4

In a recent argument, a friend repeatedly countered my claims with ideas of self that had been reinforced over time:

But I'm a nice person.

I'm self-reflective; I would never do that.

I am sensitive. That doesn't sound like me.

Looking over the famous "Thou shall not commit logical fallacies" poster, I can't find the right words to describe the tactic she's using. And I don't know how to argue against her claims.

Any help?

  • 1
    What was it you were accusing her of? – AndrewC Sep 12 '14 at 16:06
  • @AndrewC I don't remember exactly. But it was a set of specific gripes that seem to have contradicted her generic sense of self. It wasn't anything too mean, I don't think. The argument ended on a positive note. – samthebrand Sep 12 '14 at 17:56
2

There is no fallacy here. I fallacy is an argument that uses poor reasoning. The reasoning is correct: If you accuse him of doing X, and a nice person wouldn't do X, then from his claim that he is a nice person it follows that he didn't do X and your accusation is wrong. The reasoning is entirely correct, there is no fallacy.

Of course it is possible that the person's claim is wrong. That the person is an evil, scheming, manipulative so-and-so and lies when they claim to be nice. That could be self-delusion, or a plain lie, but it is no fallacy.

Facts + reasoning give conclusions. Correct facts and correct reasoning give correct conclusions. Correct facts + incorrect reasoning (fallacies) often give incorrect conclusions. But incorrect facts + correct reasoning also often give incorrect conclusions.

(You might claim a fallacy like "appeal to authority": Since that person is the best authority to make claims about their state of mind, they expect you to believe the claim "I'm a nice person" without any further proof. )

2

I believe this to be an improper appeal to authority. In this case, what I mean by authority is more akin to reputation. Since authority and reputation are similar ideas. Your friend is using their previous reputation as defense against any current or future claims to the contrary.

Another example similar to this is outward honor, where it is more important to be viewed as honorable by others than to actually be honest and honorable at all times. This idea is often combined with might makes right forms of defense against character. Classical nobility and southern pride are popular examples of this tactic being used. In classical nobility: a noble, by virtue of being noble, is incapable of committing such crimes. In southern pride: it is somehow possible to defend one's honor (or sister's honor) - after the it has already been shown to be lacking - via a fight.

The example of classical nobility is more akin to the actions of your friend, but I included the southern pride example for thoroughness.

  • I'm not sure this is an appeal to authority, because she's not asserting an authority justifies her claim. She's ignoring empirical counter evidence to her claim. If there's an appeal to authority, it's pretty well-hidden here. – virmaior Sep 13 '14 at 4:47
  • She is claiming that based on her own authority of reputation she is beyond reproach. She is asserting that her own reputation is the authority (the source of reliable information) by which she can prove her innocence. – KnightHawk Sep 15 '14 at 13:13
  • Err that's what I'm saying is pretty hidden here. On that standard any claim anyone makes about them self is "an appeal to authority" -- that seems like a stretch to me. – virmaior Sep 15 '14 at 14:53
  • The definition of authority I am using is "a source of reliable information", this can be wikipedia or a book or a learned expert or anyone or anything. In this case I am saying that it is her reputation that is being used as a source of reliable information. She is basically saying "take my word for it" and if that's not good enough then look here at my reputation and accept that as proof. Character witnesses are not logically valid points of proof, they are appeals to improper authorities. If it seems to be a stretch, then the question is "does it stretch too far?", I don't think so. . – KnightHawk Sep 15 '14 at 17:46
2

It might be a variant of "No true scotsman" or we could call it an "empirical judgment" fallacy.

Why I suggest the former is this: What she's suggesting is a reverse of the No True Scotsman. The No True Scotsman fallacy is to do the following:

A: No scotsman would drink vodka. B: McTaggart is a scotsman and he loves vodka [empirical defeater] A: No true scotsman would drink vodka, so McTaggart is not a true scotsman even if blah blah.

What you're describing is the inverse: A: I'm an honest person B: well, you did tell lies on occasions P, Q, and R. [empirical defeater] A: I'm an honest person ergo I don't believe you

What they share is the following:

  1. Empirical defeater
  2. Category claim about an individual

Where they differ is that one regards the negation and the other assertion, and one is first-personal and the other third.


The second way is just to say that what she's saying does not square with reality. I don't think that shows up on any list of fallacies, but it is fallacious none-the-less. I guess you could say what she says is valid but not sound and she's confusing validity with soundness. Or you could just say there's an empirical defeater for her argument.

1

If I got you right, you say something like "You did X" and he responses with "I'd never do X". I think it boils down to simply contradicting you. What he does is an elliptical form of a valid argument: "I could never have done X so I did not do X".

If he said "No, I did not X" it would be plain contradiction. But he is adding a second statement to that: "1. I did not do X and 2. I would never do X". But he knows that you are don't believe 2. either: By saying "You did do it" you already negated the universal proposition that he would never do that. Since you don't believe the second proposition, it is unsuitable to convince you of the first one. His argument is valid though! But basically he just presents two propositions you just challenged. I'd say it's called "contradicting".

  • I disagree, her answers wouldn't have to be false for the accuser's arguments to be true. If I call you a thief, and you answer with "but I'm a good person", you're not necessarily saying that you couldn't do something like that, you're saying you're the kind of person who generally wouldn't. This makes her argument invalid, since just because you generally wouldn't do X doesn't mean you didn't this time. – ewkochin Sep 12 '14 at 10:49
  • @ewkochin But even if she is trying to be honest and, knowing that it wouldn't be true, doesn't state the universal proposition [which she did, see OP] she says something supposed to sound as if she said the universal proposition. Obviously she trusts that it would imply that she is not guilty. And as you said: The weaker proposition ("I generally don't do that") does not imply that she didn't do it. – Einer Sep 12 '14 at 11:11
1

Yes, this is a fallacy.

There are two big kinds of fallacies:

1. Formal
2. Informal

In this case we have an informal fallacy. In contrast with a formal fallacy, the error is not just in the logic flaw.

I read other poster mentioning the appeal to authority wich is also an informal fallacy.

But i think this is an: appeal to emotion fallacy. Because in every claim it looks like she is trying to convince you that she is not capable of do whatever you accused her. So she is appealing to feelings, after all she is your friend, so it makes sense.

The emotion fallacy presents a perspective intended to be superior to reason. And i think that's exactly what is happening in this case.

Now, you ask: "And how to argue against it?". When you conclude/detect that some argument is a fallacy, you don't argue nothing, you just point out the fallacy.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.