Let's say someone is criticizing the government for instituting some draconian policy, and/or for persecuting people for doing something minor. And the response is:"Just don't do it and you'll be fine". This is a one-size-fits-all "argument" that can be applied to literally anything (e.g. "Don't want to be executed for being gay? Don't have gay sex"), which is pretty much the definition of a logical fallacy.

The same trait is shared by the common sense fallacy, the ad hominems, the No True Scottsman argument, etc. But I don't know what the proper name for it is. I looked for "legality fallacy" in the Wikipedia list of logical fallacies, thinking this might be in the same category as the "It's illegal therefore it's bad"/"It's legal therefore it's okay" argument, but a legality fallacy doesn't seem to be listed.

Context: I was participating in this discussion on a DeviantArt thread, the link is to a comment someone made. The fallacy in question is in the first response to this comment.

  • 1
    I wonder to what extent this is a logical fallacy versus just being dismissive. Logical fallacies involve invalid arguments, but as your scare quotes indicate, this isn't really an argument at all. If I say "X is bad" and someone tells me "just don't get involved with X", they haven't even attempted to refute my position. They're just being pragmatic in their own way. Now, if the person says "as long as you don't get involved with X there's nothing wrong", that seems a little like moving the goalposts.
    – commando
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 21:25
  • I don't think there is any logical fallacy there, because there is no attempt to form a logical argument. It is either being dismissive or pragmatic, as commando points out or just a case of hidden premise. The premise, I think is based on a somewhat popular belief that "if someone does something (that he can "easily" refrain from doing), knowing consequences, he implicitly accepts or is responsible for those consequences" and concept of deterrent, and tradeoff
    – IsThatTrue
    Commented Apr 21, 2017 at 8:23

6 Answers 6


The form of the reasoning is this:

Thesis: Punishing X in this way is wrong

Rebuttal: Don't do X and you won't be punished

On the surface, this is ignoratio elenchi (ignorance of refutation), a.k.a. irrelevant conclusion or missing the point, presenting a possibly valid argument, which is not a proof/refutation in the relevant sense, while intended to be so. As explained in Davies' text:

"In order to refute an assertion, Aristotle says we must prove its contradictory; the proof, consequently, of a proposition which stood in any other relation than that to the original, would be an ignoratio elenchi... "I am required to prove a certain conclusion; I prove, not that, but one which is likely to be mistaken for it; in that lies the fallacy… For instance, instead of proving that ‘this person has committed an atrocious fraud’, you prove that ‘this fraud he is accused of is atrocious"..."

But I believe that there is more going on under the surface, which makes the tactic so popular. In court there is a notion of legal standing, locus standi. To challenge a law a party has "to demonstrate to the court sufficient connection to and harm from the law or action challenged to support that party's participation in the case". In other words, in court the offered rebuttal might work as an objection to the opponent's standing to challenge the law. Transplanted into a public debate this is a catch 22, "damned if you do and damned if you don't": the opponent is either forced to admit that she has no stake in the matter and withdraw, or admit that she is guilty of X, which is presumably discrediting in other ways.

This is a covert attempt at ad hominems known as poisoning the well, providing negative information about the opponent to the audience in advance in order to devalue what they have to say; and the motivational version of bulverism (psychogenetic fallacy), dismissing opponent's argument as due to ulterior motives, in this case trying to avoid punishment for doing X. Of course, taken literally this tactic conflates public criticism with a legal proceeding, but even without that it has the effect of diminishing opponents' input by hinting that their criticism is less significant because they have no personal stake in the matter.

  • Good analysis, went a lot deeper than I did. Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 21:26
  • This is just one of the problems with locus standi as applied in today's legal system. What is necessary is that courts recognize that all citizens have an interest in legitimate government. The presumption that a statute is fundamentally legitimate is stronger than a presumption that a particular statute was legitimately applied in a particular case, and a case based upon a claim of fundamental illegitimacy should have to overcome that stronger presumption, but any citizen should have standing to file claims of fundamental illegitimacy.
    – supercat
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 22:08

Is not particulary a law, it's more about a expert person or someone that you think he's better than you, and its word is outside of all debate's perspective, this fallacy got the name of:

Argument from authority


I meet this a lot in statistics, where I like the description: "right answer to the wrong question". More precisely, it is the inverse of the original question (here: statement).
It's also related to taking a frequentist vs. Bayesian point of view.

In Thinking, Fast and Slow Kahneman says that we have a tendency to inadvertently substituting a question that is easy to answer for the more difficult actual question - often without even knowing it.
I don't have the book here, but I don't remember that he uses any particular name for this fallacy.

From a logics point of view, it may be described as an incorrect attempt to negate an implication (but I don't know whether there's a specific name for this mistake):

Punishing X in this way is wrong: ¬ (X => punishment)
<=> X ^ ¬ punishment (i.e. doing X and not being punished)

Rebuttal: Don't do X and you won't be punished: ¬ X => ¬ punishment (totally different, really unrelated statement)


To me, this seems to be Avoiding the Issue:

A: Selling our private data is a violation of our rights.

B: Don't mess up then.

B's statement is not an argument against A's statement. Instead, it is just advice on how to handle the situation. (With the above in isolation, it can be difficult to see that B's intent was to enter into argument at all, but perusing the rest of the comment chain reveals that B does in fact seem to disagree that this is an issue.)

B doesn't seem to be saying "it's right because it is the law" as much as "it's the law, what can you do about it?" Instead of addressing the issue of rights, B sidesteps this and says "just don't mess up".


I will add a “just because” fallacy. Which is in relation to “ because I said so” which has no logic to it other than being from an authority which makes it a “blind authority” fallacy also.

Reasoning isnt given when an authority probably is not sure of the reasons or capable of explaining them. Even if a law says “don’t drive beyond speed limit because it is against the law” still has no value as an argument other than being a fallacy inside of authority. If it is said, “after numerous studies we have a probability report that driving above this speed in this area will create more opportunities for an accident” at least there is some logic there. Of course, the probability has to be taken on trust unless you are willing to inspect that information yourself.

And when your mom or dad was tired of explaining to you anything their fall back argument became, “because I said so” which is an incomplete argument. Why follow a rule you do not understand? Even in the real world most law abiding takes place through a trust. And even if this trust is supposedly a greater good it can be argued it also creates an ignorance for reality. Sooner or later we have two sides, the ones who control and the ones being controlled.

What rights does a person have if they are judged by a system they do not understand or would even necessarily agree with if they did understand it? To be limited upon a logic that is accepted by those who are willing to agree to something they cannot completely understand is the same as trusting your neighbor with your privacy. The same as trusting your freedom to a stranger or a character in a book you read. Or trusting a system because a newsman standing next to a police officer reported it to you, that your rights are being protected.

Most people do not even consider what is happening around them u less it interferes with their own reality or illusion of it. And then all of a sudden the world gets complicated. And then you have to turn to philosophy to try and make sense out of it all. I know I ranted here. But it was good.


I think this is simply assuming the consequent:

You assert "The law against X is unjust.", and you're opponent replies "Don't do X.", he's simply assuming that the law against X is a just and reasonable law, and thus should be obeyed, which is exactly what you are denying and/or trying to prove.

Your response should simply be "So you think it's right and just to punish X, and the law should stand?" If he backpedals and says something along the lines of "Maybe it's a bad law, but it's the one we have.", then you reply with "So you agree with me that the law should be repealed?"

Either way, he has only three logically consistent options: (1) The law is a just one, and should be enforced. (2) The law is an unjust one, and should be repealed. (3) Rule of law doesn't matter.

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