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I need help understanding a discussion of the accident fallacy from the following site: http://www.logicallyfallacious.com/index.php/logical-fallacies/2-accident-fallacy

It describes the following as an example of the accident fallacy:

The Bible says,“thou shall not bear false witness”. So saving one hiding in my home from a killer is a sin.

The explanation from the site is this:

To assume any law, even divine, applies to every person, in every time, in every situation, even though not explicitly stated, is an assumption not grounded in evidence, and fallacious reasoning.

But this is not so clear to me. Is it saying that assuming anything from a law is automatically an accident fallacy?

The same site also provides this argument:

The Bible says, “thou shall not murder”, therefore, as a Christian, you better put that chainsaw down and untie that little kid.

This is described as NOT being an example accident fallacy with the following explanation:

Stating the general rule when a good argument can be made that the action in question is a violation of the rule, would not be considered fallacious.

This makes me wonder when the diagnosis of accident fallacy can be applied in the context of religious verses and when it cannot be. What is the general connection between this fallacy and religious verses?

  • If you look at the link you provided, the second is not being clamed to be a fallacy - it is an example of something that is not a fallacy. – James Kingsbery Jul 9 '15 at 17:57
  • What you're calling the "description" is the explanation of the application in a particular case. The definition, which better fits the definition of "description" is at the top of the page. – virmaior Jul 9 '15 at 23:43
  • While some parts of the question were confusingly written, I don't find the overall question unclear. I have edited to clarify and nominated for reopening. – Chris Sunami Jul 13 '15 at 13:01
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Basically, the fallacy of accident is one of the ancient fallacies identified by Aristotle. It means wrongly applying a general rule to a specific, exceptional situation. The cited website (which is more than a bit confusing!) is using Biblical rules as an example because religious laws are often conceptualized as universal and exceptionless. The point is that even a Divine Commandment must be viewed with some kind of context. Even within the Bible, specific exceptions to general religious laws are frequently mentioned.

The other example is meant to show that yes, sometimes general rules can rightly be applied; and therefore that citing a general rule for a specific situation is not intrinsically fallacious; it is often a good and valid form of argument. This makes sense, since most fallacies are superficially similar to good arguments --that's what makes them attractive.

The overall desired takeaway is that there isn't any one approach to religious laws --that common sense and judgment must be used even in the interpretation of divine commands.

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Chris Sunami pretty much nailed it, but I'd like to add something more specific about why there are exceptions, even if not specifically mentioned by letter in the Bible: in the fallacious argument you site, it is considered a just thing to tell the truth, but it is also a just as it is a just thing to save someone's life. It is the virtue of prudence that helps one to decide how to practically decide between these two seemingly conflicting options.

The logic that concludes that it would be a lie to hide someone in my house has then two problems: (1) no concept of there being justice in hiding someone and (2) no notion of prudence to navigate between the options.

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I see another reason why "bear false witness" is allowed an exception and "murder" is not.
It has nothing to do with religious context.

"Bearing false witness" covers (apparently) all cases of speaking untruth, leaving no place for moral judgement.

"Murder", assuming that is the correct translation, covers special cases of killing. Moral judgement of exceptions is built into the definition.

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While the answers above should do it, I want to add a note about the assertions of fallacy on the website:

"To assume any law, even divine, applies to every person, in every time, in every situation, even though not explicitly stated, is an assumption not grounded in evidence, and fallacious reasoning."

Well, maybe. This is a consequentialist view of "law" that for many would explicitly not apply to "divine law." For deontic moralists like Kant, applying the universal law against one's contingent judgment is not necessarily fallacious and the consequentialist approach is not necessarily grounded in evidence.

As Kant--no stranger to reasoning--points out, the consequentialist view assumes that one can predict the outcome of one's action beforehand and with perfect, or shall we say, "divine" accuracy. The assumption is that your violation of the divine command will save the person you are hiding and attain the best "moral" outcome overall. This is a purely inductive assumption based, indeed, on a single unique case. Who is to make the determinations of each exceptional case? Given the circumstantial pressures, is the aggregate of such individual exceptions more reliable than the presumably traditional or "divine" law?

So while the answers concerning the "accident fallacy" are correct, the assertions on the website can arguably, from a Kantian perspective, be deemed fallacious and "not based in evidence." In less obvious cases, and most cases are not at all obvious, this is not a trivial or merely fundamentalist reply.

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The problem is that fallacies often look similar to correct arguments (obviously depending on the experience of the person looking at it. A fallacy may look like nonsense to a very clever person, it may look like a fallacy to a reasonably clever person, and like a correct argument to someone not so clever).

So if someone quotes a rule from the bible, or from any other religious text, to tell you what to do (assuming you care what the bible or other religious text says), there is no fixed rule to determine which is a fallacy and which is not; you need to examine case by case.

In the example of the murderous husband, a lie saves you from being hurt by the husband, it saves the wife from being killed, and it saves the husband from being convicted of murder, so except for the newspapers, everyone would be a lot happier with the outcome if you lie.

Even then, there are two interpretations: You can say that asking to apply "you shall not bear false witness" in every possible situation without examining the circumstances is a fallacy. Or you can say that that is what the rule says, and the rule doesn't allow you to lie to the murderous husband, but you decide to break the rule in this case, and if god makes a fuss about it in the afterlife, you are willing to argue the case with him or her.

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