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NOTE: After doing more extensive research, I've edited both my question and answer.


Imagine a situation where an evil person does an evil deed.

I don't want to get distracted with a strawman argument regarding the definition of "evil." Let's say the deed consists of murder, which most of us would agree is not a good thing. You could also replace "evil" with "immoral" or "bad."

A realistic example could be a world leader who decides to invade another country, then justifies it by claiming his country needs more living space or the other country did something bad (which it really didn't).

Now imagine if the media began promoting both the act and actor as good. As a result, ordinary citizens begin to believe that their leader and nationalistic war are both good.

What kind of fallacy is this?

As discussed in my answer below, the answer appears to be righteousness fallacy.

closed as off-topic by virmaior, MichaelK, Jordan S, Philip Klöcking May 9 '18 at 11:55

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    This is not a "fallacy" because a fallacy is a mistake in argumentation and here there's not really an argument being offered. This is a type of "deception" but then we're talking about asking english.SE for a word or phrase rather than a question about philosophy. – virmaior May 9 '18 at 4:50
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    What do you call the fallacy of "I have a differing opinion than others... I really REALLY dislike that guy... but I cannot argue for it. Please give me arguments to justify my opinion!"? – MichaelK May 9 '18 at 5:06
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    I see how the situation you're describing is (a) bad and (b) involves tricking people. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with "fallacy" as the term is defined in philosophy. – virmaior May 9 '18 at 5:23
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    David, we are not interested in helping you on your 9/11 was an inside job; a conspiracy killed JFK; ISIS was made by the US; the-jews-run-everything-and-orchestrate-mass-shootings crusade. Flagging post for moderator intervention. – MichaelK May 9 '18 at 11:26
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    You are going after someone David. You are going to fling mud at them and try to assassinate their character. And I am willing to bet that this has everything to do with your activism. Someone has opposed you... either directly; called you on your bogus claims... or presented an opinion/argument that undoes your claims... or they are somehow part of what you consider to be a conspiracy... and now you are looking for justification as to how to discredit them. Go away David, because we will not help you in that dirty, evil business. – MichaelK May 9 '18 at 12:02
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I don't think a fallacy is involved. A fallacy is (a) a type of invalid argument which is (b) so common and so easily leads people into error that it is given a name : the fallacy of hasty generalisation, for instance, or the fallacy of the false dilemma. (a) is definitional, (b) - the naming - just a handy way of identifying a familiar type of invalid argument.

There is substance in your question, though. In your example we are invited or induced to infer from behaviour to motive. A philanthropist is someone whose motivation is, usually through large donations or gifts of money, 'to promote the happiness and well-being of one's fellow people' (Oxford English Dictionary).

All we know of your Mr X (or Ms Y) is that they have made large donations or gifts of money which probably will benefit other people. Why they have done is, who knows ? But the media coverage and clichéd description, 'philanthropist', invites the inference : 'gave money, therefore motivated to promote the happiness and well-being of others'. No such motivation may be present.

  • I.e. the situation is an error of judgment (wrt. the motives of X which lead to philantropist vs. donor vs. saying X is trying to white-wash their reputation) by the journalist. – cbeleites supports Monica May 9 '18 at 13:44
  • I don't think a fallacy necessarily has to be common. However, the righteousness fallacy is extremely common, even if it isn't one of the best known fallacies. – David Blomstrom May 12 '18 at 0:39
  • @David Blomstrom. Of course, you are right. I did say, though, that (a) was definitional; I didn't say that of (b). On reflection I would have worded things differently. I could just have omitted (b). I had in mind that many invalid arguments do belong to known types - or 'kinds' as in your question - which do have standard names. I'm glad that you've now identified what was exercising you in the example. Best - GT – Geoffrey Thomas May 12 '18 at 3:46
  • Yes, the lack of name standardization, though understandable, can be confusing. I think "righteousness fallacy" and "appeal to morality" are two names for the same thing, though I haven't yet figured out which is more widely accepted or who coined the term(s). – David Blomstrom May 12 '18 at 4:22
  • (b) deleted and a new sentence added about names being given when particular types of invalid inference are common. Best - GT – Geoffrey Thomas May 12 '18 at 7:03
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NOTE: After doing more extensive research, I've edited both my question and answer.


The answer appears to be righteousness fallacy.

However, there are some interesting twists.

Broadly interpreted, Dr. Bo describes righteousness fallacy as a person's perceived righteousness making a questionable act look good. But what about the opposite - a righteous act making a questionable person look good?

In fact, my question describes a double fallacy - the actor and act are both bad but are made to look good. The role the media play is an obvious example of a conspiracy, and since it can involve both government (or other entities) and the media, it further qualifies as a grand conspiracy.

So we're talking about a grand conspiracy embracing a twin fallacy. There's lots of food for thought here.

Incidentally, the righteousness fallacy might also be called an appeal to morality. I haven't yet figured out exactly how familiar this fallacy is or what its "official name" is.

I wrote a more detailed description in an article titled Phony Philanthropy.

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