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An attack on an argument is anything which appears to damage the argument's credibility. The essence of an attack can be either rational or non-rational.

Rationally, the only valid attack on an argument is one which shows flaws in either the premises or the logic connecting those premises to the argument's conclusion.


A non-rational attack (NRA) is one which attempts to convince others of a conclusion via means other than evidence and reason. While the conclusion is not necessarily at odds with what evidence and reason would suggest, NRAs are most often used in situations where evidence and reason would lead to a different conclusion.

NRAs either attempt to engage the emotions of others in order to bypass logic (appeal to emotion), or to employ distortions of logic (logical fallacy) which may convince others to accept illogical conclusions. Typically, these two are used in tandem: a logical fallacy provides a cover of reasonableness for a conclusion which the listener has already been primed to want to believe.

Rather than attack an argument directly, an attacker may attempt to draw attention away from its conclusion via other means (see rhetorical distraction).

The target audience for a non-rational attack may not be the participant who advanced the argument in the first place, but rather a third party (typically an audience) who may be more easily swayed for any of several possible reasons. Attackers may even exploit particular audience vulnerabilities by fielding arguments that seem relatively innocuous or possibly nonsensical on a rational level, but which play on certain beliefs or cultural triggers likely to be present in the audience (see dogwhistle).

Very occasionally, a NRA may legitimately be used to help "win someone over" to a reasonable conclusion when they have become emotionally locked into unreasonable beliefs – but doing so raises complex ethical issues.