Irrelevance: Poisoning The Well (argumentum ad hominem)
When enemy poisons water of its opponent no matter how pure and clean it was before it cannot be used for anything, thus the opponent is handicapped or completely paralyzed and the enemy has a solid advantage.
This technique is often used to discredit speakers personality even before any real arguments are presented and thus it is rather pointed at an audience than at a speaker. For when listeners adopt negative attitude towards the speaker they often are more likely to rule out his answer as being the right one.
Let me attach also some other definitions:
“This sort of “reasoning” involves trying to discredit what a person might later claim by presenting unfavorable information (be it true or false) about the person. This “argument” has the following form:
- Unfavorable information (be it true or false) about person A is presented.
- Therefore any claims person A makes will be false.
This sort of “reasoning” is obviously fallacious.” by Nizkor Project
“Anyone bold enough to enter a debate which begins with a well-poisoning either steps into an insult, or an attack upon one’s personal integrity. As with standard ad hominems, the debate is likely to cease to be about its nominal topic and become a debate about the arguer. However, what sets Poisoning the Well apart from the standard Ad Hominem is the fact that the poisoning is done before the opponent has a chance to make a case. Poisoning the Well is not, strictly speaking, a logical fallacy since it is not a type of argument. Rather, it is a logical boobytrap set by the poisoner to tempt the unwary audience into committing an ad hominem fallacy.” by FALLACY FILES
“Poisoning the well (or attempting to poison the well) is a rhetorical device where adverse information about a target is pre-emptively presented to an audience, with the intention of discrediting or ridiculing everything that the target person is about to say. Poisoning the well can be a special case of argumentum ad hominem, and the term was first used with this sense by John Henry Newman in his work Apologia Pro Vita Sua (1864).” by Wikipedia
Example: “CITY COUNCILMAN: The Mayor is a very good talker. Yes, talk he can do … and do very well. But when it comes time for action, that is a different matter.”
Now the mayor is in a very difficult position for if he remains silent it might seem he accepts council-mans criticism, on the other side if he starts talking and defending himself, then more he talks, more he appears to confirm the accusations.
This time I was again inspired to write this article from a real life (Internet) situation by a blogger called Francois Tremblay who insists, besides others, that all the anti-abortionists (pro-life 🙂 ) that want to comment under his “pro-abortion series” must first answer this question under somewhat strict conditions (see here):
“What maximum number of women dead from botched back alley abortions per year under an anti-abortion scheme do you consider a fair and just tradeoff to prevent all abortions that would happen under a pro-abortion scheme?”
If this question remains unanswered or the response does not meet Francois’ requirements he says clearly, that you will be banned and ergo your comment won’t go through (which I could also experience on my own). Because this is not a completely classic form of well poisoning it must be said that Mr. Tremblay did a good job making it subtle and hidden, for in fact if someone wishes to enter the debate, he must poison his own well.
After my comment was banned I tried to show Mr. Tremblay the nature of his approach. At this point, I will leave it up to you to be the judge and decide how it went.
I wish you a pleasant reading. 🙂
(Model) Debate on Commenting rules for the pro-abortion series.
or “Poisoning the Well”
I assume my comment was not accepted in “Introduction to the pro-abortion position.” so I will give a try over here :).
Hello, I am pro-life (anti-abortion) and I’ve read your comment rule, however the question you are asking in terms of argumentation falls into category called “poison well”, which means that it is build in a way that suits you.
There is hardly someone that would say that it is “fair and just tradeoff” to kill X number of women “to prevent all abortions.” When we speak about human life there is hardly something like “fair and just tradeoff”, instead it can be called necessary evil that arises from the situation. (This would throw a slightly different light on my answer)
In the same way you could question other things e.g. “What maximum number of drug users dead from infected needles in back alleys per year under an anti-drug scheme do you consider a fair and just tradeoff to prevent all drug usage that would happen under a pro-drug scheme?”
The number here is not important; for it only makes the person who answers it look insensible. The laws in effect will always have “back alleys”, yet the alternatives could result in much worse consequences. Thus please understand why I will not give you and exact number since that would be too much of an oversimplification of this whole issue. While “women dead from botched back alley abortions” would be surely the necessary evil of such regulation, the current alternative is much worse (seeing life as something worth protecting).
Now I see that your position is probably founded in Antinatalism. As, perhaps this could be the root of all the divergence, please show us on what ground is Antinatalism the objective “default”?
I hope we will have here a discussion in a decent manner :).
“Hello, I am pro-life (anti-abortion) and I’ve read your comment rule, however the question you are asking in terms of argumentation falls into category called “poison well”, which means that it is build in a way that suits you.”
Of course it is built in a way which suits me. After all, I am the one building the argumentation, and therefore it suits me very well.
“There is hardly someone that would say that it is “fair and just tradeoff” to kill X number of women “to prevent all abortions.” When we speak about human life there is hardly something like “fair and just tradeoff”, instead it can be called necessary evil that arises from the situation. (This would throw a slightly different light on my answer)”
No matter what you call it, it is a factual consequence that women will die for any anti-abortion scheme that passes muster. Whether you think it is just or evil does not change the fact (and besides, calling something a “necessary evil” is an oxymoron: how can something evil be necessary?).
“In the same way you could question other things e.g. “What maximum number of drug users dead from infected needles in back alleys per year under an anti-drug scheme do you consider a fair and just tradeoff to prevent all drug usage that would happen under a pro-drug scheme?””
I think that’s a fair question, no? Whatever you call it, there are drug users that die every day from infected needles- in big Western cities, it is now the main vector of HIV transmission. I think that’s a pretty important ethical point to bring in the issue.
“The number here is not important; for it only makes the person who answers it look insensible.”
That is the problem of holding an insensible position, yes. How is that my problem?
“The laws in effect will always have “back alleys”, yet the alternatives could result in much worse consequences.”
Ah well let’s hear what you think are “worse consequences” than women dying.
“Thus please understand why I will not give you and exact number since that would be too much of an oversimplification of this whole issue.”
I am not asking you to give an EXACT number, just an approximation.
“While “women dead from botched back alley abortions” would be surely the necessary evil of such regulation, the current alternative is much worse (seeing life as something worth protecting).”
Ah yes, the old anti-woman screed that fetuses are more important than women’s lives. If that’s your idea of a counter-argument, sorry but no cigar. I don’t see that the alternative is worse at all. But anyway, one of the reasons why I ask this question is to show that anti-abortion people like you have no respect for actual people’s lives, and you’ve already proven that in your comment here, so nothing further is really necessary! You’ve already proven my point! Another reason was to make you think, but this, sadly, seems to have failed.
“I hope we will have here a discussion in a decent manner :).”
This is the end of the discussion as far as I’m concerned. You’ve made my point eloquently. I don’t really see what else is left to say. As I said, in the abortion series you either follow the commenting rule or I can’t let your comments through; that’s all there is to it.
For the first part, of course it is your right to build your argumentation on anything you want, however the nature of it will then reveal what are your intentions behind. If one wants to be fair and present only real arguments and valid thoughts in attempt to seek or be open for the truth he will surely avoid strategies of distraction like the “poison well” is, that only creates apparent advantage and those who do not recognize it are shabbily mislead.
Your second technique of argumentation to dismember individual parts from the whole again does not create an impression that you really are in fact seeking to answer my objections, for answering these stand alone statements (some taken out of paragraph) appears to be merely an effort of ridicule or another distraction which confuses the real answer. Thus If it is possible I would appreciate if you avoided this manner of responding for next time.
Thirdly, you based your entire concluding part of your comment on a mere assumption (“If that’s your idea of a counter-argument…”), that I hold an “anti-womans creed” (that fetuses are more important than womens lives). However if you read through my comment again, you will see that in fact I have not made a single statement where I would grant or unequivocally agree with this view. Therefore again, if I may politely ask you next time it would be beneficial for our discussion if you were slower to make your conclusions and perhaps ask me if something is unclear as I did before.
In fact, I believe you forgot to answer my question, so I attach it again:
“Now I see that your position is probably founded in Antinatalism. As, perhaps this could be the root of all the divergence, please show us on what ground is Antinatalism the objective “default?”
At last to elaborate a little more on the question of seeing life as something worth protecting, I see life of a woman and baby as equal. If this is considered to be a foundation for this issue then truly deaths of millions (babies) are worse consequence than the alternative. Not mentioning that a fetus or baby has never any other option in this debate whatsoever, while many woman would have at least two (decision to be sexually active [considering the possible consequences] & voluntarily going under known risk of botched back alley abortion).
Just to have a look how it could look reversely…
What maximum number of babies dead from abortions per year under a free abortion scheme do you consider a fair and just trade off to prevent some women dying from botched back alley (illegal) abortions that would happen under an anti-abortion scheme?
Please surely do not feel obliged to answer it :), for it is only to show how absurd the entire question is. Why should babies face sure death for the irresponsibility and possible foolishness of their mothers who would even act illegally in pursuing such a treatment, that might end the lives of both? Such action could be legally called a murder, no?
If you asked someone to give you only an approximation to it, it would still serve as a “poison well” that makes the writer insensible…
Neither way, to move forward you need to answer my question regarding Antinatalism or you need to show on what ground life of a baby is not equal to womans life?
Thank you for your timely response and if you were interested in finding more about my perspective please click on my name “factorysense” and find the article “Abort Abortions?” on the right side of the page. I would surely value your comments to it as well (without any admitting questions 😉 ).
“What maximum number of babies dead from abortions per year under a free abortion scheme do you consider a fair and just trade off to prevent some women dying from botched back alley (illegal) abortions that would happen under an anti-abortion scheme?”
See, that was easy enough. Your turn with the anti-abortion question.
I appreciate the brevity of your response, however it does not necessarily help us to understand your position. I stipulated that a life of a baby is equal to life of a woman. Since you did not challenge this statement one could fall under the impression that you have nothing against it. Thus if you agree with it and yet your answer for my initially intended only rhetorical question is “Infinity” than it appears that you would agree with this genocide for sake of this significantly lower number of woman (comparing to infinity), who after all acted illegally or foolishly. If we only switched babies for Jews and woman for Germans, than this would pretty much make you a mass-murderer of the highest class in Nuremberg Trials (…that might appear slightly insensible).
Now, with all respect if I may ask you please do not make us conform to this demonstrated “poison well” question, but rather offer us some real arguments, for as far as I can see you again have chosen to answer one minor part of my comment, but entirely neglected other including my question regarding Antinatalism.
Hope to hear from you soon again :).
Seriously? I refuse to dignify some lunatic who not only believes that fetuses’ lives are more important than women’s lives, but also believes that killing fetuses is the same as the Holocaust. You are way out of bounds in terms of both sheer offensiveness and complete lack of logic, and I can no longer give you the benefit of the doubt.
If you want a formal argument in response to nonsense of this nature, you’ll have to wait for the upcoming entries against the anti-abortion position. But of course you won’t be allowed to comment on them because you obstinately refuse to follow the commenting rule. Such is life.
If you have any more questions on how I can help you follow the commenting rule, then please post them… otherwise I am not interested in continuing this discussion. Go talk to a lamppost.
factorysense(unfortunately, this last message was also deleted approx. 5 hours after it was posted.)
You again asserted that I believe that “fetuses’ lives are more important than women’s lives”, while I have already twice clearly pronounced that I do not think anything of this sort, for their lives are equally precious.
Further on you named me a lunatic and referred me to a lamppost. I do not recall anything for which I would deserve such a treatment.
At last, out of our previous conversation I could understand that you aren’t looking for answers, or you do not want your ideas to be challenged, but rather it seems you seek to merely shout your truth out into the world. Yet I would be glad to be wrong on this one…
Now I wish you all the best and if you one day decide to answer my questions and offer some valid arguments I would be more than happy to talk to you again. 🙂