Sun Tzu and framing


Sun Tzu teaches that the battle is won or lost before the armies even enter the field, via preparation, intelligence, and strategy:

Therefore the victories of good warriors are not noted for their cleverness or bravery. Therefore their victories in battle are not flukes. Their victories are not flukes because they position themselves where they will surely win, prevailing over those who have already lost.

So it is that good warriors take their stand on ground where they cannot lose, and do not overlook conditions that make an opponent prone to defeat.

(The Art of War, ch. 4)

The battle, if it happens at all, is just the execution; the decision of victory and defeat has been made beforehand.

In arguments, the same is true: we call it ‘framing.’ Once a frame has been set, once the terms of dispute are agreed upon, then the argument is decided. A debate about children’s right to life will go very differently from a debate about women’s right to conceive or not-conceive. Once the frame has been set, all that remains is going through the motions of the actual, physical debate.


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