Tag Archives: Fallacies of Relevance

Yeah, but what about all those Crusades and Witchburnings?

16 Dec


When ISIS perpetrated their evil in Paris, some commentators were quick to trot out past atrocities committed by so-called Christians.

Their response is a perfect example of the fallacy known as ‘Tu Quoque’.  This Latin phrase describing the attempt to deflect the debate means, ‘You too!’

Here’s a simple example:

Uncle Jim to his nephew:  Bobby, you shouldn’t smoke, it’s bad for your health.

Bobby: Yeah, well who are you to tell me that?  Look at you, addicted to 2 packs a day!

What makes Bobby’s response inappropriate is that his observation, though true, is irrelevant to the assertion: Smoking is bad for your health.

So Uncle Jim’s best move is to acknowledge the truth of his nephew’s comment and gently move the discussion back to the topic.  It could be that since Uncle Jim seems addicted to smoking he knows first hand the effect on his body.  The fact that he himself smokes has given him living proof of what research shows.  What counts, however, are the reasons he marshals to support his conclusion.

Off topic

Back to the terrorism conversation.  Whether Christians wrongly burned women at the stake or justified murder by covering it over with the guise of a religious cause is not up for discussion.  Raising those events is a ploy to shift the topic.  Logical Joes and Janes have to practice restraint and resist the temptation to enter THAT arena.  The simplest way, again, is to acknowledge the possibility of truth in what was said, but then guide the conversation partner gently back to what’s on the table.

With practice responding to parries AND staying on topic comes more naturally.



Logical Gal falls prey to a fallacy

18 Jun

You’d think I’d know better!

I’m the one, after all, who has TAUGHT logic.  But it was my husband who picked up on my faulty thinking and asked me, “Isn’t that a fallacy?”

And darn if he wasn’t right!  Good for him.  And good for me, because it reminded me how easy it is to swallow someone’s line of thinking without even questioning. Especially if one is PREDISPOSED to agree with the one making the case.

Fallacy Picture

A columnist whom I respect was condemning, as misguided, the thinking of a friend by summarizing a recent conversation.  The columnist wrote:

“My friend said the following –

  • Our neighbors, even though they engage in a behavior I don’t approve of, are actually very moral people.
  • In fact, one of them as helped me set boundaries on my son’s video game habits.

The columnist had preceded this conversation snippet by arguing that we should be aware of the danger of having our minds changed through continual exposure to wrong-doing.  That, over time, we would find the ‘wrong-doing’ acceptable and normal.

I recognized the attempt at sarcasm in the columnist reporting the friend’s view.  This friend apparently was okay with behavior once considered immoral and had shifted to evaluating one’s degree of morality based on video game beliefs.

Video Game Danger

When I pointed this out to my husband, his questions to me were:

  • What’s the connection?
  • Does the source of the advice on video games invalidate the advice?  That sounds like a fallacy!

This dear man of mine was asking about the RELEVANCE.


With that question, my mind quickly sorted through the fallacies I knew and BINGO!

This mistake falls under the label of:  Ad Hominem Circumstantial Fallacy.

The way this works is to point out the background or affiliation of the person making a case and thereby invalidate their point of view NOT on the merits of their case but on who they are.

So the gal whose neighbors of questionable moral background OFFERED advice on how to curb a teen’s video game habits is being logical when she evaluates the suggestions for themselves.  It really doesn’t matter who proffers the advice, even though we sometimes disparagingly remark, “Consider the source!”

If we were to be an authentically logical Joe or Jane, we would not even dismiss a suggestion purporting to come from Adolph Hitler on how to make Wiener Schnitzel.  We wouldn’t trot out the Ad Hominem Circumstantial fallacy and dismiss his recipe by saying: “Oh, he’s a Nazi and mass-murderer – what could he possibly know about cooking!”

Wiener Schnitzel

Question:  Which views or whose views do you routinely discount because you don’t agree with them about something else?