Fair and Unfair Strategies in Public Controversies

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
267 Downloads (Pure)


Contemporary theory of argumentation offers many insights about the ways in which, in the context of a public controversy, arguers should ideally present their arguments and criticize those of their opponents. We also know that in practice not all works out according to the ideal patterns: numerous kinds of derailments (fallacies) are an object of study for argumentation theorists. But how about the use of unfair strategies vis-à-vis one’s opponents? What if it is not a matter of occasional derailments but of one party’s systematic refusal to take other parties seriously? What if one party continually forgoes any form of critical testing and instead resorts to threats or blackmail? Can this be countered by the tools of reason? Or should one pay one’s opponent back in the same coin? To gain some grasp of these issues, we describe a number of strategies used in the public controversy about induced earthquakes in Groningen. We check whether these strategies are fair, i.e. balanced, transparent, and tolerant. We also investigate the effects of the choice for a particular kind of strategy. It appears that, in circumstances, choosing a fair strategy may be detrimental for resolving the controversy and choosing an unfair one beneficial. Following up ideas from social psychology and political science, we formulate some guidelines for the choice of strategies. At the end, we stress the importance – especially for those whose opinions carry little weight – of having a society in which the knowledge and skills needed for assessing the fairness of strategies are widespread.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)315-347
Number of pages33
JournalJournal of Argumentation in Context
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • argumentation theory
  • strategy
  • fallacy
  • public controversy
  • (un)fairness

Cite this