“You are such an angry and judgmental person!”

Avoid Rejecting Someone’s Argument for These Fallacious Reasons

Someone could easily say of my opinions and articles “it makes sense that he believes this because of his age, gender, upbringing, class, income, education, and a number of other demographic explanations”.  This reductionist tactic tries to undercut or discredit my my arguments based upon who they came from and why.  There are many problems with this approach including the fact that I could just as easily discredit that person by citing his or her demographic data. It might be true that I write what I do because of a number of factors that make me who I am. However, this process gets us nowhere in a debate that matters.  It is prudent to avoid rejecting someone’s argument if you reject them for the following reasons:

Logical fallacies:

  • Genetic Fallacy
    • Argues that a belief is false or mistaken because of the way the belief originated
  • Ad hominem
    • is a general category of fallacies in which a claim or argument is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author of or the person presenting the claim or argument (wikipedia)
  • Tu quoque
    • “In latin tu quoque (too kwo-kwee) means “you too”;  in fact, the phrase “you did it too” is a good, succinct account of this fallacy. A tu quoque occurs when one rebuts a particular criticism of one’s own position by showing one’s opponent’s position is subject to the same criticism; this is done instead of showing that one’s own position is not susceptible to the criticism.” (http://www.mandm.org.nz/2011/02/fallacy-friday-tu-quoque-but-you-did-it-too.html)

Claims/assertions should be addressed purely on the basis of their truth or falsity and not on the character of the author or how the author came to believe it.  The Tu quoque fallacy is especially pertinent in many arguments on morality and ethics that I see today.  The fallacy can be easily rebutted, however, by the use of the argument form “Reductio ad Absurdum” (Latin for “reduced to absurdity” (http://www.iep.utm.edu/reductio/)).

Rejecting moral arguments:

“Reductio ad absurdum is a mode of argumentation that seeks to establish a contention by deriving an absurdity from its denial, thus arguing that a thesis must be accepted because its rejection would be untenable.” (http://www.iep.utm.edu/reductio/)

An example of using Reductio ad absurdum against the Tu quoque fallacy can be seen in the following:

Person A: “you cant tell me that I am wrong to cheat on my wife! You cheated on your wife once”

Person A is claiming that what he is doing is not wrong because the other person is hypocritical.  Even if Person B, who told them they are wrong for cheating is hypocritical, does it make what Person A is doing right? What person B does is irrelevant to his claim against Person A. The only defensible argument that Person A could have is if Person B cheated on his wife AND still said and believed that what he did was right and good. If Person B did this, his argument that Person A is wrong would be internally contradictory according to what he is saying about the morality of cheating. Person B, in this example, would be saying that cheating is both wrong and right at the same time which cannot be true. Person A can rightfully request an explanation of this internal contradiction. In other words, does Person B believe that it is wrong or right to cheat.   However, Person A, in this situation, cannot rationally show that his position is defensible by ONLY noting that Person B’s position shares indefensible flaws with his own. (http://www.mandm.org.nz/2011/02/fallacy-friday-tu-quoque-but-you-did-it-too.html) Person A admits flaws in the Tu quoque fallacy but then points the finger back at Person B, which does nothing for him.

Obviously It would be hard for Person B’s moral advice to be taken seriously, especially if he is being pretentious by showing their moral superiority.  However, even if person B is a terrible person, the truth of his or her claim is what needs to be examined in this case.

Further, it is ABSURD (Reductio ad Absurdum) to think that anyone who has made a moral error is now disqualified from making moral judgements.  This would make it impossible for anyone to make moral judgements or assertions. We make moral judgements every day when we choose NOT do something that we deem wrong. Are we expected to NOT make distinctions between right and wrong just because we have failed morally in the past and will again in the future?  If Person A wishes his Tu quoque argument to be accepted, he also has to say that no one should make moral judgements if they have ever failed morally. This is an untenable position.


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