Poisoning the Well

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© 2011-2019 by Zack Smith. All rights reserved.

Poisoning the Well

Poisoning the well is the tactic of discrediting a speaker before they get a chance to speak, thereby poisoning the minds of the listeners. Unlike the ad hominem attack, the attacker may not be attacking the speaker but rather the topic matter, or the context of that topic.

  • Person A speaks ill of Person B in advance.
  • Therefore Proposition P spoken by Person B is false. ]]


A person who needs to use this technique usually has a personal stake in whether people gain a full understanding of a topic. You can expose that stake.

It may be that the arguer is acting on behalf of another person, their link to that person. For instance, newspapers engage in Poisoning the Well implicitly when they run hit pieces that reach the public before the truth does.