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What Is a Devil’s Advocate?

When an individual provides an opposing point of view or position out of argument’s sake, the individual is referred to as a devil’s advocate. The term actually derived from the canonization process of the Roman Catholic Church. When a candidate for sainthood undergoes canonization, an individual is tasked to provide arguments to oppose the canonization. This individual was referred to as advocatus diaboli, a Latin phrase directly translating into devil’s advocate. The role of the devil’s advocate was to supply arguments against an individual’s sainthood in order to ensure that the individual is indeed deserving of being called a saint.

However, in legal systems, a devil’s advocate may be done in order to determine the weaknesses of an argument. This is done prior to a court trial in order to prepare the legal counsel to expect certain questions or challenges that may be raised by the opposing counsel. It is also done in order to strengthen an argument before presenting it in court or to refrain from using the argument if it is too weak and susceptible to challenges and attacks from the opposing counsel.

Anyone can play the role of devil’s advocate, and this is usually done by people who wish to reach a decision that has been thoroughly thought through. In a court case, a legal counsel may play devil’s advocate or may appoint a junior associate or a clerk or any other adequately informed individual to be devil’s advocate in order to present a prosecution or defense that is meant to stand against the opposing counsel’s arguments.

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