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Is there an adjective or a noun to describe a person willing to argue contradictory things depending on what suits him?

For example:

"Our company should buy X — it's good for the shareholders". Realizing later that it's bad for his career: "Our company should not buy X — we have too much invested in Y".

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Max, could you please clarify if you are talking about a person who maximizes his/her benefit in every action he/she takes? –  user19148 Jan 19 '13 at 21:23
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Human. Works both as an adjective and a noun. –  RegDwigнt Jan 19 '13 at 21:24
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What about an opportunist? –  11684 Jan 19 '13 at 22:21
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It depends why it suits them. If it is to get their way, they would be hypocritical. If they just like to fight, they would be contrary. If they like to understand by taking opposing positions, they would be argumentative. etc. –  Lucas Jan 20 '13 at 2:16
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The history of the ancient Greek Sophists might interest you; they were known for being willing to argue any side depending on what suited their patrons. A "sophistry" is such an argument. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sophism –  Eric Lippert Jan 20 '13 at 3:01

11 Answers 11

up vote 6 down vote accepted

You could call someone like this expedient (World English Dictionary: "inclined towards methods or means that are advantageous rather than fair or just") or maybe a vacillator, someone who "fluctuate[s] in one's opinions" (WED).

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+1 for expedient. Also, as for vacillator, another word that has gained recent traction is waffle. –  J.R. Jan 20 '13 at 9:12
    
@J.R. Thanks. I think waffler is a great suggestion. –  Matthew Plourde Jan 20 '13 at 17:07

I hate to answer my own question, but I just remembered the perfect word for this, and no one else mentioned it as of this writing:

Duplicitous (Merriam-Webster)

DUPLICITY

1 : contradictory doubleness of thought, speech, or action; especially : the belying of one's true intentions by deceptive words or action

2 : the quality or state of being double or twofold

3 : the technically incorrect use of two or more distinct items (as claims, charges, or defenses) in a single legal action

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  • Shifty:

    shift·y adj. shift·i·er, shift·i·est

    1. Having, displaying, or suggestive of deceitful character; evasive or untrustworthy.
    2. Distinguished by frequent changes in direction: shifty winds.
    3. Able to accomplish what is needed; resourceful.
  • Calculating:

    cal·cu·lat·ing adj.

    1. Capable of performing calculations: a calculating machine. 2. a. Shrewd; crafty: the calculating defense of an experienced attorney. b. Coldly scheming or conniving.

    2. selfishly scheming

    3. shrewd; cautious
  • Two-faced:

    two-faced adj.

    1. Having two faces or surfaces.
    2. Hypocritical or double-dealing; deceitful.
  • Disingenuous:

    dis·in·gen·u·ous adj.

    1. Not straightforward or candid; insincere or calculating: "an ambitious, disingenuous, philistine, and hypocritical operator, who ... exemplified ... the most disagreeable traits of his time" (David Cannadine).
    2. Pretending to be unaware or unsophisticated; faux-naïf.
    3. Usage Problem Unaware or uninformed; naive. disin·genu·ous·ly adv. disin·genu·ous·ness n.

    Usage Note: The meaning of disingenuous has been shifting about lately, as if people were unsure of its proper meaning. Generally, it means "insincere" and often seems to be a synonym of cynical or calculating. Not surprisingly, the word is used often in political contexts, as in It is both insensitive and disingenuous for the White House to describe its aid package and the proposal to eliminate the federal payment as "tough love." This use of the word is accepted by 94 percent of the Usage Panel. Most Panelists also accept the extended meaning relating to less reproachable behavior. Fully 88 percent accept disingenuous with the meaning "playfully insincere, faux-naïf," as in the example "I don't have a clue about late Beethoven!" he said. The remark seemed disingenuous, coming from one of the world's foremost concert pianists. Sometimes disingenuous is used as a synonym for naive, as if the dis- prefix functioned as an intensive (as it does in certain words like disannul) rather than as a negative element. This usage does not find much admiration among Panelists, however. Seventy-five percent do not accept it in the phrase a disingenuous tourist who falls prey to stereotypical con artists.

  • Bastard:

    bas·tard n.

    1. A child born out of wedlock.
    2. Something that is of irregular, inferior, or dubious origin.
    3. Slang A person, especially one who is held to be mean or disagreeable. adj.
    4. Born of unwed parents; illegitimate.
    5. Not genuine; spurious: a bastard style of architecture.
    6. Resembling a known kind or species but not truly such.

So how about...

A shifty disingenuous calculating bastard.

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Maybe. But all that monospaced formatting is really ugly. Can’t you please do it the pretty way? –  tchrist Jan 20 '13 at 10:24
    
A psychopath, perhaps? –  jyc23 Jan 21 '13 at 23:15

This person would best be described as a flip-flopper.

A typical quality of politicians.

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If somebody always argues on the opposite side of an issue than you are arguing, I'd call them a contrarian.

Merriam-Webster: a person who takes a contrary position or attitude.

If somebody is willing to argue on either side of an issue, depending on which one is in their best interests at the time, I'd call them a hypocrite.

Merriam-Webster: (2) a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings.

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+1 for hypocrite, -1 for contrarian. –  Sylverdrag Jan 20 '13 at 16:35

Perhaps selfishness, egoism or Machiavellianism fit your description.

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Debaters as in a debate contest.

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It's true that debaters are often forced to debate one side of an issue (even if they don't personally hold that stance). Nonetheless, I don't think I'd choose that word to describe the general case. –  J.R. Jan 20 '13 at 9:15

The only answer that comes to mind is "capricious", although you may be searching for the word "arbitrary".

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A "caprice" is characterized by being seemingly unmotivated. If a person changes his tune to suit his interest, it is motivated and therefore not capricious. –  Sylverdrag Jan 20 '13 at 16:42

One role that fits your description is lawyer. That category of person is routinely called upon (and answers the call) to argue differing points of view, some of which are wholly inconsistent.

They also regularly take multiple, sometimes contradictory, positions within the same legal brief, referred to as "arguing in the alternative" in which they are, in effect saying,

If you don't accept that explanation, what about x [an alternate explanation]?

They are often called advocates because they advocate for a client's point of view, regardless of their own position or belief (or the position or belief of one of their other clients).

If the person lacks admission to the bar, you might just call them inconsistent.

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there is also the "devil's advocate" –  ratchet freak Jan 19 '13 at 23:35
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The adjective form is more representative of the OP's concept: 'lawyerly'. –  Mitch Jan 20 '13 at 0:14
    
A very good answer, my only objection is that it is when it suits a client, not themselves (not that they are exclusive). –  Lucas Jan 20 '13 at 2:10
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+1 for inconsistent. The rest is really just comments. –  FumbleFingers Jan 20 '13 at 2:51
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ratchetfreak, @us2012 - in the process of beatification and canonization (how a person becomes a saint in the Catholic church) the Devil's advocate is the person appointed to argue against granting sainthood - arguing that the person was not as good as claimed, did not perform the claimed miracles, etc. It's become a more general term, but it always means the person arguing against a popular proposition. –  MT_Head Jan 20 '13 at 4:29

That person might be called an asshole (sensu stricto). Also useful are ornery, pugnacious, obstinate, stubborn, difficult, etc.

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You could call that person captious.

captious
1 : marked by an often ill-natured inclination to stress faults and raise objections

A contrarian is often described as captious.

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