, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp 389–407 | Cite as

The witch hunt as a structure of argumentation

  • Douglas Walton


The concept of a witch hunt is frequently invoked, in recent times, to describe a kind of procedure for deciding the guilt of a person against whom an accusation has been made. But what exactly is a witch hunt? In this paper, ten conditions are formulated as a cluster of properties characterizing the witch hunt as a framework in which arguments are used: (1) pressure of social forces, (2) stigmatization, (3) climate of fear, (4) resemblance to a fair trial, (5) use of simulated evidence, (6) simulated expert testimony, (7) nonfalsifiability characteristic of evidence, (8) reversal of polarity, (9) non-openness, and (10) use of the loaded question technique. The witch hunt, as characterized by these criteria, is shown to function as a negative normative structure for evaluating argumentation used in particular cases.


Recent Time Normative Structure Social Force Expert Testimony Fair Trial 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Alphandery, P.D.: 1963, ‘The Inquisition’, Encyclopaedia Britannica 12, 377–383.Google Scholar
  2. Boyer, P. and S. Nissenbaum: 1977, The Salem Witchcraft Papers, Vol. 1, Da Capo, New York.Google Scholar
  3. Chase, S.: 1956, Guides to Straight Thinking, Harper and Row, New York.Google Scholar
  4. Copi, I.M.: 1982, Introduction to Logic, 6th ed., Macmillan, New York.Google Scholar
  5. Coren, M.: 1994, ‘Fifth Column’, The Globe and Mail, April 27, A22.Google Scholar
  6. Eberle, P. and S. Eberle: 1993, The Abuse of Innocence: The McMartin Pre-school Trial, Prometheus, Buffalo.Google Scholar
  7. Giannelli, P.C.: 1981, ‘General Acceptance of Scientific Tests: Frye and Beyond’, in E.J. Imwinkelried (ed.), Scientific and Expert Evidence, 2nd ed., Practising Law Institute, pp. 11–35.Google Scholar
  8. Hamilton, B.: 1981, The Medieval Inquisition, Holmes and Meier, New York.Google Scholar
  9. Huber, P.: 1991, Galileo's Revenge: Junk Science in the Courtroom, Basic Books, New York.Google Scholar
  10. Hurley, P.J.: 1994, A Concise Introduction to Logic, 5th ed., Wadsworth, Belmont.Google Scholar
  11. Imwinkelried, E.J.: 1986, ‘Science Takes the Stand: The Growing Misuse of Expert Testimony’, The Sciences 26, 20–25.Google Scholar
  12. Krabbe, E.C.W. and D.N. Walton: 1993, ‘It's All Very Well for You to Talk! Situationally Disqualifying Ad Hominem Attacks’, Informal Logic 15, 79–91.Google Scholar
  13. Lea, H.C.: 1961, A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, abridged version, Macmillan, New York.Google Scholar
  14. Loftus, E.: ‘Remembering Dangerously’, Skeptical Inquirer 19, 20–29.Google Scholar
  15. Loftus, E.F. and L.A. Rosenwald: 1993, ‘Buried Memories: Shattered Lives’, ABA Journal 79, 70–73.Google Scholar
  16. Morton, J.C. and S.C. Hutchinson: 1987, The Presumption of Innocence, Carswell, Toronto.Google Scholar
  17. Peters, E.: 1988, Inquisition, The Free Press, New York.Google Scholar
  18. Roberts, D.: 1994, ‘The Martensville Horror’, The Globe and Mail, February 19, D1–D3.Google Scholar
  19. Rovere, R.H.: 1959, Senator Joe McCarthy, Harcourt Brace, New York.Google Scholar
  20. Shapiro, L.: 1992, ‘The Lesson of Salem’, Newsweek, August 31, 64–66.Google Scholar
  21. Trevor-Roper, H.R.: 1967, Religion, The Reformation and Social Change, Macmillan, London.Google Scholar
  22. Van Eemeren, F.H. and R. Grootendorst: 1984, Speech Acts in Argumentative Discussions, Foris, Dordrecht.Google Scholar
  23. Walton, D.: 1989, Informal Logic, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  24. Walton, D.: 1991, ‘Critical Faults and Fallacies of Questioning’, Journal of Pragmatics 15, 337–366.Google Scholar
  25. Walton, D.: 1996, Arguments from Ignorance, Pennsylvania State Press, University Park, Pa.Google Scholar
  26. Watson, B.: 1992, ‘Salem's Darkest Hour: Did the Devil Make Them Do It?’ Smithsonian 23, 117–131.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Douglas Walton
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of WinnipegWinnipegCanada

Personalised recommendations