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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",[1][2] from πόλεμος (polemos), meaning "war".[3]


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.[4] 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.[5]

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.[6]

Polemic theology

Polemic theology is the branch of theological argumentation devoted to the history or conduct of controversy over religious matters.[7] 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


  1. 1.0 1.1 Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (Merriam-Webster, Springfield, MA, 2005), s.v. "polemic"
  2. American College Dictionary (Random House, New York)
  3. πόλεμος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  4. polemic, or polemical literature, or polemics (rhetoric). britannica.com. Archived from the original on April 11, 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-21. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Andreas Dorschel, 'Passions of the Intellect: A Study of Polemics.' In: Philosophy 90 (2015), no. 4, pp. 679–684 (pdf online)
  6. "Pamphlet and polemic: Pamphlets as a guide to the controversies of the 17th-19th centuries". St Andrews University Library. Retrieved 2015-01-15.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Nicole, Roger R. (Summer 1998). "Polemic Theology: How to Deal with Those Who Differ from Us". The Founders Journal (33). Retrieved 2008-02-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Gallop, Jane (2004). Polemic: Critical or Uncritical (1 ed.). New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-97228-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Hawthorn, Jeremy (1987). Propaganda, Persuasion and Polemic. Hodder Arnold. ISBN 0-7131-6497-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Lander, Jesse M. (2006). Inventing Polemic: Religion, Print, and Literary Culture in Early Modern England. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-83854-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

  • Quotations related to Polemic at Wikiquote