This has been bugging me...what is it called when you defend argument X by admitting that X has alleged problem P, but noting that competing arguments Y and Z also have P?

For example, A asserts that active euthanasia is morally permissible. B asserts that only passive euthanasia is morally permissible, because active euthanasia could result in targeting the mentally ill or other vulnerable population. A points out that passive euthanasia, too, carries this risk, so B has not succeeded in arguing for passive over active euthanasia. I don't think A has committed a tu quoque here.

There is some technical term for this, but I can't remember!

3 Answers 3


That's actually a fallacy called either:

Tu quoque (you as well) when used to attack or "two wrongs make a right" (see http://utminers.utep.edu/omwilliamson/ENGL1311/fallacies.htm).

Let's say that we're deciding on a budget. A's plan doesn't give us enough money to eat food from 24th to the 31st of each month. B's plan also makes it so that we don't have enough to eat from the 24th to the 31st of each month. Neither person is in a legitimate place to critique the other's argument. Because the problem with A's plan is still a problem regardless of whether a different plan still has the problem.

  • Hmm...I don't think that's quite what I have in mind, but probably because I didn't describe what I needed clearly enough.
    – JRS
    Nov 4, 2015 at 21:57
  • I've added your second comment to your question. It still sounds like the fallacy to me... I'll edit my answer to explain more.
    – virmaior
    Nov 4, 2015 at 22:43
  • @virmaior: The difference is whether the argument is trying to assert "your position is wrong" or "my position is better than your position".
    – user6559
    Nov 5, 2015 at 13:04
  • At least in philosophy, this is considered fallacious, because it in no way strengthens one's argument or provides logical support for it. I can see how it's valuable for policy debates.
    – virmaior
    Nov 5, 2015 at 13:10
  • It may not strengthen one's position considered in isolation. But it still has an impact on the comparative strength of the two positions.
    – 76987
    Nov 6, 2015 at 20:50

A to B: "You are a bad husband because you cheat on your wife". B to A: "You also cheat on yor wife". This doesn't refute the claim "B is a bad husband", that's the "tu quoque" (you the same) fallacy. But it nicely refutes A's unspoken claim that A is a better husband than B.

There is another possibility: A to B: "You are a bad mother because you allow your children to dring coke". B to A: "You also allow your children to drink coke". Here the real argument may be: "You do it as well, and you wouldn't be doing it if it made one a bad mother, so this isn't an argument to show I'm a bad mother".

Now look at this: "You are taking drugs; that's bad". "Everyone I know is taking drugs". This is an attempt to claim that taking drugs can't be that bad, because everybody does it (or better, all aquaintances of that person do it). In that case, many people doing something that is bad for them doesn't make it any better.

  • This is a good answer especially insofar as it captures both the fallacious usage and valuable uses for these sorts of identified-the-same-problem.
    – virmaior
    Nov 7, 2015 at 1:07

You might be thinking of "partners in crime" or "companions in guilt" or "innocence by association". These are all common enough terms in contemporary philosophy, as can be confirmed by Google Scholar searches.

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