Let’s talk about wells. Symbolic wells anyway. Today’s Fallacy Friday is going to be a short one. Anyway, let’s get down to talking about the fallacy of “Poisoning the Well”.
An attempt to “Poison the Well” is an attempt to feed people information which isn’t necessarily (though it can be) connected to the actual, and ongoing, debate. This information is negative (Usually), or is meant to be perceived in a negative light. It’s a character attack. It’s also not an actual response to someone’s arguments, it’s an appeal to the audience.
This is fallacious because it has no bearing on the actual argument, in any sense. It’s a tactic used when the goal is to make your opponents look and sound like jerks, or people who shouldn’t be listened to. Usually this information isn’t even related to the debate at hand. An example of this is could be when you attack someone on the basis of not speaking the language they are arguing in as a first language (or attacking the grammar of the person, in an attempt to make them look less suitable to be arguing). This can also be an argument from style, or lack thereof.
It is important to focus your judgement of an argument not by the presenter, but by the information contained within the arguments. The identity of the presenter shouldn’t have an effect on how you feel about their argument. It should be their argument that you listen too. If you want to be as impartial as possible, you need to not take into account how you feel about the debaters, and focus on the content of their arguments.
If you are known (you could be a particular audience, not just you as a singular person) to dislike a certain group of people, and one of the debaters conflates the identity of their opponent with that group of people (even if it’s true), they are attempting to poison the well. And to some (because this can be debated) this continues, EVEN IF the information is true, and related to the debate. The identity of a debater isn’t relevant to their arguments, and to the level of truth their argument contains. This argument might be an attempt to point out someone’s biases, but even then it doesn’t dispute any evidence they have presented in favor of their position. The truth of the evidence or argument exists or doesn’t exist independent of the identity of the presenter. The focus must be on the specific argument presented, not the person who presents it, and this can be extremely unpleasant to deal with.
Debating isn’t easy, and seeking to avoid as many fallacies as possible is important. Don’t try to poison the well. It makes honest debating and critical evaluation of evidence difficult. Just don’t do it,