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For other uses, see Polemic (disambiguation).

A polemic /pəˈlɛmɪk/ is a contentious argument that is intended to support a specific position via attacks on a contrary position. Polemics are mostly seen in arguments about controversial topics. The practice of such argumentation is called polemics. A person who often writes polemics, or who speaks polemically, is called a polemicist or a polemic.[1] The word is derived from Greek πολεμικός (polemikos), meaning "warlike, hostile",[2][3] from πόλεμος (polemos), meaning "war".[4]


Along with debate, polemics are one of the most common forms of arguing. Similar to debate, a polemic is confined to a definite thesis. But unlike debate, which may allow for common ground between the two disputants, a polemic is intended only to affirm one point of view while refuting the opposing point of view.[examples needed]

Polemics are usually addressed to important issues in religion, philosophy, politics, or science. Polemic journalism was common in continental Europe at a time when libel laws were not as stringent as they are now.[5] Although polemic is typically motivated by strong emotions, such as hatred, for its success these must be stylized in a way comparable to drama, and incorporated into a coolly considered strategy.[6]

To support the study of the controversies of the 17th–19th centuries, a British research project has placed online thousands of polemical pamphlets from that era.[7]

Polemic theology[edit]

Polemic theology is the branch of theological argumentation devoted to the history or conduct of controversy over religious matters.[8] It is distinguished from apologetics, the intellectual defense of faith.

Martin Luther's On the Bondage of the Will is an example of polemic theology. It was written in answer to a polemic titled The Freedom of the Will by Desiderius Erasmus.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (Merriam-Webster, Springfield, MA, 2005), s.v. "polemic"
  2. ^ Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (Merriam-Webster, Springfield, MA, 2005), s.v. "polemic"
  3. ^ American College Dictionary (Random House, New York)
  4. ^ πόλεμος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  5. ^ polemic, or polemical literature, or polemics (rhetoric). britannica.com. Retrieved 2008-02-21. 
  6. ^ Andreas Dorschel, 'Passions of the Intellect: A Study of Polemics.' In: Philosophy 90 (2015), no. 4, pp. 679–684 (pdf online)
  7. ^ "Pamphlet and polemic: Pamphlets as a guide to the controversies of the 17th-19th centuries". St Andrews University Library. Retrieved 2015-01-15. 
  8. ^ Nicole, Roger R. (Summer 1998). "Polemic Theology: How to Deal with Those Who Differ from Us". The Founders Journal (33). Retrieved 2008-02-21. 


  • Gallop, Jane (2004). Polemic: Critical or Uncritical (1 ed.). New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-97228-0. 
  • Hawthorn, Jeremy (1987). Propaganda, Persuasion and Polemic. Hodder Arnold. ISBN 0-7131-6497-2. 
  • Lander, Jesse M. (2006). Inventing Polemic: Religion, Print, and Literary Culture in Early Modern England. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-83854-1. 

External links[edit]

  • Quotations related to Polemic at Wikiquote