Detraction comes from detract, which means to diminish; a taking away (not to be confused with a retraction, the withdrawal or repudiation of an assertion made public).
A detraction is the opposite of an attraction; a detracting from what seems to be good, the disclosure of something bad about someone or something. Detraction can be either positive or negative.
Sometimes detraction represents a positive value, as in "truth in advertising" or a corporate policy of "full disclosure". For example:
- If you love peace and quiet and you’re thinking about buying a house, a location on a major road would be a detraction.
- “The proposals include no detraction from the archaeology as this has been, and will be carefully researched, preserved, and protected.”
As a neutral expression of factual disclosure, detraction can be useful. Detraction is thus generally dispraise, even disparagement. Detraction is especially essential in the exposure of specious reasoning, and the deceit of liars and hypocrites.
The act of speaking disrespectfully, especially the act of speaking contemptuously, of someone or something can also be a malicious discrediting of what is worthy of respect and honor or detracting from someone's character, accomplishments, etc., by revealing hidden faults, especially by slander, sometimes involving the spreading of falsehoods believed to be true.
What is called in Christian moral theology the Sin of Detraction, is a special case. In Roman Catholic theology, detraction is the sin of revealing another person's real faults to a third person without a valid reason, thereby lessening the reputation of that person. As the definition indicates, in order to be guilty of detraction, you have to say something that you either know to be true or a falsehood you believe to be true. Detraction is therefore defined as the unjust damaging of another's good name by the revelation of some fault or crime of which that other is really guilty or at any rate is seriously believed to be guilty by the defamer (a falsehood as distinct from a lie). A disordered and misguided sense of justice can motivate the unnecessary disclosure of facts that ruin the public reputation and established authority and influence of persons who have sincerely dedicated themselves to doing good, and are seeking to inspire others to do good.
Prosecution: Burden of Proof
Where jurisprudence holds to the presumption of innocence, the burden of proof falls on the prosecutor or the plaintiff to make their case against the accused defendant based on detraction. Unsubstantiated calumnies are disallowed. However, the potential for substantive detraction based on factual evidence can also be disallowed by the court on the basis that it is unduly prejudicial. This occasionally results in cases where a defendant who is most certainly guilty is discharged and not punished by the prevailing justice system due to a withholding of substantiating evidence of actual guilt on the basis of a legal technicality.
Satan: the Accuser
Some biblical exegetes emphasize that the meaning of the Hebrew term ha-Satan is "Accuser" and by this fact attempt to represent this being as a legitimate prosecutor performing a divinely appointed office in the heavenly court who has done no wrong in fulfilling Its office of accusing sinful mankind. This is the Jewish view. Other exegetes vigorously counter that this is a distortion of the meaning of the literal sense of scripture illicitly removed from the revelation of the context of the Bible as a whole, which shows Satan as the "father of lies" and the rebellious enemy of righteousness, of truth, of God, and of all mankind, willing to use detraction and half-truths to destroy. Compare Revelation 12:10.