Who are you to tell me not to smoke, you do!!

16 Aug

For years as I was raising my boys, I second guessed myself:

I would hesitate in ‘preaching’ that certain behaviors were wrong.  My faulty reasoning went like this:

“I’ll be hypocritical if I tell them…

  • Don’t smoke pot!
  • Don’t have sex before you’re married!
  • Don’t drink and drive!

…..after all, I’ve done some of these.”

I wish I had known about this logical fallacy back then!  Because whether you have smoked, drunk, or whatever, that is irrelevant to a reasoned argument NOT to do something.

This kind of silly thinking is called ‘Tu Quoque’ (too kwo-kway) which means ‘you, too!’

Imagine the following conversation:   

Chain-smoking Uncle Albert –Bobby, what are you doing smoking a cigarette!  Don’t you know you can get lung cancer that way?

12-year-old Bobby:  Who are YOU to tell me not to smoke?!  You can’t go an hour without lighting up!

Uncle Albert:  That’s right!  And I don’t want you to suffer like I have.  I wish someone had told me how addicting smoking was and the impact it would have on my life!  I can’t even climb a flight of stairs now without having to stop and catch my breath.  Do you want to end up like me?

Bobby –But that’s hypocritical to tell me one thing and not do it yourself!

Uncle Albert –No, it’s not hypocritical.  If I CLAIMED not to smoke and lectured you about the dangers of smoking, and then you caught me smoking, then I would be two-faced. But I’m giving you good reasons why smoking is bad for you.

Bobby – Hm, you’ve got a point.  Alright, I won’t  smoke any more.  Just don’t tell Mom, okay?

Here’s what thoughtful reasoning does.  It makes an assertion and then backs it up with reasons.  The personal habits of the one making the claim have no bearing on the case.  In fact, having experienced some nasty consequences for engaging in dangerous behavior might make the case even more compelling, but on an emotional level.  We’ll leave that to the rhetoricians and stick to reasonable, thought-out positions.

Here is a sample argument supported by reasons:

Premise 1   Practices that are harmful to your health are actions that should be avoided

Premise 2   Smoking cigarettes is a practice that is harmful to your health

Conclusion  Tf, smoking cigarettes is an action that should be avoided.

So – go ahead and share your hard-earned wisdom!  And if someone objects, tell them that it is a fallacy to say that you can’t give advice regarding something that still has you in its grip!    

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