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Personal Attack
AKA Ad Hominem Abusive

Category: Fallacies of Relevance (Red Herrings) → Ad hominems (Genetic Fallacies)

A personal attack is committed when a person substitutes abusive remarks for evidence when attacking another person's claim or claims. This line of "reasoning" is fallacious because the attack is directed at the person making the claim and not the claim itself. The truth value of a claim is independent of the person making the claim. After all, no matter how repugnant an individual might be, he or she can still make true claims.

Not all ad Hominems are fallacious. In some cases, an individual's characteristics can have a bearing on the question of the veracity of her claims. For example, if someone is shown to be a pathological liar, then what he says can be considered to be unreliable.

However, such attacks are weak, since even pathological liars might speak the truth on occasion. In general, it is best to focus one’s attention on the content of the claim and not on who made the claim. It is the content that determines the truth of the claim and not the characteristics of the person making the claim.

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1
Ad Hominem Tu Quoque
AKA "You Too Fallacy"

Category: Fallacies of Relevance (Red Herrings) → Ad hominems (Genetic Fallacies)

This fallacy is committed when it is concluded that a person's claim is false because 1) it is inconsistent with something else a person has said or 2) what a person says is inconsistent with her actions. This type of "argument" has the following form:

  1. Person A makes claim X.
  2. Person B asserts that A's actions or past claims are inconsistent with the truth of claim X.
  3. Therefore X is false.
The fact that a person makes inconsistent claims does not make any particular claim he makes false (although of any pair of inconsistent claims only one can be true-but both can be false). Also, the fact that a person's claims are not consistent with his actions might indicate that the person is a hypocrite but this does not prove his claims are false.

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1
Special Pleading
Category: Fallacies of Relevance (Red Herrings)

Special Pleading is a fallacy in which a person applies standards, principles, rules, etc. to others while taking herself (or those she has a special interest in) to be exempt, without providing adequate justification for the exemption. This sort of "reasoning" has the following form:

  1. Person A accepts standard(s) S and applies them to others in circumstance(s) C.
  2. Person A is in circumstance(s) C.
  3. Therefore A is exempt from S.
The person committing Special Pleading is claiming that he is exempt from certain principles or standards yet he provides no good reason for his exemption. That this sort of reasoning is fallacious is shown by the following extreme example:
  1. Barbara accepts that all murderers should be punished for their crimes.
  2. Although she murdered Bill, Barbara claims she is an exception because she really would not like going to prison.
  3. Therefore, the standard of punishing murderers should not be applied to her.
This is obviously a blatant case of special pleading. Since no one likes going to prison, this cannot justify the claim that Barbara alone should be exempt from punishment.

The Principle of Relevant Difference
From a philosophic standpoint, the fallacy of Special Pleading is violating a well accepted principle, namely the Principle of Relevant Difference. According to this principle, two people can be treated differently if and only if there is a relevant difference between them. This principle is a reasonable one. After all, it would not be particularly rational to treat two people differently when there is no relevant difference between them. As an extreme case, it would be very odd for a parent to insist on making one child wear size 5 shoes and the other wear size 7 shoes when the children are both size 5.

It should be noted that the Principle of Relevant Difference does allow people to be treated differently. For example, if one employee was a slacker and the other was a very productive worker the boss would be justified in giving only the productive worker a raise. This is because the productivity of each is a relevant difference between them. Since it can be reasonable to treat people differently, there will be cases in which some people will be exempt from the usual standards. For example, if it is Bill's turn to cook dinner and Bill is very ill, it would not be a case of Special Pleading if Bill asked to be excused from making dinner (this, of course, assumes that Bill does not accept a standard that requires people to cook dinner regardless of the circumstances). In this case Bill is offering a good reason as to why he should be exempt and, most importantly, it would be a good reason for anyone who was ill and not just Bill.

While determining what counts as a legitimate basis for exemption can be a difficult task, it seems clear that claiming you are exempt because you are you does not provide such a legitimate basis. Thus, unless a clear and relevant justification for exemption can be presented, a person cannot claim to be exempt.

There are cases which are similar to instances of Special Pleading in which a person is offering at least some reason why he should be exempt but the reason is not good enough to warrant the exemption. This could be called "Failed Pleading." For example, a professor may claim to be exempt from helping the rest of the faculty move books to the new department office because it would be beneath his dignity. However, this is not a particularly good reason and would hardly justify his exemption. If it turns out that the real "reason" a person is claiming exemption is that they simply take themselves to be exempt, then they would be committing Special Pleading. Such cases will be fairly common. After all, it is fairly rare for adults to simply claim they are exempt without at least some pretense of justifying the exemption.

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337
Appeal to Popularity
Ad Populum

Category: Fallacies of Relevance (Red Herrings)

The Appeal to Popularity has the following form:

  1. Most people approve of X (have favorable emotions towards X).
  2. Therefore X is true.
The basic idea is that a claim is accepted as being true simply because most people are favorably inclined towards the claim. More formally, the fact that most people have favorable emotions associated with the claim is substituted in place of actual evidence for the claim. A person falls prey to this fallacy if he accepts a claim as being true simply because most other people approve of the claim.

It is clearly fallacious to accept the approval of the majority as evidence for a claim. For example, suppose that a skilled speaker managed to get most people to absolutely love the claim that 1+1=3. It would still not be rational to accept this claim simply because most people approved of it. After all, mere approval is no substitute for a mathematical proof. At one time people approved of claims such as "the world is flat", "humans cannot survive at speeds greater than 25 miles per hour", "the sun revolves around the earth" but all these claims turned out to be false.

This sort of "reasoning" is quite common and can be quite an effective persuasive device. Since most humans tend to conform with the views of the majority, convincing a person that the majority approves of a claim is often an effective way to get him to accept it. Advertisers often use this tactic when they attempt to sell products by claiming that everyone uses and loves their products. In such cases they hope that people will accept the (purported) approval of others as a good reason to buy the product.

This fallacy is vaguely similar to such fallacies as Appeal to Belief and Appeal to Common Practice. However, in the case of an Ad Populum the appeal is to the fact that most people approve of a claim. In the case of an Appeal to Belief, the appeal is to the fact that most people believe a claim. In the case of an Appeal to Common Practice, the appeal is to the fact that many people take the action in question.

This fallacy is closely related to the Appeal to Emotion fallacy, as discussed in the entry for that fallacy.

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0
Red Herring
AKA Smoke Screen, Wild Goose Chase

Category: Fallacies of Relevance (Red Herrings)

A Red Herring is a fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue. The basic idea is to "win" an argument by leading attention away from the argument and to another topic. This sort of "reasoning" has the following form:

  1. Topic A is under discussion.
  2. Topic B is introduced under the guise of being relevant to topic A (when topic B is actually not relevant to topic A).
  3. Topic A is abandoned.
This sort of "reasoning" is fallacious because merely changing the topic of discussion hardly counts as an argument against a claim.

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8
Guilt by Association
AKA Bad Company Fallacy, Company that You Keep Fallacy

Category: Fallacies of Relevance (Red Herrings) → Ad hominems (Genetic Fallacies)

Guilt by Association is a fallacy in which a person rejects a claim simply because it is pointed out that people she dislikes accept the claim. This sort of "reasoning" has the following form:

  1. It is pointed out that person A accepts claim P.
  2. Therefore P is false
It is clear that sort of "reasoning" is fallacious. For example the following is obviously a case of poor "reasoning": "You think that 1+1=2. But, Adolf Hitler, Charles Manson, Joseph Stalin, and Ted Bundy all believed that 1+1=2. So, you shouldn't believe it."

The fallacy draws its power from the fact that people do not like to be associated with people they dislike. Hence, if it is shown that a person shares a belief with people he dislikes he might be influenced into rejecting that belief. In such cases the person will be rejecting the claim based on how he thinks or feels about the people who hold it and because he does not want to be associated with such people.

Of course, the fact that someone does not want to be associated with people she dislikes does not justify the rejection of any claim. For example, most wicked and terrible people accept that the earth revolves around the sun and that lead is heavier than helium. No sane person would reject these claims simply because this would put them in the company of people they dislike (or even hate).

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