What fallacy would "pot calling the kettle black" be, or basically discharging criticism at someone who doesn't substantially differ from you, only in a nuance of the same deviation? I can see a form of special pleading for a completely arbitrary line of acceptance drawn in between the critic and the critiqued, which would be a form of hypocrisy. Is there a better fallacy to in which to classify this phrase?

CLARIFICATION: I don't mean saying "pot calling the kettle" itself is a fallacy -- I mean what it is being called against

  • Wouldn't it depend on judgement calls about "substantially" and "nuance"? And even making wrong judgement calls, while unfortunate, is not a fallacy. Neither is hypocrisy. Indeed, appeal to hypocrisy, tu quoque (you too), is itself a fallacy. "Judge what I say, not what I do" still holds for arguments, its bad reputation notwithstanding.
    – Conifold
    Jul 20, 2017 at 21:13
  • you can ignore the 2nd part of my first sentence (after the comma) and simply imagine a situation in which it would be appropriate to use the phrase
    – amphibient
    Jul 20, 2017 at 21:51
  • I think some specific example would be better. The use of idioms is pretty broad and intuitive, and on Wikipedia's description of this one, "as a retort to the person who criticizes another of the same defect that he plainly has", I do not see a fallacy as such. Same with "not seeing the forest for the trees".
    – Conifold
    Jul 20, 2017 at 22:16
  • A false analogy is established as a fallacy. But if someone ignores an obvious analogy (as the person does who gets the attribute "pot calling the kettle black"), it is not a fallacy. What is the reason thereof?
    – user26880
    Jul 21, 2017 at 6:21
  • I'm confused as to what it is that you are asking. Are you saying "Someone committed a fallacy and they are therefore a pot calling a kettle black" or are you saying "Someone calling someone a pot calling a kettle black is fallacious" ? Is someone who commits a fallacy a pot or is calling someone a pot a fallacy, in your question?
    – Not_Here
    Jul 21, 2017 at 6:58

4 Answers 4


You might be thinking of "tu quoque"-- "You also." The fallacy appears when Person A responds to criticism from B by pointing out that B does the same thing. The response does not prove or negate anything; its purpose is to silence. This particular line of thinking is routine in international disputes, especially over human rights.

  • —1, Since this is not an answer: OP explicitly does not relate to a reactive reproach of a second person by the sentence "you are calling the pot black", but to some previous proposition of the first person, by which the sentence in quotes has been provoked. — In the comments to the answer, Conifold already explained that appeal to hypocrisy (= tu quoque) is a fallacy, but this is not the issue, as just explained.
    – user26880
    Jul 21, 2017 at 15:42

‘The pot that calls the kettle black’ is a special case of the fallacy of ‘ignoring valid analogy’.

It could also be regarded as the fallacy of ‘dual moral code’ or of ‘doublethink’.

If someone gets rightly the attribute “pot that calls the kettle black”, he has obviously a kind of ‘dual moral code’ since he reproaches the other person an attribute that he tolerates for himself. A second suitable synonymous name is ‘double think’: someone thinks something for one context and then he thinks the opposite in a second equivalent context.

In the comments to the question, Conifold said that this is not a fallacy, as also hypocrisy isn’t one. — However, I somehow recognize this ‘dual moral code’ or ‘doublethink’ as a case of analogy, since two persons (or in an extended sense things associated with these persons), that are validly analogous in some respect, are compared. But, of course, it is not the fallacy of wrong analogy, but obviously its counterpart: the fallacy of ignoring valid analogy. As far as I know, this fallacy has never been explicitly mentioned before, and the fallacy of ‘dual moral code’ neither.


This is not a fallacy. In fact, you are committing a fallacy by saying that it is. The fallacy you are committing is the standard ad hominem fallacy.

Here's an example. Say I am a convicted criminal, and you commit a crime.

Me: You shouldn't commit crimes, it's amoral.

You: That's like the pot calling the kettle black.

Above is a pure ad hominem fallacy on your part. Whether I am a criminal or not has absolutely nothing to do with my argument.

  • I'm lost.......
    – amphibient
    Jul 20, 2017 at 22:20
  • to clarify -- i don't mean saying "pot calling the kettle" is a fallacy -- i mean what it is being called against
    – amphibient
    Jul 20, 2017 at 22:28
  • Read again, try harder.
    – Imean H
    Jul 20, 2017 at 22:29
  • If the two statements are absolute, then you are correct. One's status as a criminal does not necessarily imply that their judging another as a criminal is without merit. It does, however, imply that an alternate agenda may be coloring the observation, statements rarely being absolute.
    – tj1000
    Jul 21, 2017 at 2:22
  • @amphibient If being the pot who's calling the kettle black (not the person saying the phrase) is the supposed "fallacy" to which you're referring then this answer is right. There is nothing fallacious about being a hypocrite. And, in fact, pointing out the hypocrisy as a means of discrediting the criticism is an example of ad hominem. Jul 21, 2017 at 13:14


The expression "Pot calling the kettle black" is not — as some think — to call out hypocrisy, but projection.

The analogy is not that the kettle supposedly is as black as the pot. Instead the copper kettle is meant to be shiny. So what the black cast iron pot is seeing in the reflection in the kettle is themselves.

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Kettles are not black, they are shiny and reflective. So if you see a black kettle, you are looking at yourself being black.

Calling out someone for bearing the same flaw as themselves is to point to hypocrisy. The fallacy in doing that is that you have not attacked an argument at all. It is essentially a non sequiteur. The response to that is "Yes, I know I have the same flaw. My argument/behaviour is no more valid than yours".

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