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Suppose one person in an argument claims that the other has committed a fallacy. Whether or not the accusation is true, the accused is now distracted from the original argument and has to defend against this new charge. That looks like the accused has thrown a red herring into the argument.

Could the very act of calling someone out on any fallacy be itself a fallacy, in particular, a red herring?

In general I don't want to claim that all mention of fallacy is inappropriate (that it, itself fallacious). For example, I expect two lawyers in a courtroom should be expected to point out any fallacies to the judge and jury committed by witnesses or opposing lawyers. That is part of their job.

However, accusing another person of a fallacy can be damaging to the accused. Not only is the accuser saying that the other person is wrong in the current argument, but they are suggesting that the other person is irrational. There is no reason to trust anything an irrational person has to say.

Given that perspective, there is an underlying ethical issue involved as well.

I am looking for references that clarify whether pointing out a fallacy is itself a red herring fallacy.

  • I find that pointing out fallacies is counter productive. Especially with people unused to the term. Your job is to recognise fallacy and adjust your response accordingly. For example someone says if you don't support your government's foreign policy you should leave the country.. you might ask if those are the only choices.. and why.. – Richard Nov 24 '18 at 15:15
  • @Richard Using a fallacy argument can backfire if it doesn't resonate with those listening to the argument. I agree that it may not be effective. And if it is inaccurate it can backfire in other ways perhaps years later depending on the memory of the audience. – Frank Hubeny Nov 24 '18 at 15:19
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    Could calling someone out on a fallacy be a red herring, even if the fallacy is committed? Yes, but only if it does not affect the main course of the argument. "Not only is the accuser saying that the other person is wrong in the current argument, but they are suggesting that the other person is irrational". I do not see how. Charge of fallacy exactly means that the current argument has invalid form, it can happen due to simple oversight or to a very rational rhetorical maneuver. If it is grand generalized to discredit everything the person is saying that would be a fallacy, ad hominem. – Conifold Nov 24 '18 at 20:44
  • @Conifold Good point about ad hominem. I can see that being involved. – Frank Hubeny Nov 24 '18 at 21:58
  • This is mostly a rethorics issue. Suppose your opponent says "vaccination is useless because I say so since I am a doctor". It is enough to say "you are wrong" to address several features, depending on a subjective interpretation: e.g. 1-if he's wrong, he's a bad doctor (ad autoritathem); 2-if he's wrong, he has an incorrect logic (as hominem); 3-if he's wrong, he's less power than you (ad baculum), etc. When a fallacy is identified, only the most prominent and immediate issue is addressed. In case of my example, it is not even clear if the fallacy is mostly ad autoritathem or ad baculum. – RodolfoAP Nov 26 '18 at 16:43
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As I understand it, the Red Herring is typically intentional. It is a deliberate attempt to switch attention to another issue in order to drop the original argument.

A. You ought to save if you want to buy a new car; there's no other way of getting one.

B. But I can't save.

A. Yes, you can. You earn $5000 a week and your essential expenses are only $2000.

B. But why are cars so expensive ? [Red herring]

Now, you treat the Red Herring more widely. It extends to any accusation that one's opponent has committed a fallacy. Why need the opponent be distracted from the original argument if it really does contain a fallacy and one is pointing this out ? It isn't distracting from the original argument; it's putting precisely that argument, and nothing else, into sharp focus and exposing a logical error in it.

  • I think in the case of "informal fallacy" we may be a little closer to red herring, though... aren't "informal fallacies" better understood as flaws in rhetoric, not flaws in epistemology or ontology (i.e. philosophy)? – elliot svensson Nov 29 '18 at 15:11
  • @elliot svensson. Hello - good to hear from you again. This is an entirely open question on which I don't have a view : do you think it is important (for what purpose ?) to distinguish between formal and informal fallacies ? To count as fallacies both sorts involve 'an error in reasoning' or 'invalid argumentation'. So exactly what distinguishes one sort from the other ? I wish I knew. I only have vague ideas. Best - Geoffrey – Geoffrey Thomas Nov 29 '18 at 18:26

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