There happens to be a pattern where a discussant makes a statement about the world and his/her partner retorts with another statement or usually a question that translates the subject onto a trajectory where the statement of the first discussant--his or her argument core--becomes seemingly irrelevant or appears nonsensical or ultimately indefensible or is otherwise severely crippled in the newly introduced context. It is not the case that the first statement is indeed erroneous or otherwise lacking; only the perception of it as expressed in the retort makes such claims, implicitly or otherwise.

I am interested in situations where this shift in context or focus can be attributed to reasons having to do with the argument itself, for example, as it is understood by the discussants and the trajectory of the discussion itself. I am not interested in straw-man arguments or other devices that aim for anything other than clarifying the subject of the discussion.

Is this pattern identifiable and does it have a name?

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    I made some edits which I assume you are aware you may roll back or continue editing. You can see the versions by clicking on the "edited" line above. Welcome to this SE! Oct 1, 2018 at 17:58
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    Your description is so vague it could be half of informal fallacies or none at all. Could you give an example?
    – Conifold
    Oct 1, 2018 at 17:59
  • @Frank Hubeny thank you! I'm aware of the edit functionality. Oct 1, 2018 at 18:33
  • @Conifold I didn't want to include an example because I was afraid it might be too restrictive or that the details would distract from the pattern itself Oct 1, 2018 at 18:39
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    Well, there is nothing to distract from since there is no pattern to speak of so far. An example would help.
    – Conifold
    Oct 1, 2018 at 19:28

1 Answer 1


Welcome, yosimitsu kodanuri. Conifold is right : without an example it is hard to know what you have in mind. I am going to make a guess that your discussant is making an improper use of reductio ad absurdum (reduction to absurdity).

Imagine this argument :

You : P is true.

Discussant : Well, if P is true, then Q is true. But Q is false. So P must be false. So you've contradicted yourself. You've asserted that P is true but your argument commits you to not-P (that P is false). How bad can an argument get !

This seems at least not unlike the situation you've described. Reduction ad absurdum is often a good way of exposing - flushing out - fallacies but in this case you have not contradicted yourself at all. The conclusion that P is false is (a) purely the result of premises your discussant has foisted on you, premises that (b) may well not be justified. You never agreed to the premises your discussant has inserted to derive the contradiction.

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