If I am arguing against a proposal that I may actually agree with, then I am playing Devil's Advocate.

However, what if I do not necessarily agree with the proposal but am arguing for it, with the same goal of making sure it is fully vetted. What am I then?

  • 23
    A Jesuit, most likely.
    – MetaEd
    Jul 30, 2013 at 4:49
  • 3
    Defender (of the faith) Fidei defensor
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 30, 2013 at 4:51
  • 9
    Pedantic? (Like most folks here ...)
    – hunter2
    Jul 30, 2013 at 7:54
  • 23
    I'd still use Devil's Advocate". Arguing for something you don't agree with and arguing against something you do agree with are roughly equivalent (assuming a dichotomy). At any rate, they're close enough to blur into one in common usage. Jul 30, 2013 at 8:44
  • 6
    Devil's Prosecutor?
    – T.E.D.
    Jul 30, 2013 at 15:25

9 Answers 9


In current common usage, "playing devil's advocate" is arguing a position you do not genuinely support. It is not necessarily arguing 'for' or 'against' a proposal - it could be either. So, I think either situation you suggest would fit. (If you genuinely support the proposal/position/idea, then you're simply agreeing, or supporting, or as Jack suggests advocating.)

If the proposal is "Let's move to a new house":

"I don't think we need a new house, but to play Devil's Advocate ... "

"I agree we should get a new house, but to play Devil's Advocate ..."

Either of these looks fine to me. "For the sake of argument" is used similarly.

(jwpat7 has a more interesting answer, but I don't think the terms/offices he suggests would be recognized in the same (idiomatic, common) contexts as D.A.)

  • 2
    I agree. Being the Devil's Advocate is about taking a position you do not necessarily agree with, regardless of whether this position is for or against some particular case.
    – Stephan B
    Jul 30, 2013 at 8:31
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    Strange ... a definition I consider incorrect has ten up-votes. Playing devil's advocate is most definitely taking the other side of an argument and opposing a proposal. If the proposal is "Let's move to a new house" then any statement "playing Devil's advocate" must be against. Therefore your first example is wrong but your second is exactly how it should be used.
    – user24964
    Jul 30, 2013 at 10:01
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    @TheMathemagician The phrase is in common usage as arguing for a position you do not support, rather than arguing against something you do do support. The meaning of phrases can change over time.
    – Nick
    Jul 30, 2013 at 10:16
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    @TheMathemagician Hmm, perhaps I should have worded this more carefully. My examples involve advocating a position not genuinely held by the advocate, which is my understanding of the (common/idiomatic) definition of the phrase. If I made a Modest Proposal that we eat children, you could make an argument 'in support of' / 'that highlights the advantages of' my proposal, even if you think it's a bad idea; you would then be playing Devil's Advocate.
    – hunter2
    Jul 30, 2013 at 10:17
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    @TecBrat Language is used to communicate; if you make up too much, you will not communicate effectively. I think "insincere" better captures your intended meaning. After all, an advocate can be sarcastic (and can even advocate using sarcasm) regardless of his sincere beliefs.
    – hunter2
    Jul 30, 2013 at 11:26

As noted in the Devil's advocate wikipedia article, the advocates on the opposite sides of canonization arguments were called the Promoter of the Faith (Latin: promotor fidei) or (popularly) Devil's advocate, on the negative side; and on the positive side, the Promoter of the Cause, or God's advocate (Latin: advocatus Dei).

As I understand it, the promotor fidei office was abolished by Pope John Paul II in 1983, since which time the Promoter of Justice (promotor iustitiae) has been in charge of such examinations.


Excellent question (viz., ". . . if I do not necessarily agree with the proposal but am arguing for it, with the same goal of making sure it is fully vetted, what am I then?" My answer: You're Socrates (or you are using the Socratic method).

The way you qualify each scenario made me think of Socrates, particularly his way of interacting with someone with whom he was discussing an issue. (By "qualify" I mean your use of qualifiers such as "I may," and "not necessarily.")

As a philosopher and pedagogue, Socrates was on a lifelong quest for truth, and he realized the best way to be a philosopher/pedagogue was to engage people in conversation. Sometimes he would pretend to know less about a subject than he actually did in order to get his interlocutor to say something illogical or inconsistent that he could use as a basis for guiding his interlocutor into the truth.

By the way, we would do well to divest ourselves of the notion that a pedagogue is necessarily dogmatic and unyielding, that he prefers the hortatory approach to discussion as opposed to the give-and-take of the philosophical approach. Good ol' Soc was more interested the abstraction we call truth. His preferred method of arriving at the truth was via dialectic rather than rhetoric. (Think of the dialectic as the art of discussion, and rhetoric as the art of persuasion.)

The two scenarios you describe in your question describe quite well Socrates' modus operandi (M.O). He could play Devil's advocate, hiding his true "feeling" about the subject at hand for the sake of getting his student to think through more thoroughly a proposition that at first blush seems a "no brainer." In effect, he was saying,

"Slow down there, kimosabe (pron. key moe sah' bee). Let's think this through. You may have left a few stones unturned, and your thesis may need a little shoring up in this area or that area. Have you considered the flip side of the coin? It does have some merit to it, does it not? What if I were to introduce the notion of . . .?"

Socrates would have said the above much more subtly and artistically, of course, but in essence his reluctance to barge ahead without first thinking things through (or "vetting" them as you suggest) can be traced to his favored M.O.

By the same token, Soc could ably employ the "opposite" tack in the pursuit of truth by stepping back and exploring more fully the pros and cons of any given position, and not necessarily the better of two options, either. Perhaps a third option exists that no one raised in the discussion thus far, and the best method to arrive at this third option is to vet each of the first two options, first. If neither of them passes muster, Socrates would probably say that time would be better spent on exploring another option.

In conclusion, there may seem to be more than a little disingenuousness (I would call it irony) to Socrates' approach, but we wouldn't be using the phrase "the Socratic method" some 25 centuries after his brief time on earth if there weren't something to commend the method in the scenario you describe.

  • @anonymous: Any particular reason for the down-vote? Just curious. Aug 1, 2013 at 16:12
  • Just a guess, but it's hard to see how this answers the question (or relates to it, even).
    – hunter2
    Aug 2, 2013 at 2:59
  • @hunter2: I just now added a few words to my first paragraph that perhaps make my answer a little less "non-sequiturish." If the OP's "move" of vetting a proposal in the manner he describes isn't Socratic, then perhaps I don't know what "Socratic" really is. I sincerely welcome you, or anyone else for that matter, to set me straight. Aug 2, 2013 at 5:58
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    Well .. Yes, I see how it's conceptually related, but so are a lot of other things ("deductive reasoning", "adversarial debate", etc). I don't think it would be correct (recognized, common usage, useful in his originating context) for OP to say "to be Socratic about this", "to take a Socratic approach". It made sense as a comment, in response to "What am I" (like "a Jesuit" and "pedantic"), but didn't really need to be expanded, on a site about language (not logic or Phil.) IMO, just my .02, with due respect, etc. (Note that Jesuit was not expanded,even though it's at least as relevant)
    – hunter2
    Aug 2, 2013 at 10:01
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    Your points are well taken. While my use of "Socratic" may not be natural--your word--to you, it is useful, I feel, in encapsulating succinctly a method--in adjectival guise--that is readily identifiable. "Socratic" is a quasi-synecdoche: a part for the whole. As "rhetorician" I knew from the get-go my contributions to this site would stir up reactions from English language purists (not that you're one). Interestingly, departments of Rhetoric and English are hermetically sealed off from one another at some universities, which is lamentable in some ways and in some ways perhaps not. Aug 2, 2013 at 14:37

I think your question is about the idiomatic usage rather than the historical term, information on which jwpat7 has already provided.

I would think you're simply an advocate.

  • 1
    Why? In the question, in both cases you are arguing against your belief/preference. "Advocate" does not convey that. (Leaving aside the 'lawyer' meaning of advocate, where the lawyer is required to argue in accordance with his instructions.) -1 for no explanation.
    – TrevorD
    Jul 30, 2013 at 10:54
  • I would say that 'to advocate' (v.) does not carry an implication about the advocator's position, and that 'an advocate' (n.) has a mild implication of sincere advocacy, but only a mild one. You could work for a political advocacy group for reasons not related to the underlying (advocated) issue. IOW, the lawyerly meaning is actually pretty relevant - many kinds of advocates can be insincere.
    – hunter2
    Jul 30, 2013 at 11:22
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    @TrevorD: The fact that someone advocates for a position generally implies that the advocate is acting on behalf of someone (possibly the advocate himself) who wants to be recognized as believing it. I think the term "devil's advocate" is used to expressly disclaim such implication. It does not mean the speaker doesn't believe the advocated position--merely that he does not wish to be recognized as doing so, not as acting on behalf of someone who does.
    – supercat
    Jul 30, 2013 at 15:39
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    @supercat I'm confused by the number of negatives in your last sentence! I'm saying that advocacy carries no implication either way, as to what he or his client believe. I'm not clear whether you're agreeing or disagreeing with that.
    – TrevorD
    Jul 30, 2013 at 15:46
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    @TrevorD: I think my main point is that someone who claims to be acting as "devil's advocate" is asking that his arguments not be regarded as an indication of anything that any particular person believes. It does not deny anyone's beliefs, but expressly disclaims any positive or negative implications that might otherwise surround them.
    – supercat
    Jul 30, 2013 at 16:21

I guess that the expression (A+B), like white salt, has 3 reciprocals: you can negate A, negate B or both. You may have white sweety, dark salt or dark sweety. Not to say that white and salt have different aspect that can be negated. Do you want all 3 inverses? I think that the answer is just a right person.

  • "a right person" as in the opposite of wrong or bad / biased / false / unfair / immoral...?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 2, 2013 at 6:17
  • What is the problem? Devil's layer = bad/immoral/unfari/baised person.
    – Val
    Aug 2, 2013 at 7:58
  • The word "right" is too vague. I've rarely heard someone being called "a right person". A man of principles, a just man, a moral man etc. but right man? I think you're onto something, but until I know exactly what you mean, I can't vote up! Of course you do have the expression: "He's the right man for the job" Is this what you meant?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 2, 2013 at 8:10
  • By right, I mean good/moral/honest/fair. Your proposal may be better.
    – Val
    Aug 2, 2013 at 9:31
  • I think your answer could be even better. You can, if you wish, edit your answer and make improvements. There is no law against that but only if you want to clarify or expand it further. I just wanted to understand what you meant by "a right man". And you've told me so, thank you.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 2, 2013 at 13:34

It should be "God's Witness" .


If arguing "for" but not as a devil's advocate then you would be a proponent.

  • This is the same answer as advocate which was Jack Aidley's. Perhaps you could expand your answer?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 2, 2013 at 6:25
  • This does not address the issue of not believing in / agreeing with what you are arguing for.
    – TrevorD
    Aug 2, 2013 at 9:57

Public Prosecutor. We have someone in the family who always takes other people's sides, advocating their side. So, someone who will fight in the court for the public, pro bono...


The phrase "Devil's Advocate", originates in the Catholic Church, and was the term used to colloquially refer to the Promoter of the Faith, who would argue against the case of a candidate for sainthood. The opposite of the Promoter of the Faith was the Promoter of the Cause (now the Promoter of Justice), a.k.a. God's Advocate.

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