While logic is quite important for many things, it seems that many arguments are "won" or "lost" not based on the soundness or lack-thereof of the arguments, but by auxiliary desiderata that I will call normative standards. Here's a concrete example, as a dialog between a A and B based on appeal to "hypocrisy":

A: "I want to drink some beer"

B: "You are not allowed to drink beer if you're under 21"

A: "Why?"

B: "That's the rule I made, and any rule I make has to be followed provided its not logically wrong"

A: "But YOU'RE drinking beer and you are under 21!"

B: "Yes, that is true."

A: "Then either your rule is invalid or you are a hypocrite."

B: "I am a hypocrite...the full rule is "You cannot drink beer if you are under 21..unless you are me."

A: "Ah-ha, I knew you were a hypocrite....I'm having a beer, this rule is total crap." (said with a hint of self-satisfied smugness).

Many people (I think) would agree with A, since B is being a hypocrite. However, there don't appear to be any logical flaws in B's responses, whereas A is claiming to have uncovered a flaw in B's argument (The hypocrisy of "Nobles oblige")...most people I suspect would agree that B did made a mistake by admitting to hypocrisy.

While I personally dislike "do as I say, not as I do" rules, it seems very ad hominem to assert hypocrisy as a logical tool in debates. Sure, it has moral, psychological, and normative force, since we dislike feeling or being thought of as hypocrites - but this hardly constitutes a logical flaw.

Therefore, is A justified in claiming logical victory over B, or merely appeal to normative standards?

  • 1
    Isn't B's second response an argument ad authority? "Any rule I make has to be followed" - why? Just pointing this out, although it does not have much relevance to your question. – robertmartin8 Dec 31 '14 at 11:38

my favourite fallacy


yes it's a fallacy.

  • +1: This is a great link. THanks...too bad this fallacy essentially dominates public discourse :-\ – user4634 Jan 1 '15 at 7:06

Short answer: In theory hypocrisy doesn't invalidate an argument. In practice, it very well may.

Longer Answer...

An argument must stand on its own and not on the actions/reputation of the person making it. To do otherwise risks things like argument from authority or ad hominem fallacies. After all, a valid argument should be self-contained; why go anywhere else but the argument itself for its own validation?

On the other hand, we may be unwilling to check the validity of an argument, or may be incapable of checking its premises. In this case, we take the reputation of the person into account.

In short, hypocrisy should not be a factor if we could (and are willing to) check the arguments ourselves. However, we often can't so these extra-logical factors/fallacies are concessions to this.

  • i tend to think that's not the role of the philosophy, to not do the work – user6917 Jan 1 '15 at 4:44
  • @user3293056 not saying it is, just pointing out that in practice people often do this. They may even do this as a practical matter (to build upon the work of others). The main reason I raised this was to try to explain why the person's character often plays a practical factor, even though in theory it should not. – R. Barzell Jan 2 '15 at 13:05

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