Devil's advocate

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A Devil's advocate (in Latin, Advocatus diaboli) is a person who takes a position for the sake of argument, rather than out of conviction.

Originally, devil's advocates were appointed by the Roman Catholic Church to argue against the canonization of individuals [1]. The post was abolished by Pope John Paul II, allowing him to create and beatify an unprecedented number of saints during his pontiffship.

In the realm of philosophy, a famous devil's advocate was Gaunilo, a monk who challenged Anselm of Canterbury's ontological argument for the existence of God, arguing on behalf of "the fool".

A fictional example of a devil's advocate is Panurge in Francois Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel[2], who argues (among other things) that it is good for him to remain in debt, it being better to give than to receive, allowing his creditors to gain merit thereby; moreover, his creditors pray for his continued well-being; moreover, that the very fabric of the Universe is held together by a cement of debt, etc.


  2. Text of Gargantua and Pantagruel at Project Gutenberg.