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Devil's Advocate

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"Now, just because he's trying to lead you into sin and suffering and eternal damnation doesn't mean that you shouldn't listen to him for a moment."

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. The current modern term is "ombudsman", used by companies and governments to address complaints against the organization.

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. A person who does this just for fun is The Gadfly.

Not to be confused with the movie The Devil's Advocate, which is about more a literal interpretation of this phrase. If you're looking for a trope that's a more literal interpretation, it's probably Mouth of Sauron.


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  • An advertisement for Regis University, a Jesuit college in Denver, read "A faith-based university not afraid to play the devil's advocate."

    Anime and Manga 
  • Black Butler: Sebastian, naturally, often questions and dissects Ciel's actions, especially after a mission.

    Comic Books 
  • In White Sand, when Kenton tries to figure out how the plot of poisoning the Sand Masters was enacted, Aarik helps him by pointing out holes in his logic and offering opposing viewpoint whenever necessary.

    Fan Works 
  • Fledglings, or: Everything's Better With Penguins: When Mal is trying to figure out why Tawaki's missions are set at a breakneck pace, Anis explains that sometimes authors get lazy trying to connect plot points with a narrative. Mal gets annoyed with Anis' steelmanning and comments that at the very least, they should come back later to write the narrative instead of skipping it altogether.
  • 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 Captain Planet and the Planeteers AU/Reboot fic Heroes for Earth, Wheeler gets upgraded into this role due to being the most social-savvy Planeteer; this is particularly interesting when he's talking with Gi who is very eco-savvy but social naive due to having been homeschooled by her parents.

  • Decker becomes one for Kirk in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, as part of their adjusting to their roles for the mission. When Decker counters Kirk's argument, he immediately follows it up with saying he's just presenting alternatives. Kirk looks like he's about to retort, but mid-thought realizes that Decker is right in doing so, and says as much.

  • In The Thrawn Trilogy, Captain Pellaon acted as this trope to Grand Admiral Thrawn; in Hand of Thrawn, he commended his subordinate for doing the same.
  • 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.
  • Within The Prince Machiavelli says that such a minister or adviser who is willing to play The Devil's Advocate can be useful to have around because they can find flaws or issues in a plan a Prince makes, which can aid the Prince if there was a good chance of the plan failing due to those flaws.
  • In World War Z, this is stated to be the reason Israel was able to survive the zombie outbreak more or less intact as a nation. After the Yom-Kippur War, the Israelis instituted a system wherein at least one person must take a threat seriously and dig deeper into the evidence for or against it, no matter how ridiculous it sounded. Thus, while all the world's nations were going "A zombie plague? That's stupid!", Israel's government took a harder look at the evidence, saw the truth of the matter, and took steps to defend the nation before everything went to hell.
  • Since Perry Rhodan is SF, there it can be done by computers invented exactly for the trope's purpose. They question everything, assume 1:1000000 hypotheses...and are usually right (which of course is what plot demands - even in-universe, they probably are most frequently wrong). By extension, also the specialists trained in interpreting their wacko output fall under this trope.
  • A Devil's Advocate is an important character in A Canticle for Leibowitz, arguing against the sainthood of the title character Leibowitz.
  • The Dan Brown novel Angels & Demons depicts a "devil's advocate" whose job it was to provide negative information on each candidate for Pope. The devil's advocate procedure has never been used in the papal selection process. They're used for Saint candidates.
  • Spoonbenders: While Archibald was instrumental in the Telemachus Family's fall from grace, that wasn't the intention. Archibald was an associate of Teddy, Maureen and Destin Smalls, and his appearance on the show to try and debunk them on live-TV was all a part of the act. The only reason why it didn't work was because Buddy freaked out (having a vision of his mother's death at that time), leading to Maureen taking him off-stage to calm him down, Archibald coming in without her there and ruining the set-up and payoff.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Our Miss Brooks: Miss Brooks occasionally finds herself promoting Mr. Conklin's latest edicts to the less-than-receptive students of Madison High School"
    • In "The Cafeteria Strike" (a Sound-to-Screen Adaptation of "Cafeteria Boycott") Miss Brooks leads a "back to the Cafeteria movement" despite the fact the food served is "putrid".
    • The earlier radio episode "School on Saturday" sees Miss Brooks ramrod Mr. Conklin's demand that the students attend school on Saturday.
    • The Movie Grand Finale sees Miss Brooks acting as Mr. Conklin's campaign manager in his quest to become the new "Coordinator of Education" (head of the school board). Miss Brooks is less than keen on the idea herself.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: Spock occasionally performs the duty of the Devil's Advocate, typically countering McCoy's or Kirk's spontaneous, Gut Feeling-inspired actions.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: Riker often plays 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. 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 who allegedly has 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).
  • The Devil's Advocate ball gets passed around the cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but tends to land in Xander's lap very often. 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. Leo (Mallory's father) eventually lets spill that Sam doesn't believe in school vouchers — there's going to be a debate on the issue, and the White House had Sam put together a memo laying out all of the potential opposition arguments. Mallory was actually rather touched to find out that Sam took the time out of his busy schedule to argue education policy with her. She made an appointment, and dammit, Sam honors appointments.
    • In a less consequential example, Ainsley tries arguing with Sam about the limitations of intellect as a qualification for the Presidency, naming a few examples of smart Presidents who were incredibly ineffective in the role. Sam refuses to grant her premise, then points out that Ainsley doesn't even believe what she's arguing. Ainsley acknowledges she was just playing devil's advocate for an argument her fellow Republicans are making.
  • 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 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. Satan is Hebrew for "the accuser". His character was originally this trope.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • The Milton Library Assistant aka Milton in The Talos Principle. He frequently questions the player's understanding of philosophy and morality and finds holes in their logic, and he encourages the player to question the nature of the godlike Elohim, who refers to Milton as "the serpent" spreading doubt. Being a Devil's Advocate is in fact Milton's purpose within the simulation, testing the A.I.s independence and willingness to think for themselves. Appropriately, he shares a name with John Milton, who was himself something of a literal Devil's Advocate.
  • In Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines, when the player is on their way to the endgame, the nameless man who's been driving you from place to place suddenly strikes up a conversation, asking which of the sides the player is going to support. No matter how the player answers, even if they plan to stay independant, the cab driver presents arguments against their choice, seemingly making sure that the Fledgeling fully understands the repercussions of their decision. Caine sure has mellowed in his old age.
  • The Wolf Among Us. Depending on how Bigby is played: you can have him take the side of people he doesn't agree with, especially in Snow's case, who can have Knight Templar tendencies and take lawfulness too far.
  • In Xenoblade Chronicles 1, near the end Alvis begins questioning the heroes, pointing out that their struggle against a being that controls fate is meaningless, and asking if Zanza is a god, then shouldn't they just accept their fate and die as he commands? With what is revealed about Alvis later, it becomes clear he didn't actually believe any of that, and was just testing the heroes' resolve and making it clear to them exactly what they were up against.

    Visual Novels 
  • 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.

    Web Animation 
  • If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device: Magnus the Red, post-Heel–Face Turn, occasionally plays this role in opposition to his father.
    • In episode 15, he plays this role regarding the discussion of the Tau, arguing for their more positive traits and potential usefulness to the Imperium. He explicitly says he doesn't particularly like the Tau himself, but there needs to be some pushback against the Custodian's sheer hatred for them.
      Magnus: I am taking the side of reason in this debate, and my reason is telling me you are very biased on this subject.
    • In episode 20, he responds to the Emperor's desire to destroy the Chaos Gods completely by pointing out that, while they're absolute bastards, the four do encompass positive forces as well, such as hope (Tzeentch), valor (Khorne), Joy (Slaanesh), and stability (Nurgle).
    • A much more humorous example is in the fourth podcast, in which he defends Inquisitor as being So Bad, It's Good, unlike the rest of the cast who just found it plain bad.

    Web Comics 

    Web Videos 
  • This is a feature in Movie Fights. If all the three panels are in agreement on a topic, one of them may play the devil's advocate by switching their stance, and would get double points if they win the debate.
  • Pictured above, "Sexual Assault Is Way More Common Than You Think" with Rachel Bloom has a rather literal (but also actual) version. Devil has hired an attorney named Jeremy to argue that rape culture is just a trendy term that incorrectly implies all men are super pro-rape; he also brings up false accusations and the fact that men are victims of rape, too.
  • Austin of Shoddycast fame recently created the series Devil's Advocate, which argues in the favor of video game villains using actual legal terms. In the very first episode, he does it very literally by arguing that the demons in Doom (2016) had jus ad bellum, justification for war:
    • Defense: The UAC had made advances into Hell without the permission of its inhabitants, killing demons all the while.
    • Recovery of stolen property: The Argent Energy drained from hell and various artifacts from Argent D'nur.
    • Punishment: The UAC released a dangerous prisoner of war who proceeded to ravage through the legions of hell, killing and destroying all the while.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • Parodied. 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".
    • The family discover that a famous chimp carer and scientist is in fact using them to mine for diamonds. Bart suggests they actually look for evidence before they persecute her, gaining stunned glances:
      Bart: I haven't said anything in a while.
  • Steven Universe: Blue Zircon is essentially forced to take up take up this role when Steven is put on trial by the Diamond Authority for Rose's supposed murder of Pink Diamond. Steven is blatantly in a Kangaroo Court and the Diamonds (mainly Yellow) are dead set on a guilty verdict, but they still feel obliged to give him a chance to defend himself. Except not really. It quickly becomes apparent that the "Devil's Advocate ensuring a fair trial" angle is just for show; the second Zircon starts winning and ripping apart the prosecution's flimsy argument, Yellow Diamond throws a tantrum and smashes Zircon unconscious, declaring Steven guilty right than and there.

    Real Life 
  • 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 sound as cool). The job has been taken up on at least one occasion (Mother Theresa) by an outright atheist (Christopher Hitchens). Its abolition as an official office in 1983 has not coincidentally led to an exponential increase in people accepted for sainthood.
  • Companies and nations often have an "ombudsman", whose employed by the body, but who's job is to a) address complaints to the body, and b) challenge the body on its rulings.
  • In Jewish Law, when judging capital cases, if all 23 judges of the Beth Din produce a unanimous guilty verdict, then the accused is immediately declared "not guilty" and freed. The rationale being that there must be something wrong with the court if it cannot produce at least one devil's advocate to defend the accused.
  • During the Three Kingdoms, the Jin empire prepared for an invasion of the rival state of Wu (the last of the titular Three Kingdoms, as Shu was destroyed in 263/264 and Jin itself was the successor state to Wei). The high official Jia Chong opposed the invasion, believing that it was too risky and would take too many resources to pull off. When the Jin Emperor Sima Yan commanded the invasion begin in 279, Jia Chong was chosen to handle the logistics of the operation, and despite his personal opposition he successfully carried out his duties, leading to Jin's complete victory over Wu and Wu's destruction. His opposition may actually have helped him in his work, as he was so focused on the ways the invasion could fail that there was no problem he hadn't accounted for.
  • 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 they can't afford this (only if it's a criminal case, ordinarily).
  • 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. He listed a few possible objections to his viewpoints before debunking them later.
  • John Adams, second President of the United States, served as this in a somewhat literal case. Following the Boston Massacre, almost everyone demanded punishment of the English troops stationed in Boston who fired upon the civilian crowd. Despite his own growing public persona as a Patriot, at the behest of Captain Preston, he took on the position to ensure a fair and proper trial, and through his efforts, only two soldiers of the eight that were tried were found guilty of manslaughter rather than outright murder, and were punished via the branding of their thumbs. The result of the trial was controversial, but it was accepted without violence by both Loyalists and Patriots alike, and The Revolutionary War that could have sparked from this incident would instead come six years later. Adams himself would reflect quite proudly on the case, and his own actions would lead to the accused's right to an attorney to become a part of the Bill of Rights.