Maybe this is just a case of Jörgensen’s dilemma, but so I was reading the SEP article about feminist perspectives on argumentation, more specifically this passage:

The difficulty some philosophers have in recognizing the sophistication of feminist historical criticism regarding philosophical theories may be due, first, to feminist use of certain theories that were the target for philosophers who developed the category “genetic fallacy”. Margaret Crouch explains that the concept of the genetic fallacy was developed only in the early twentieth century by some philosophers in the analytic tradition with the explicit intention of discounting the scientific status of Marxist and Freudian accounts. Given that Marxist and Freudian accounts from the continental European tradition have influenced a good deal of feminist theory, Crouch argues that it is unsurprising that feminist analysis might seem at first glance to commit the genetic fallacy (1991; 1993).

Moreover, Crouch argues, employing the label of “genetic fallacy” against feminist criticisms of the historically masculine sources for popular views in the discipline of philosophy relies on a misunderstanding of what constitutes a fallacy at a point where reasonable consensus has emerged: not every instance of a pattern of reasoning associated with a fallacy label—here genetic appeals—constitutes that fallacy; there may be exceptions and even highly reasonable practices that employ the same pattern.

The article continues with reflection on the practice of "fallacy-checking," or checking an argument for (informal) fallacies. It is not, of course, evident that formal logic retains much of this argument style or else the explosion argument for noncontradiction would never have gotten off the ground: its disjunction-introduction step would've been rejected for committing a "fallacy of irrelevance." For it seems as though the point of fallacy-checking is to pay attention to the objectivity of argued-over facts; ad hominem reasoning is deniable in the abstract, for example, because an objective fact is not substantively objective on account of what the source of its professor is.

Now Wikipedia mentions a certain Douglas Walton as having written a text on informal logic that is sensitive to the possibility of cases where e.g. ad hominem arguments are not "fallacious." On the other hand, on the same page, the problematic use of ad hominem arguments to violate the intended civility of discourse is mentioned; so perhaps there is a non-factualist reason to reject (some) ad hominem arguments in moral discourse.

But is there any "standing order" contrary to the use of any (informal) fallacy in some moral argument? I ask this with a comment in mind (in an answer to another question on this SE), according to which the morally dubious origins of a certain symbolism don't quite testify against that symbolism's more-current use. I.e. it was suggested that such reasoning otherwise commits the genetic fallacy. But per the above-quoted passage, is the genetic fallacy acceptable in moral argument at least insofar as moral statements supposedly aren't reports of objective facts? If moves in the language game of morality are admissible for non-factual and subjective (not just either-the-one-or-the-other) reasons, wouldn't the subjective origins of some of those moves be relevant(!) to their meta-admissibility in turn?

Possible rebuttal: one might say that there are many non-factual/subjective language games, so that morality's distinction is that, despite its surface non-factualism, it includes a proviso that when its statements are used as premises in arguments, we are to proceed "as if" the arguments were over more objectively realistic questions. Though such a proposal has the appearance of pure dishonesty, it is not too far from things like Habermas' discourse alethics/ethics, or then the claim that certain actions, either by given examples or by general type, are expressive (somewhat in a moral-expressivist sense, no less) of rationality even though there are no objectively rational premises (or at least no nontrivial ones) from which the performance of said actions can be deduced like some kind of factualist clockwork chiming in at the "right" hour. E.g. violence might be seen as "less expressive of" rationality than civility; and if whether violence-as-an-action expresses irrationality symbolically(?) is dependent on subjective, pre-factualist semiotic actions, then though, "Violence is (typically) more expressive of irrationality than civility," looks at first like it might be mostly a report about an objective fact, yet in fact it is not so much that either.

The flipside is: would the normal (or non-moral) fallacy-checking practice be justified for the moral-language game, as carrying through such an expressivism?

  • What Crouch says is a well-known fact, abductive reasoning often has the same logical form as informal fallacies. However, genetic fallacy is only a fallacy when it is offered as a sole and conclusive 'reason' against an argument or position, not when it is used as a historical explanation of it in conjunction with other arguments, which is exactly what Crouch does in her own case against the "genetic fallacy". I generally do not see why acceptability of abductive "fallacy" should depend on whether it is on "objective" matter or not, it is about reasoning, not the nature of premises.
    – Conifold
    Aug 22 at 17:56

2 Answers 2


It depends on the context. Moral statements are subjective expressions of values held by individuals or groups; they do not need to be buttressed by argument. For example, I might say that eating animals is wrong, and if you ask me why, I might answer that it just is, and that's the end of it. However, if someone were to attempt to justify a particular moral viewpoint with some supporting argument, you might feel entitled to point out any flaws in it. That would not necessarily invalidate the moral stance in the eye of the person who maintained it, since they might feel they were entitled to their view regardless of whether there was any logic behind it.


Well, some have said that reason is the summum bonum (the highest good) and by that token fallacies (irrationality) would be the worst evil. Jesus, I'm told, was equated with Logos, the root word of logic.

A segue into Buddhism: Ignorance is counted among the Unholy Trinity or the 3 Prime Evils, which are:

  1. Avidya, perhaps Ajnana is a better word (Ignorance)
  2. Hate
  3. Tanha (Craving)
  • 1
    But what makes a fallacy, a fallacy? If logic is meant to preserve the truth of premises when it reaches conclusions, or at least to preserve the majority probability of truth (for non-deductive reasoning), but if moral statements are either not really true at all, or true in some way other than non-moral statements are, then why wouldn't, for example, "Most people believe moral statement X," actually count as "evidence" for X? Reasoning on this basis would preserve the truth of X, supposing X to be true, wouldn't it? So are so-called fallacies absolute or relative? Aug 23 at 5:32
  • 1
    Since you invoke Buddha abd Christ as exemplary consider their 'fallacies' eg He who has not sinned let him cast the first stone would in modern jargon be called 'whataboutism'. [Note the quote marks around fallacies above]. On a more substantive note: equating Logos and logic is not quite correct. Logos is more like 'atom of thought/communication'. Therefore 'Word'
    – Rushi
    Aug 23 at 13:09
  • 1
    Dear @KristianBerry, from what I can gather, it's 13 o'clock, the time, the civilan jokester announced, to purchase a new timepiece ... so to speak. Mr. Freeman never makes a single mistake because ... Mr. Freemen doesn't exist. Aug 23 at 14:38
  • @Rushi. I believe we can craft an argument to convince you otherwise. Aug 23 at 14:39

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