The Devil's Advocate is a person who attempts to provide justification for something that opposes their personal viewpoint in a particular instance. The Devil's Advocate may have been appointed
to provide this viewpoint, or may be stalling for time
, but in the truest sense of the trope is attempting to leave the argument having settled on the best possible result, even if that result is different from their preferred result
. A person enacting this trope may be seen as either fair or argumentative
, depending not only on how suddenly
and fervently they change their position, but also on how often they take the opposing side, and more importantly, whether they bother announcing beforehand that they're attempting this
Possibly named for the canon lawyers appointed by the Catholic church to provide an opposing argument for canonization, which may have itself been named for the idiomatic meaning of this phrase. As with other adversarial proceedings (such as civil and criminal trials), the idea is to thoroughly test an idea or proposition before acting upon it, on the assumption that any concept that withstands intense criticism has a better chance of being correct.
Compare and contrast Strawman Political
, The War on Straw
, and other strawman tropes, which are insincere and work to undermine the opposing side rather than strengthen the final resolution. Bothering by the Book
has the same purpose but it may or may not provide a more accurate version of the opposing argument. For the negative connotations people sometimes have about adversarial proceedings, compare and contrast Amoral Attorney
. For a version of this idea in comedies and morality tales
, see I Don't Think That's Such a Good Idea
. The Commander Contrarian
can sometimes be this. See also The Complainer Is Always Wrong
, as the trope is generally enacted specifically because
the nonexistent complainer might be right
. The Drag-Along
may be this from a Doylist
point of view, but is almost never a Devil's Advocate in-continuity. Also, this trope should not be confused with someone who just happens to hold a minority view.
Not to be confused with the movie The Devils Advocate
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- As a rationalist, Harry Potter-Evans-Verres in Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality has it as a defining character trait that he must assess all available sides of an argument, whether no true advocate of that argument is present, or even exists. This has led to him acting as the Devil's Advocate for himself, as well as using the trope for other people as a form of the Socratic Method of argument.
- In The Thrawn Trilogy, Captain Pellaon acted as this trope to Grand Admiral Thrawn, and commended his subordinate for playing this trope in Hand of Thrawn.
- Marco of the Animorphs would sometimes offer the Devil's Advocate view on missions.
- In The Quest for Saint Camber, Bishop Wolfram de Blanet acts as devil's advocate at the hearing establishing the legitimacy of Duncan McLain's brief marriage to Maryse MacArdry.The Church hierarchy would be happy for Duncan to have a legitimate heir so that he could resign his secular titles and lands, leaving him free to concentrate on his spiritual duties, but they also wish to avoid seeming to bend the rules for one of their own. Using an adversarial proceeding helps them avoid the appearance of favouritism.
- In the book of Job in The Bible, some interpret Satan himself as taking this role against Job when he says to God that the only reason that Job follows God is because Job has a really nice life and if that changed, Job would curse God. God takes him up on it.
Live Action Television
- Spock would occasionally preform the duty of the Devil's Advocate, typically countering McCoy's or Kirk's spontaneous, Gut Feeling-inspired actions.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation: In "Measure of a Man", a scientist wants to disassemble Data for study, and Data refuses as a sentient being. A hearing is held to determine whether Data is sentient. Picard is Data's defense counsel, and Riker is appointed as the prosecution - so he has to argue that Data isn't sentient. He risks summary judgement against Data if he slacks off on the job. Riker feels guilty about doing it, but Data is grateful - or anyway as grateful as an android allegedly with no emotions can be - since if Riker had refused to do it they would have decided against Data (for if he isn't a sentient being, he lacks the right to bodily autonomy, such are the rules of procedure in the 24th century).
- Riker would often play this role. When a crew member suggests a course of action, Riker either suggests something else or says why they should not do it. This is part of his job as First Officer, to make sure The Captain considers all options and consequences.
- Discussed (and sometimes used) in Quantum Leap, between Sam and Al.
- The Devil's Advocate ball gets passed around the cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but tends to land in Xander's lap as often as not. The opposing viewpoint is commonly prefaced with "Not to be the bad guy here, but..." or some form of "I don't want to be that guy, but..."
- In the Season 3 episode "Graduation Day: Part 1" Xander actually prefaces a sentence with "I don't mean to play devil's advocate here, but..."
- Head of the Class: in a school debate club meet Alan, an Alex P. Keaton conservative type, has to extemporaneously defend a position he is personally against. He wins the debate.
- The West Wing often used one of their characters to argue against their viewpoint to portray both sides of the debate on the issue at the forefront. One hilarious example had Sam getting hounded by Mallory for advocating for school-voucher programs.
- Happens in JAG when one of the characters has to either prosecute an innocent person or defend an obviously guilty one. In addition, it is more frequently used in arguments between the characters, both inside and outside of court.
- In the Ace Attorney games, the rival prosecutors sometimes become this, rather than your true opponent. In the Phoenix Wright trilogy, once he warms up to Phoenix, Edgeworth isn't acting as a prosecutor because he wants him to fail, but because he wants all the holes in the logic of the case to be filled satisfactorily; and in Apollo's arc, Klavier Gavin is always focused on finding the truth instead of getting a guilty verdict, being the only prosecutor in the series that had this as his goal from the beginning of his career.
- Parodied on The Simpsons; Homer states that he's about to "play devil's advocate" in regards to helping Krusty... it then cuts to him playing a pinball game called "Devil's Advocate".
- As noted above, the Devil's Advocate is the name for a person who argues against the formal recognition of someone as a Saint by the Catholic Church (though it's officially called Promoter of the Faith, but that just doesn't sounds as cool). The job has been taken up on at least one occasion (Mother Theresa) by an outright atheist (Christopher Hitchens). The fact that, as an official office, it was abolished in 1983, has, not coincidentally led to an exponential increase in people accepted for sainthood.
- Wilbur and Orville Wright have been said to engage in this activity, switching sides during arguments to gain a clearer picture of the argument as a whole. xkcd continues this to the illogical conclusion.
- In most cases, anyone with enough money can hire a lawyer to be their Devil's Advocate. In certain countries (such as the U.S.), a lawyer is appointed to this position by the state when no such lawyer can be found.
- Many schoolchildren do this in their essays.
- Debate competitions have one side act as this if everyone participating agrees on the topic of debate, but someone has to "play the other side". Some debate assignments do this intentionally for both sides, by setting it up so that each pair disagrees on a topic and giving each side their less-preferred standpoint to defend.
- It's a standard of practice to have or be a devil's advocate for one's own work within the scientific community.
- Thomas Aquinas acted as his own Devil's Advocate in his works.
- Take care when engaging in this on a forum; very often people don't take kindly to hearing opposing views and will quickly resort to name calling and take the argument personally. If this happens, just drop the whole thing. It's simply not worth your time dealing with the ignorance.