bulverism totally misses the point.

To show how miserably Bulverism fails to properly explain truth, Lewis uses an example. In the example he claims to have a grand sum of money. To find out whether this is true or not, he writes that it is necessary to do the math in an accurate manner instead of finding out about his mental state since that would prove nothing about the initial proposition.

Reading this example one could think that avoiding bulverism is quite simple. However, this is fatal misconception. Bulverism is more deeply rooted than what we think and it happens to be almost everywhere: Politics, religion, gender discrimination, etc. Somehow we have gotten so used to use the easy way to win a debate that finding the truth has become something secondary. Yes, Bulverism may indeed be useful to obtain victory but it’s not right.

Lewis writes what we must actually do. We must “find out the rights and wrongs by reasoning – never by being rude about your opponent’s psychology” and we must “show that a man is wrong before [we] start explaining why he is wrong”. It’s the reason what we must search for, not the cause.

Bulverism "is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became to be so silly." If Bulverizing starts with assuming, then the first thing we must be careful of is to not assume and have prejudices. Taking something for granted without rational proof may lead to another mistaken statement and this one to another and so on. Thus Bulverism is wrong from the very beginning.

This reading made me reflect about how difficult the road to find the truth of things is. The way has become blurry because of the dark clouds of bulverism and it has become almost invisible because of the lack of motivation and ignorance of people. A Habit is a scary thing, and a Bulverizing habit, even more so. And the best way to break a bad habit is to drop it (Leo Aikman), starting from now.


  1. I like your comment on how insidious bulverism is. The easy way to win is not always the best way to win. Unfortunately we as human beings do not always think about what is the right or moral thing to do, but rather look to win through whatever means we have to use to achieve victory even if it requires that we argue against the person and how tainted the path they took to their answer is.

  2. i think your point on how deeply ingrained bulverism is in our society is one that was very important to emphaisze. as you said, it would seem esay to avoid, but we all too often find that we fall into it in almost every sector of our lives.

    You did very well to clearly pinpoint the beginning of our failing, when we begin to "assume" that the opponent is wrong. this is certainly something we need to steer clear of in order to have debates that actually lead to a clear conclusion instead of muddling about the issue.

  3. I appreciated Lewis' example of the sum of money; it helped to clearly illustrate what the problem with a bulverist approach is. But I agree with you that it is not as simple as his example may suggest. Bulverism is so deeply engrained in our approach to debating and our way of thinking. I think it needs to be a constant conscious effort to approach arguments rationally.

  4. Thats so true that it has become such a habit now because it is so openly practiced. Politicians use it so much today that it is accepted to be a valid way of arguing. The illustration he uses with the sum of money is quite helpful.