Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Polemical Tactics

The recent posts on the 'two-step' and its occurrence in polemics (at The Weblog, here, and The Little Professor) has set me thinking about the various argumentative tactics used in polemics. They fall into various more-or-less clear groupings. Obviously the most straightforward such type of tactic is the refutation tactic: you answer a position with an objection, or an objection with a response, or evidence with contrary evidence, or what have you. There are other tactics, however.

Another kind of tactic, for instance, is the distraction tactic. I use the term 'distraction' expansively and non-pejoratively; for instance, if your opponent is talking about something irrelevant to the argument you might in this sense 'distract' them back to the point. In a distraction tactic you don't refute but put forward something not directly relevant to the immediate issue in order to change the character of the argument as a whole.

There is at least one more kind of tactic, for which we have no clear name. For lack of a better term, I will call these kind of tactics dissociation tactics. Whereas distraction tactics are a move into non-relevance in order to change the argument, dissociation tactics are an attempt to frame the dispute in such a way that the opponent's arguments are seen to be irrelevant. The most extreme example of such a tactic would be poisoning the wells. It's pretty clear that the 'two-step' approaches that have been discussed are dissociation tactics. In their strongest forms they are instances of poisoning the well; some of the instances Miriam points out are such cases. (In fact, we get the term 'poisoning the wells' from the same general sort controversial context she notes.)

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