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What kind of logical fallacy is this, if any?

A person (Mr. A) complains about climate change. A critic (Mr. B) replies, "You own a car, so you can't complain."

Mr. B's argument is that anyone who owns a car uses fossil fuels. Therefore that person contributes to climate change, which makes him or her a hypocrite for complaining about climate change.

Of course, MILLIONS of people are virtually forced to either own cars or ride the bus. They aren't advocating for a return to horse and buggy days. What they want is a sensible approach to mitigating climate change, like encouraging mass transit and regulating industry.

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    There is no fallacy. The conclusion must be true if the premises are true. If the car uses fossil fuel then absolutely it contributes to climate change no matter how small the percentage. There are other ways to avoid fossil fuels: horse and bury, biking, walking, etc. Are those the most practical today? Probably not. People prefer ease rather than difficulty. – Logikal Apr 4 '18 at 1:11
  • On a side note, it would be interesting to know how to classify such non-fallacy strategies. Would you just call this a baseless argument, or is there a more specialized term you can think of? Maybe this question is more suited for a political forum... – David Blomstrom Apr 4 '18 at 1:34
  • This is an ad hominem fallacy called tu quoque (literally, "you too"), sometimes appeal to hypocrisy, it attempts to discredit a viewpoint based on its proponents acting (supposedly) against its implications. However, a failure to practice what one preaches does not discredit what is preached. – Conifold Apr 4 '18 at 2:05
  • @Conifold, The issue here is that the premises are true and the conclusion deductively follows. Would you agree that the conclusion follows and the premises are true? If so then there is no fallacy. I get it that the speaker is adding extra implications with probably a sarcastic tone of voice saying the argument but objectively the speaker is correct. – Logikal Apr 4 '18 at 13:02
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    @Logikal It's unfortunate the OP used a different argument in the title than in the body. Sure, the argument "You drive, therefore you use fossil fuels" is indeed, by itself, a valid inference. But the argument: "You own a car, so you can't complain" is a fallacy! Why can't Mr.A complain? Mr.A just did, of course Mr.A can. Is Mr.A not allowed to complain because he drives a car? No, he still has the right to complain. Finally, and most importantly, is Mr.A's stance on climate change and fossil fuels wrong because he drives a car? No, that does not follow, and that's the ad hominem fallacy. – Bram28 Apr 4 '18 at 14:27
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Depending on the details of what Mr. A is complaining about, Mr. B's response could be a straw man fallacy. The reason is that climate change is not a problem caused by a single person, but rather by society as a whole thus requires a combined effort to tackle including regulating pollution, supporting alternative resources, modifying infrastructure to support greener alternatives, etc.. If that is the case, then Mr. B is creating a straw man by taking a highly complex issue that affects so many aspects of a society: jobs, the market, trade and competition between selling goods, product availability, costs of supporting alternative sources transportation, etc. and misrepresenting by placing the burden of climate change on Mr. A and essentially calling despite that climate change can only be addressed as a population, not by individuals avoiding fossil fuels.

Essentially this could be analogous to someone trying to raise awareness with problems in the healthcare system and saying "If you have a problem with healthcare, stop going to the doctor", but we all know that's not how it works.

  • Wow, good insight; I never thought about that. I may mark this as the correct answer, but I want to wait to see if there any other answers first. – David Blomstrom Apr 4 '18 at 2:00
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This isn't the title question, but the claim "you drive and use fossil fuels so you can't complain" is an ad hominem attack, more specifically tu quoque, saying that their behavior/character trait undermines their argument.

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▻ FORMAL AND MATERIAL FALLACIES

A formal fallacy is an argument that fails to fulfil the conditions of logical validity. A material fallacy is an argument that's correct or false - acceptable or not - depending on how the facts are.

▻ FORMAL FALLACY

Formally the argument is fallacious. It would be logically valid only with the insertion of the premise : 'All who drive use fossil fuels' :

i. You drive

ii. All who drive use fossil fuels

Therefore

iii. You use fossil fuels

Logically, driving doesn't necessitate using fossil fuels. So the argument is logically fallacious. But what of the other option ?

▻ MATERIAL FALLACY ?

Materially, i.e. as a matter of contingent fact, it need not be fallacious. Not all drivers use fossil fuels since some, for instance, have electric vehicles, but the use of fossil fuels enters into the generation of electricity. If a vehicle runs on hydrogen gas, have fossil fuels been used in the industrial manufacture of the gas ? Yes. But suppose you put alcohol in your tank and drive on that ? I believe it can be done. Hard to imagine that fossil fuels were not used at some point in the production of alcohol.

If as a matter of fact fossil fuels have entered into the production of non-fossil fuels at any stage, then in one sense 'You drive, therefore you use fossil fuels' is correct - though it would be more accurate to say that 'Since you drive, then you use a fuel into the production of which fossil fuels have entered'. But materially the truth of 'All who drive use fossil fuels' is contingent. As soon as a fuel is derived that fossil fuels play no part in the production of, then it's false. Such a fuel may already have been invented or discovered; I merely assume it has not.

  • How were the aluminum, steel, and plastic (not to mention the minerals, batteries, and electricity) obtained with electric cars? – elliot svensson Apr 4 '18 at 14:47
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"Cast the first stone" fallacy

The reasoning stems from the same root as the "those that are without sin among you may cast the first stone" maxim from Christian faith. Essentially it says that only those that are without fault may judge others for any similar fault.

This is — of course — wrong. There is no error in pointing out that a certain behaviour is bad, even if you are engaging in it yourself. The only thing it does is to open up for a responder to say that "well if you are recognising that it is wrong, but you are still engaging in it, then I can do it too". But that is schoolyard reasoning. There is a more adult way of looking at things:

  • Bad behaviour in oneself can be recognised as bad, and being need of remedy, even of one persists in it. A guilty conscience is a great motivator for change.
  • We are individually accountable for our behaviour. That one person engages in bad behaviour never excuses another person doing it.
  • I don't see this as an excuse to ALSO do the same behaviour. The claim made in the argument expresses that driving cars that use fossil fuels is a bad choice when there are OTHER alternatives. What would be your objection to THAT interpretation? – Logikal Apr 4 '18 at 13:06
  • @Logikal No of course this is not an excuse to do bad behaviour. But people uses it as an excuse — a bad, invalid excuse — for doing it... as I said: schoolyard reasoning along the lines of "You started it!" – MichaelK Apr 4 '18 at 13:22
  • My objection to the argument "You should not do it when you recognise it is bad and there are alternatives available" would be that "are available" is a somewhat tricky concept. I could buy myself an electric car and rid myself of my fossil fuel car. However... that requires me to take a loan that will make me have to work 50 hours per week, and it limits my ability to use my car to go to places I know I want to go, like the summer house that does not have a charging station and where the nearest known charging station is at least 30 km away. – MichaelK Apr 4 '18 at 13:25
  • So to say "It is available to me" is to not tell the full story.... the full story would be "is available, if you accept some hardships, inconveniences and/or restrictions on your ability to do that which you wish". – MichaelK Apr 4 '18 at 13:28
  • Yes, I would agree to the hardships that go with the availability. The problem is here you are not motivated to go through hardships. It is much easier to go the bad route. If you life was dependant on getting to an available doctor to treat a deadly snake bite you would try any available means. If you had to walk 400 miles to be fully cured I don't think you would say that distance is too far to walk. If you refuse to walk whose fault would your death be? A cure was available and you failed to act. – Logikal Apr 4 '18 at 14:14
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First of all: "You drive, therefore you use fossil fuels" is not a fallacy in and of itself.

But, in the larger context of this debate on climate change, when Mr.B offers this as a criticism of Mr.A's position on climate change, it is indeed a fallacy. That is, Mr. B is implicitly arguing: "You are saying that in order to mitigate climate change, we should limit our use of fossil fuels ... and yet here you are driving a car! So why should we listen to you? You're a hypocrite, and thus you're wrong!"

Well, that's a combination of inconsistency ad hominem and perfectionist fallacy.

It's like: "how come you're telling us to become vegetarians when you're still wearing leather shoes!"

That is, until the person is somehow perfectly living out their convictions, then somehow their convictions are mistaken ... which is a fallacy in two ways:

First, the suggestion is that one should either act perfectly on their convictions or else there is no point to their convictions at all. That's like saying: either this gun control policy erases all forms of gun violence, or there is no point to it. That's a perfectionist fallacy (a form of false dilemma), since doing something can still be better than doing nothing at all. In this particular case, it is pretty much impossible (certainly given the currently existing societal infrastructures) to live in a way that completely avoids the use of fossil fuels, but that of course does not mean that one shouldn't even try to limit one's use of fossil fuels at all.

Second, even if one would somehow be able to completely avoid the use of fossil fuels, then the fact that this person doesn't do that doesn't mean that this person's belief that limiting the use of fossil fuels as much as possible is wrong. That's the inconsistency ad hominem: the person is seen as being inconsistent and hypocritical in not practicing what they preach, but that does not mean that what they preach is wrong.

The pot calling the kettle black is not wrong in calling the kettle black just because the pot itself is black ... the pot can be perfectly correct in calling the kettle black and is fully allowed to call the kettle black.

  • How can a physical act be a fallacy? By definition of the term a fallacy MUST be an argument. Not only an argument but a invalid or deceptive one at that. The intent is to lead people to a bad reasoning process undetected and accept a poor conclusion. If I argue for animal rights extremely and I were leather and other animal by products this makes me a hypocrite and I commit no fallacy. Your second paragraph seems to express there is no fallacy and the person is merely speaking the truth. – Logikal Apr 4 '18 at 13:10
  • @Logikal The person wearing the leather shoes is indeed not making the fallacy; rather, it is the other person that argues: "you are saying that we should not use animal products .. and yet you are wearing shoes! Therefore, you're a hypocrite, and you're wrong" who is committing the inconsistency ad hominem. I just added this clarification to my Post. – Bram28 Apr 4 '18 at 13:14
  • I doubt that because the other guy is speaking an objective truth. If we were the two parties and I make the argument to you , I would see you are saying one thing and doing something not consistent with the argument. That seems to be a claim of fact. The assumption that the inconsistency nulls the argument must be present outside of me because I never officially state that. I agree the emotional pressure is likely there but the argument can still be valid but there are two thing going on at the same time. The hypocrisy is evident and the argument is still to be addresses. – Logikal Apr 4 '18 at 13:22
  • @Logikal True; in real life the inference that because someone is inconsistent we can stop listening to their arguments is often left implicit, making it hard to charge someone with making the fallacy. But in debates, it is typically used exactly as such; it's meant as a put-down, if not refutation, of what the person is saying. Any many outsiders, watching the debate, will see the remark as a successful put-down as well, when in fact it doesn't address the truth of the belief, let alone the arguments, of the person that's being called a hypocrite. – Bram28 Apr 4 '18 at 14:19
  • I get it. I really do, BUT deductive reasoning is not equal to DEBATE. Debate is essentially Rhetoric. Rhetoric is designed to persuade by any means. Thus shady reasoning occurs to get a WIN as you express the hypocrite claim scores. Rhetoric is not about proofs, validity or soundness, but WINS. Logic the subject has nothing to do with this strategy. Calling an insult a fallacy is pure rhetoric. Just saying disrespectful things is not even an argument. Fallacies only apply to arguments & not emotion. So one liners can't be fallacies by definition alone. Three propositions MUST BE expressed. – Logikal Apr 6 '18 at 2:27

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