Suppose Person One disagrees with Person Two's argument on a topic. Person One may be using sound logic in their argument, but in an effort to discredit Person Two, Person One first starts by quoting Person Two completely in context with Person Two's original argument but with an added emotional spin.

Little by little, Person One steadily mutates the original quote and position of Person Two into something that is completely out of context and logically fallacious using a steadily increasing emotional theater. This theatrical performance is littered with Person Two's formerly logical argument, carefully repackaged through verbal "slight of hand", until the audience is fooled into believing that the contrived stance that Person One presents is really what Person Two believes.

This is done without ever arguing against Person One's argument until Person Two has mutated it into a sufficiently fallacious form that they can argue against where previously they could not in it's original form. Audience is fooled by being carried through the emotional theater and the fact that there is enough of the original argument left that it just seems that must have been what Person Two meant all along, thereby making Person Two deserving of having their argument (even tho no longer their actual argument) destroyed by Person One.

What is this tactic called and how do you defend against it using a FAR less verbose method than I just used to explain it?


2 Answers 2


I believe I would call it "spin doctoring."

Fundamentally, the issue is that Person One is debating using logic, Person Two is debating using emotion, so the winner of the debate is really dependent on whether the audience is more swayed by logic or emotion. Given your emotions on the matter, I presume you've dealt with emotional audiences in the past.

If you make a logical argument against someone who may turn it into an emotional argument, you have to be prepared for this. There are some mathematical theorems which show that, for many logical arguments, it is impossible to prevent this attack because Person Two merely needs to emotionally redefine the axioms that were assumed in the logical argument.

So how do you defend against it? Know they audience. You won't win this just by making a solid logical argument. You must know the kinds of arguments the audience will favor. For example, in some debates regarding science, it is permitted to force the argument towards deeper and deeper axioms until Person Two is out of their depth or is forced to make arguments that bend the meaning of "true" (as happens in politics all the time). With other audiences, this can be seen as an offensive tactic that can lose you the argument. If this is the case, you may find that the logical argument is actually insufficient to win, and you must instead start with an emotional one. Know thy audience.

As an example, one could consider the abortion debate raging today. Many positions on abortion involve the idea that "killing a living human is murder." With some audiences, you can get away with challenging the emotional Person Two to define the exact moment when a human becomes living, because clearly that line in the sand is important to them. When they fail to do so, probabilistic arguments come into play. However, with other audiences, this will be called "splitting hairs," and you would have been better off not starting with a logical argument in the first place.

  • Haha accusing one of splitting hairs in your abortion example doesn't cut any dice, because those people do need to be able to specify at least roughly what a "living human" is, and even more what "killing" is. Some cases are such that almost certainly the mother will die if forced to carry the child, and so the possibility of "killing the mother" by choice has to be factored in, unless they have a different notion of killing than the usual law, in which case they need to specify it.
    – user21820
    Commented Dec 6, 2015 at 9:44

This is called a "Straw Man Fallacy" which is a variation of ignoratio elenchi (irrelevant conclusion). The general form of a straw man argument is to misrepresent an argument to make it easier to defeat. Your scenario would be a specific case of this.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Fallacies 1.8

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