Logical Theology

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Archive for the tag “tu quoque”

Tu Quoque Fallacy Part 2

Let us now look at a few examples of how the Tu Quoque fallacy can be committed within Christian dialogue:

Example 1: 

Michael says, “Mr. Smith claims that he is not an Anglican, nor does he wish to become one, for he does not agree with Anglican doctrine.  But wait a minute!  Didn’t Mr. Smith give a substantial donation to an Anglican church last year?  So he disagrees with Anglican doctrine and yet hypocritically supports an Anglican church with his finances. He certainly is inconsistent.”

While it may seem that Mr. Smith’s actions are hypocritical, the fact that a year has gone by since he donated the money to the church gives him more than enough time to change his mind. Even if he really did believe in Anglican doctrine a year ago, the fact that he has since changed his mind does not make him hypocritical.  However, let us suppose that he has always disagreed with Anglican doctrine, even when he supported the church with his finances. Would that make him a hypocrite?  Perhaps, but not necessarily.  If Mr. Smith gave his money to the church because the church was taking the money and using it to help people, such as feeding the poor and homeless and/or helping people get free from drug addiction, then he was not necessarily agreeing with the church’s doctrine.  He was simply supporting a good work.

Example 2: 

Jill says, “You should not go to my church because what they teach is wrong.  They are very dogmatic and rude towards those who disagree with them.”

Jennifer replies, “How can you say that??! You have been going to that church for 20 years and you still attend.” 

By Jill’s suggestion that Jennifer avoid the church which she herself still attends, it is tempting to conclude that Jill is being hypocritical. However, this may not necessarily be the case.  Perhaps Jill attends the church, not because she agrees with their doctrine, but because all her family and friends go there. She may in fact disagree with the church’s doctrine, but not want to sever her family relationships. While we may believe that she should still find a new church more in line with the doctrine she accepts, the fact that she continues to attend the church does not necessarily make her hypocritical.  In addition, even if she was being hypocritical, that alone does not make her statements about the church’s doctrine and atmosphere false.

Example 3: 

Stephen says, “I just finished listening to a lecture by professor Little. It is his opinion that the doctrine of the Trinity is mistaken.  I felt he has some good arguments to support his conclusions. What do you think about his beliefs?

Jason replies, “Professor Little is a serial adulterer who has been married four times and is not even married to the two women he lives with currently. Therefore, I reject his belief that trinitarianism is mistaken.”

While most would agree that it is not good that Professor Little has behaved the way he has, his personal misdeeds and failings have no bearing on whether his argument is true or false. If Jason is going to reject professor Little’s arguments, he must do so with good arguments of his own.  Rejecting professor Little’s position due to his personal faults is committing the Tu Quoque fallacy.

The Bottom Line:  Hypocrisy and inconsistency do not automatically negate an argument someone is making.  To assert that it does is a logical fallacy.

Tu Quoque Fallacy Part 1

A Tu Quoque (Latin for “you, also”) argument is an Ad Hominem which is committed when someone attempts to refute another person’s argument by pointing out that the person is being inconsistent with something he/she said or did, either recently or in the past.  In short, the fallacy is committed by wrongly arguing that a person’s hypocrisy invalidates their argument.

Hypocrisy can, in some limited cases, rebut someone’s argument, such as when a hyocritical and lying individual insists that they are a morally upright person.  However, when hypocrisy does not refute the argument being made, dismissing the argument solely because of the speaker’s hypocrisy is a logical fallacy. Consider the following examples:

Example 1: 

Bob says, “You really need to stop spending so much time playing video games. Your personal life is suffering because of it.” 

Tom replies, “No offense, but you play video games for eight hours a day, which is more than twice the amount of time that I play. There is nothing harmful with spending four hours a day playing video games and I will continue to do it, regardless of your opinion.”

Question: Does Tom’s response prove that spending great amounts of time playing video games is perfectly fine?

Answer: No, it does not.  Tom only accused Bob of hypocrisy. He did not present an argument in favor of his opinion. In addition, even if Bob is being hypocritical, that does not mean his argument can be dismissed. In fact, considering how much time Bob himself spends playing games, he might have just been warning Tom to not get so addicted to games because he knows from personal experience that it is unhealthy. If that is the case, then Bob would not be unreliable or hypocritical. Rather, it would mean that he wanted to help Tom avoid making the same mistake. However, even if Bob was being hypocritical, that does not disprove his argument.

Example 2:

Susan says, “I heard Mr. Smith say that we need to pass legislation that would require farming and meat companies to raise their animals in more humane ways. However, Mr. Smith used to work on the board of directors for a major meat producing company that has always kept its animals in appalling conditions.  Mr. Smith is a hypocrite, and we should not listen to anything he says.”

Question: Has Susan given us a good argument?

Answer: No. Susan’s argument was that because the past actions of Mr. Smith are inconsistent with his current statements, then Mr. Smith’s arguments should be dismissed.  This is fallacious for two reasons:

    1. Mr. Smith may have genuinely changed his mind. Not to allow someone to change their mind and to insist that people will perpetually believe and act the same is fallacious.
    2. As with the previous example, hypocrisy does not refute the argument being presented.

Now consider the following example which is not a logical fallacy:

Example 3:

Jason says, “Dorothy claims that she is a fine example of what it means to care for other people and to help the poor,  for she donates considerable money to the poor and works in a soup kitchen once a week.”

Gloria says, “While that is true, Dorothy also is the CEO of a major technology company which manufactures most of its goods and wares in Chinese factories. The working conditions at these factories are appalling, leading to many deaths.  In addition, the workers are paid so little, worked so hard, and treated so mercilessly that there have even been riots in these factories. Frankly, Dorothy’s acts of kindness to the poor are just a cover for who she really is–a greedy and selfish woman who abuses and takes advantage of the poor to enrich herself.”

Question: Is this an Ad Hominem Tu Quoque fallacy? 

Answer: No, it is not. The argument under consideration is not whether it is good to help the poor and to work in a soup kitchen. The argument was that Dorothy is a good example of what caring for the poor should look like.  However, as Gloria correctly pointed out, Dorothy’s other actions contradict her image as an caring person. Thus, Dorothy may appear to be a good example of what it means to care for the poor, but when we see her for who she truly is, she is a bad example indeed.

THE BOTTOM LINE: It is a mistake to think that hypocrisy automatically refutes a person’s argument. Hypocrisy can, in some cases, does discredit a person, make them unreliable, and possibly refute their claims. However, when hypocrisy does not refute the argument being made, to claim that it does, is a logical fallacy.

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