Person A argues that skipping breakfast has no effect on a person likelihood to gain weight.

Person B takes the position opposite that breakfast in fact curves hunger and chances of putting on weight.

Person A then asserts that they in fact hold no position on the issue and that Person B is arguing on a moot point

This then creates a fallacy that Person A's argument is invalid because they were arguing against a position that was not held and in doing so their character is brought to question, and through this the character of their argument is also questioned.

It's almost like an Ad hominem, but not quite. The tricky part is that Person A maintains they have no position, although they do.

  • I am wondering if this is a specific fallacy, or combination of fallacies. I see this approach taken in many arguments, but I am never able to say "that is just a strawman to bring about an Ad hominem attack"
    – stevebot
    Dec 11 '13 at 19:38
  • In general, don't all fallacies do this? Person A thinks X leads to Y, but there is a fallacy. In fact, X does not lead to Y, thus they are not actually (successfully) arguing for their own position. If you otherwise mean they raise a point to back up an argument which itself is actually irrelevant/off-topic/wouldn't actually lead to the claim stated, well in policy debate we called this a 'topicality violation'...
    – stoicfury
    Mar 13 '14 at 19:47

A fallacy is a characteristic of an argument itself, it has nothing to do with whether or not the person who argues it believes it.

If Person B dismisses Person A's argument solely on the grounds that Person A does not actually believe it himself, then that is a type of an ad hominem argument. Person A's disbelief of his own argument is irrelevant to the question of whether or not the argument is any good.

  • No, you misunderstood the example. Person B claims that they in fact hold no position (argue no claim), not person A. It's not a direct Ad Hominem.
    – stevebot
    Dec 12 '13 at 23:39
  • Btw, if there is a typo, the proper action is to suggest an edit, not call it out in an answer.
    – stevebot
    Dec 12 '13 at 23:40
  • @stevebot fixed Mar 13 '14 at 19:09

A person who shifts her position this way could be doing one of two things.

She could be committing the formal fallacy of being inconsistent, if she adopts a second position and denies the first, especially if she then in some way continues to hold the first or appeal back to it when it's useful.

Or, it's worth recognizing, she could be doing something that's not fallacious at all. She could be changing her position in response to criticism. There are ways such changes can be problematic in certain circumstances — ad hoc changes for instance, which are unreasonably tailored to address certain criticisms. But those aside, it's worth remembering that having an opponent change her position in response to criticism is generally the goal of argument, and should be seen as a reasonable, not fallacious, move for her.

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