What do you call an argument where you try to invalidate criticism of a narrative work (I'm not sure what the correct term is to describe it) by using fact or explanation from the narrative work itself? The narrative work is usually in the form of movie, comic, or book.


A sci-fi movie is criticized for being racist because every role is played by people of the same ethnicity. And then someone says that, "Well, it's not racist because it is told that there is only one race in the planet where the movie takes place."

Or, a very popular movie is being criticized for having a protagonist who supports extreme ideology. Then someone says, "Well, that's because he was brought up in a messed up family and neighborhood, and the movie is merely telling his story."

Or, let's say there's a war movie with two opposing country that resembles real world country. The movie is criticized because the characters from the "good" country vilify the "bad" country too much. Then someone says. "Although it resembles real world country, the corresponding country in this movie is like the evil version of the real world country, and because it doesn't represent the real world country, it is fictional. So, it's fine if the fictional country is vilified like that in the movie."

  • @DavidBlomstrom I realized now that my examples are not very comprehensive, and they all fall under the terms that you gave, but there is a specific term for this argument for narrative work. I just can't remember it.
    – Momok987
    Apr 30, 2018 at 1:34
  • So, are you asking about the name of the coutner-argument — which is logically sound — used in your example to invalidate de criticism, the fallacious criticism itself, or are you talking about circulus in probando or petitio principii?
    – user31740
    May 1, 2018 at 2:31
  • I know there's a lot of wrong things there, but I'm asking about the name of the counter-argument.
    – Momok987
    May 1, 2018 at 3:22
  • Well, most types of fallacies have names, the same is not true for arguments, everything can be one. So my guess would be no name, and when in an invalid format (fallacy), the two names in my previous comment would be it.
    – user31740
    May 1, 2018 at 16:47

2 Answers 2


I would say that this type of argument could be committing the fallacy of reversing cause and effect (also known as the "questionable cause fallacy"). In these examples, a criticism is made of some aspect of a narrative work. The defence then points to a proximate cause for that aspect of the work, where the proximate cause is itself another part of the narrative work that is caused by choices of the writer of that work. The proximate cause is still a decision made by the writer of the work, so it is actually an effect of the ultimate cause (the decisions of the writer) rather than a proper cause per se.

You need to be careful not to jump to the conclusion of fallacious reasoning if this is not justified. There may be cases where the proximate cause appealed to in the defence of the criticism is itself a reasonable writing choice in the narrative work at issue. The point here is that the proximate cause is also an effect, so it also needs to be defended on its own terms. The defence of pointing to this proximate cause just pushes the criticism back a step, so that the criticism now becomes an implicit criticism of that preliminary aspect of the narrative. Maybe there is also a good defence of this narrative choice and maybe there isn't, but the argument then needs to move to that step.

Here is how this issue plays out in the examples you give in your post:

Example 1 (sci-fi movie with one ethnicity of actors): A sci-fi movie is criticised because every role is played by people of the same ethnicity. The defender explains that this is realistic because there is only one race on the planet where the movie takes place. In a certain respect this is a perfectly reasonable response - if we take the characteristics of the planet in the story as fixed by this constraint, then clearly it is appropriately realistic for the actors to be of an ethnicity that matches this requirement of the story.

Here we have a situation where the writer has chosen to construct a story about a planet that only has one race, and as a result of this choice, it is then rational for all the acting roles to be played by people who resemble that race. Here the race of the actors is the effect complained of, the fact that the planet has only one race is the proximate cause of this, and the fact that the writer has chosen for the story to take place on such a planet is the ultimate cause.

The reason that the defence is unsatisfying in this case is because the proximate cause used as a justification is an effect, not a real cause. After all, unless there is some good reason to the contrary, the writer could have set the movie on a planet of people with multiple races, which would then have allowed the casting of actors of different ethnicities. So now we need to go back a step and argue over whether there is any good reason for the planet in the story to have this characteristic. The initial criticism might then become an implicit criticism of this preliminary narrative choice, and the argument moves back a step.

Example 2 (protagonist with extreme ideology): A movie is criticised for having a protagonist who supports some extreme ideology. The defender explains that this is realistic because the back-story of the character.

Here we have a situation where the writer has chosen to construct a story about a protagonist with a particular back-story, and as a result of this choice, it is then reasonable (in a causal sense) for the character to hold this extreme ideology. Here the ideology of the protagonist is the effect complained of, the back-story of the character is the proximate cause of this, and the fact that the writer has chosen to make a story with this kind of character as the protagonist is the ultimate cause.

In this case, what we really have is a complaint that a certain type of character is featured as a protagonist in a movie. It is a stretch to criticise story-telling about a certain type of character, so really, the criticism is not about the characteristics of the character, so much as the fact that he is featured in a primary role (as the protagonist). The argument should really now move to an explicit argument about whether it is reasonable to feature this kind of character as a protagonist in a story.

Example 3 (war movie): A war movie is criticised because it depicts allegedly fictitious countries that resemble real-world countries, and it depicts one of these in harsh terms. The defender says that the antagonist country in the movie is an fictitious altered-version of the real-life country, which has certain additional characteristics that make the it justifiable to vilify that country.

Here we have a situation where the writer has chosen to construct a story about a fictitious country which is (allegedly) an altered version of a real-life country, and as a result of this choice, it is then reasonable to vilify that (allegedly fictitious) version of that country. Here the vilification is the effect complained of, the fictionalised changes to the real-life country is the proximate cause of this, and the fact that the writer has chosen to use a country that is a close analogy to a real country is the ultimate cause.

Unlike the previous scenarios, this one really hinges to a large extent on the honesty of assertions of what is intended to be fictitious, and what is intended to be a true analogy and implicit vilification of a real country. In any case, the argument should again take a step back, since it is really an argument about whether it is reasonable to depict a fictionalised version of a real-life country, and then vilify this country on the basis of fictionalised variations (or contrarily, whether this is just some intellectually dishonest propaganda about the real country).


The terms often used in this scenario are obfuscate bloviate

obfuscate - confuse, make more unclear and undefined as to the issue being talked about

bloviate - make more complex and bigger than the subject deserves.

So a criticism of something being a description of a racist, cannot be denied if the character is racist. There is no description or word that says it is invalid to describe actual situations or people, even if they are unpleasant. This would just be an accurate depiction.

Your description of examples seems to be people writing racist or biased stories attempting to justify such communities or stories. The individuals deny bias while not answering the obvious implied meanings are hiding their true intent.

I would call this just propoganda and myth writing. Unfortunately equally the bias of the viewer can read in more than is intended where lines are drawn without intention but just as part of a background.

  • Thanks for answering, but unfortunately I don't think this is the term I'm looking for. If I'm not mistaken, the term is derived from something in Star Trek (the series), but I can't quiet remember what exactly it is. I'm not even sure if it's legitimate term in philosophy.
    – Momok987
    Apr 28, 2018 at 14:54
  • -1 because in lieu of answering the question, distorts it to assume the pieces of work used in the examples have some propagandistic innuendo, whilst it is logically questionable to accuse an art form of being extremist and/or prejudicial because there is in it elements of such tone. The OP asks about the name of the argument which nullifies accusations about a work's intent, and this answer provides the name of the techniques to hide this so supposed intents. Plus, it is badly written, I can't really fathom what was being conveyed in some parts.
    – user31740
    Apr 28, 2018 at 21:52
  • Unfortunately I have seen examples of people hiding various political and philosophical positions in works of art, and denying they are doing so. If you want examples of such things, look at German films from the Nazi era, Stalins films, North Korea etc. This is not a new issue. In such a time of trouble, WW2, films often had optimistic endings because they were aimed at entertainment with an hopeful result which encouraged the population. Now this does appear to be such examples being quoted.
    – PeterJens
    Apr 29, 2018 at 17:51
  • The problem that I tried to emphasize in the examples is how the argument doesn't counter what the work is criticized for, with the criticism being on the impact that the work has in the real world. The kind of impact can in the form of propaganda, repercussion of sharing ideology, but it can be in other forms as well like insult, ignorance, normalization of bad behavior, etc. But it doesn't have anything to do with the intention of the work. And I just want to clarify that I know there's a an existing term to describe this fallacious argument. I'm just trying to remember what it is.
    – Momok987
    Apr 29, 2018 at 23:42

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