Jordan Peterson does this a lot, as does Donald Trump. Any negative news is slanderous or skewed. Any critic that found something bad about his words misinterpreted it or "didn't get the point." It seems similar to unfalsifiability.

  • 1
    I made an edit which you may roll back or continue editing. You can see the versions by clicking on the "edited" link above. It might be relevant to state a specific example, perhaps with Jordan Peterson to keep political emotions out of it. This would provide context for your question otherwise it might be considered primarily opinion based or too broad to answer. – Frank Hubeny Aug 18 '18 at 23:10
  • There's an interesting variation where a dishonest person correctly claims that some corrupt entity is misinterpreting him; e.g. Donald Trump vs the "fake media." In fact, the media are fake, and so is Trump. They're essentially part of the same team. But since Trump is so widely (and justly) maligned, his criticism of the media can actually make the corrupt media look honest. – David Blomstrom Aug 19 '18 at 14:11
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    Are you making a philosophical point? Or a political one? – user4894 Aug 19 '18 at 19:32
  • But I actually expeplrience that people say I'm wrong, while I actually think they just misunderstood me. If they actually want to show I'm wrong, they should show mathematical inconsistencies in my thoughts. Usually, they don't. That makes me think they just didn't care to understand me. – rus9384 Aug 19 '18 at 22:03
  • It looks like a No True Scotsman An Appeal To Purity , Fallacy. Shifts the goalposts of interpreting so its unfalsifiable. – tomasth Aug 19 '18 at 23:38

Wikipedia gives this definition of a straw man argument:

A straw man is a common form of argument and is an informal fallacy based on giving the impression of refuting an opponent's argument, while actually refuting an argument that was not presented by that opponent.

Suppose there are two people arguing. Call them Alice and Fred. Suppose Alice claims to have found a hole in Fred's argument. Did Alice actually find a hole in Fred's argument or did she find a hole in a straw man argument Alice created to look like Fred's argument because it is easier for her to attack?

When Fred challenges Alice saying that she did not understand or misinterpreted or didn't get Fred's point, Fred is basically saying that the hole Alice found was not in his argument but in a straw man that Alice created.

Wikipedia also noted that straw man arguments are common in polemical debates:

This technique has been used throughout history in polemical debate, particularly in arguments about highly charged emotional issues where a fiery "battle" and the defeat of an "enemy" may be more valued than critical thinking or an understanding of both sides of the issue.

Both sides may use the technique in a polemical debate because both sides in such debates are more interested in defeating their enemies than in critical thinking.

As the polemic flips around, Fred may claim he has found a hole in Alice's logic and Alice may complain that Fred does not understand her position. Then she would also be accusing him of finding a hole in a straw man that he set up out of convenience and not her real argument.

The point is, if Fred or Alice claim that they have not been understood or misinterpreted by the other, they may be right especially if they are involved in a polemical debate. At various times both may be guilty of arguing against a straw man when it is convenient for them to do so. Onlookers need to keep this in mind.

Regardless, if they are interested in critical thinking and not simply in defeating their enemy, they need to clarify their positions so there is no misunderstanding between them and those who claim to have found holes need to work with those new clarifications. If clarifications can't be provided perhaps the holes found in the arguments were real and not against a straw man.


Wikipedia, "Straw man" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man


One might call this the fallacy of specious misunderstanding. It isn't a logical fallacy, since it is not itself an argument, but it occurs in an argument when one protects one's position by (repeatedly) claiming that the other side has misunderstood one's position when they haven't.

  • Slothful induction? Or missing the point? Sheer bloody minded antagonism? However one has to be careful. What if your opponent in a debate simply hasn't managed to communicate their argument correctly? This happens a lot with analogies etc. Remember nobody likes a boor, a smartarse, or a supercilious brow beating ass hat. – Richard Aug 21 '18 at 0:06
  • @Richard. Yes, there are a lot of appropriate if not quite dignified labels I could have chosen ! I like your list. Best - Geoffrey – Geoffrey Thomas Aug 21 '18 at 7:33

I have been contemplating a similar question many times throughout my life and only recently decided to really dig in when I found your question. Right now I think that the term "willful blindness" is a very close description of this type of tactic because Willful blindness involves conscious avoidance of the truth (see definition and source below)

Legal Definition of willful blindness : deliberate failure to make a reasonable inquiry of wrongdoing (as drug dealing in one's house) despite suspicion or an awareness of the high probability of its existence NOTE: Willful blindness involves conscious avoidance of the truth and gives rise to an inference of knowledge of the crime in question. source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/legal/willful%20blindness

EDIT: Another possible term (probably better than willful blindness) to apply towards the use of the "you misunderstood me" tactic might be Blame-Shifting since this involves manipulating the conflict. "people will sometimes shift blame away from themselves by bringing attention to external causes [14], attempting to obscure their role" source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6405044/

Additionally, although its possible to actually be misunderstood, I agree with Bram28 who said that many people try to exploit this as a way "to avoid fessing up to that".

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