I recently encountered a discussion that went along the lines of:

A: Pedophiles are not just old men touching little kids. They're also 23 year olds going out with 16 year olds.

B: Pedophilia actually refers to the attraction to prepubescent children and is a disorder. I do agree with your implicit message, though -- this is a condemndable age gap.

A: If you are nitpicking the definition of pedophilia, you are probably a pedophile.

To me, this sounds like:

Merely talking about X means you are in support of X. Any discussion about X is obsolete.

It is hard to continue the discussion about X (i.e. the definition of pedophilia) once its legitimacy has been questioned this way. Is this a rhethoric fallacy? If so, does it have a name? If it is not a fallacy, are there effective ways to counter it without seeming to be in support of X?

As for the actual discussion, in the role of A, I might counter that accurate use of language is important to give more credibility to the initial argument. For example, including all relationships with large age gaps in the definition of pedophilia might be hurtful to victims of real pedophilia and demonize virtuous (celibate) pedophiles. It could also miss an opportunity to reach participants in problematic high-age-gap relationships (which the statement is trying to target): Those people might be encouraged to think about the statement if worded less extremely, but would never see themselves as pedophiles and thus discard it quickly if worded inaccurately. B, on the other hand, might argue that this is deliberate hyperbole, and that a meta-discussion detracts from the actual point.

  • 2
    Questioning presuppositions of a debate is not in any way a fallacy. That the debated issue is actually moot is a perfectly legitimate resolution of it (it is called dissolution), if it comes with a good argument. However, the OP boldface passage is fallacious. It is a typical ad hominem: attempt to discredit opponent's character instead of addressing their arguments. And barring people in support of X from discussing it simply makes no sense: it is people who care one way or the other who usually hold discussions.
    – Conifold
    Jun 22, 2020 at 22:51
  • I have revised the header to bring out the point at issue more clearly. Restore the original wording if you consider it necessary.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jun 23, 2020 at 11:05


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