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  1. A person says that a politician "Jane Doe" is good because he increased the education budget. (but in reality, Jane doe is also corrupt & racist, whose bad policies lead to the downfall of the economy of the country)

  2. A person says that the religion "XYZ" is good because it gives women the right to inherit properties from their parents. (but in reality, "XYZ" religion also forces women to cover, and does not allow women to go out without the permission of husbands)

  3. A person says that "Sam" is a good person as he donates a lot of money. (but in reality, "Sam" is a criminal who frequently robs a bank)

Do the above examples qualify for logical fallacy? If yes is there a name for such fallacies? I think they are not Strawman's arguments but to be honest I'm not sure.

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    Cherry PIcking? Jul 31, 2022 at 8:07
  • There are several web sites with lists of fallacies and their descriptions. There's one on wikipedia. Here is another. logicallyfallacious.com/logicalfallacies/search
    – BillOnne
    Jul 31, 2022 at 15:31
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    Anyone who is guessing fallacies is barking up the wrong tree. The linguistic practice you describe is called paltering.
    – J D
    Jul 31, 2022 at 17:09
  • @JD A more common, less specific word for it is tendentious. More informally, one-sided. Saying only good things about a person might be sycophancy, hagiography or hero-worship.
    – Davislor
    Jul 31, 2022 at 18:43
  • @Davislor Id agree each of those is an example of bias towards misrepresentation absolutely. Each certainly has a different orientation. I read the question, however, in the vein of a rhetorical effort to deliberately persuade through disinformation.
    – J D
    Aug 1, 2022 at 0:54

9 Answers 9

32

The specific fallacy is cherry picking evidence to support a conclusion.

This is one of the most common fallacies committed by people with actual intention to be rational and is based on the invalid belief that the way one should arrive at a view is through supporting verifications. There was a dominant philosophic movement based on the Verification Principle, Logical Positivism, which held that only verified beliefs were valid, and that science was based on verifications.

Karl Popper pointed out that verifications are FAR TOO EASY to arrive at for all sorts of invalid beliefs, as your examples show. The way science should be done, and by extension, basically all thinking, is by looking for possible REFUTATIONS of a view or hypotheses. Hence, in science, the key to showing a new claim is valid, is to do experiments which could DISPROVE it. If the claim passes those experiments, then we have reason to trust it is valid.

For non-science reasoning, when one isn't doing experiments, the challenge is instead to consider all of the possible sources of evidence that could bear on a judgment, not just one. Therefore, the justification for politician, person, or religion to be "good" should NOT be -- "X is good because of fact Y", but "X is good because: looking at the full spectrum of relevant issues, X is good at Y, Z, Q, R, and S, and this is sufficient to compensate for X's failings on A, B, C and D; because of the relative importance of the latter part of the alphabet over the earlier (or whatever standard one thinks is appropriate -- this too will need comparative evaluation); AND X is better than other X's because all X's are imperfect; and this X has more strengths and fewer failings than is common (again will need extensive justification by looking at refuting cases)."

Popper's focus on challenging one's own views rather than confirming them, has some venerable support in philosophic history. This was basically the method of Socrates. Socrates was not an experimentalist, but his method of philosophy was to try to identify the hidden and unexamined assumptions in one's views, and try to challenge them, by looking for inconvenient facts that show them to be invalid over generalizations. In my Philosophy Café, I say this is the central philosophic mindset -- to identify and question the walls of the mental boxes we think within. We may choose to keep those walls, at least most of the time. But examining and challenging them, to know they are there, and are not as certain as we presumed, is key to understanding where our own thinking may be going awry.

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  • There are no arguments presented. How can there be fallacies?
    – J D
    Jul 31, 2022 at 16:44
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    @JD "because he increased the education budget" is explicitly an argument for "Jane Doe is good". It is not a well constructed argument, but yes, it is an argument.
    – Dcleve
    Jul 31, 2022 at 16:51
  • There have to be two premises, and even if one claims there is an implicit premise (which I defend as a practice in principle), there is 0 context to determine what the second premise might be. By your argument, every conditional is an argument. The statement reformulated is "If Jane Doe increased the budget, then she is a good politician." I'm open to throated defense that the material conditional is the same as an argument, but I've never seen such a claim before. Of course, I respect your general skills in these matters, so cry havoc and let slip the dogs of discourse if you have such.
    – J D
    Jul 31, 2022 at 17:14
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    @JD Words have multiple definitions, and your choice for definition of argument has dramatic downsides. The rationales provided to persuade others are rarely structured as the narrow "arguments" of the definition you use. Two of the worst forms of deception, arguments by innuendo and arguments by snark, are INTENDED to obscure their premises and/or conclusion. The point of identifying fallacies is to inoculate us against poor reasoning, and your definition prevents you from even recognizing when the most pernicious arguments are even being made.
    – Dcleve
    Aug 1, 2022 at 6:00
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    @JD -- I have developed increasing irritation and frustration with the legalism/definitionalism that is intrinsic to Analytic philosophy, and to analytic philosophy as a whole. The inapplicability of the analytic methodology to the practical real world problems that one needs philosophy to address, has turned me into a fairly dogmatic pragmatist ...
    – Dcleve
    Aug 1, 2022 at 8:04
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Short Answer

What you seem to be interested in is not so much a fallacy, but is called paltering.

Long Answer

Is there a name for this fallacy when someone says something is good by only pointing out the good things?

I'm not sure that what you present is so much a specific fallacy (what does good even mean, and who determines what is good or not?) Let's examine the difference between a stronger argument and what you have presented:

A person says that a politician "Jane Doe" is good because he increased the education budget.

Your claims are very much rooted in claims that are difficult to establish the truth value of. They express a personal sentiment more than a factual statement, they are really subject to processes to decide them. If I say, "chocolate is good", then it isn't something one can argue over. And easily the arguments slide into reasonable territory. Let's take the opinionated claim and put it into an argument.

Premise 1: A politician "Jane Doe" is good because he increased the education budget.
Premise 2: If increasing an education budget is the only thing important to a voter (single-issue voter), "Jane Doe" is the better candidate in the election.
Conclusion: A person should vote for "Jane Doe" over the other candidate.

Given a simple premise (that there are some voters who care about a limited set of issues), it's quite possible to create simple, strong arguments, in fact. Does it matter that Jane Doe hates immigrants, or advocates for Sharia law, or wants the government to abolish all US Federal agencies? Not to the single-issue voter by definition.

  1. Remember that truth-conditions on opinions are very much unlike truth-conditions of factual claims; there's no way to decide disagreements inherently or easily.
  2. There are terms related to making claims within a conversation that are important: opinion vs. fact, falsity vs. deception, lies of omission vs commission, etc.

What you do seem to be after is the idea that a person is selectively using truths to communicate with an intent to deceive, and there is a term for that: paltering. From WP:

Paltering is the active use of selective truthful statements to mislead... The term as applied in psychology and mediation studies was developed by researchers at the John F. Kennedy School of Government in the late 2000s. The first known use of palter to describe acting insincerely or deceitfully was in the 1580s

In rhetoric and response to interrogation, paltering is a very common practice, because it allows the speaker to claim "I'm not lying" with some measure of defense. After all, most people associate lying as a lie by commission. Since lies of omission may be unintentional, and some people don't see lies of omissions as lies at all, it provides a certain plausible deniability when confronted while simultaneously affecting the frame or context of a set of claims. (For more details on theories of context such as those of cognitive semanticists, see frame semantics.)

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    What is your objection to construing "Jane Doe is good because he increased the education budget" as the argument "Jane Doe increased the education budget. People who increase the education budget are good. Therefore Jane Doe is good." ? Because if someone calls the original statement an argument then I immediately take them to mean the argument I've presented. Jul 31, 2022 at 20:10
  • See Dcleve's comments for an extended version, but I take your argument to be syntactically accurate, but semantically empty since your argument can be restated as a single claim: Jane Doe who increases budgets and increasing budgets are both good. Unless Im missing something. In fact, isn't such the determination of an implicit premise really a conclusion drawn about the conditional? Jane increases budgets. Jane is good, therefore presumably, increasing budgets is good despite it being unstated? I'm not opposed to the process of determining implicit premises, but to have no criterion....
    – J D
    Aug 1, 2022 at 1:39
  • Essentially determines that every material conditional is also an inference. And every implicit premise is also circulation a conclusion. That seems intuitively wrong.
    – J D
    Aug 1, 2022 at 1:40
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    Parsing language involves a lot of unexamined inference. You are declaring arguments to only be those assertions with a clear enough syllogistic form to require no inference. THERE ARE NO SUCH ARGUMENTS. This was pointed out by Quine, in 3 Dogmas of empiricism. Getting rid of natural language, and only using logic languages, still does not satisfy this criteria. This problem for logic-based evaluation of language, is why AI today is still struggling unsuccessfully with understanding language, and Google Translate had to switch to a neural net process with no understanding at all.
    – Dcleve
    Aug 1, 2022 at 14:44
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    Furthermore, I reject your restatement as equivalent to the argument I presented. The argument expresses a logical relationship between two premises and the conclusion, whereas the restatement simply asserts everything as the premises. In the case of the argument, if we reject the premise that increasing budgets is good then we find that the conclusion is no longer supported. In the case of the restatement, however, if we reject the premise that increasing budgets is good then that does not affect the claim that Jane is good. Aug 1, 2022 at 17:38
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The argument "X is good because of Y" is a problematic argument. "good" has little meaning outside of a carefully constructed context and is the meaning is most often subjective. Even if we do construct a measurable criteria for "goodness" then we must still consider the totality of evidence pro and con for the proposition. Both subjectively defined criteria and cherry-picking of cases (the fallacy of excluded evidence) are suggested by the OP examples.

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There are several levels of problems with these statements. @Dcleve's answer addresses what is likely the hardest issue to address, but you have another problem to grapple with first: "good" is undefined.

Take your first example: Jane Doe is (for this argument) good for education. If your discussion is only in the context of education, Jane Doe is good. In racism and economy contexts, she is bad.

How goodness and badness mix together to yield an overall "goodness" in a politician is undefined. Maybe overall goodness is irretrievably tainted by any badness; maybe it's some weighted sum of goodness/badness; maybe goodness is evaluated by purity of intent, perhaps as divined through observable actions.

So, saying Jane is "a good politician" or "not a good politician" is void of any meaning but what you bring to it. Since that meaning has not been shared, you are working with a hidden premise (or "implied premise," or "implicit premise," depending on your preferred nomenclature).


Like most informal fallacies, the underlying issue is the non-sequitur, and you can arrive at the same gap in several ways. So, in some sense, this is also begging the question, though implicitly. You could also call it equivocation, since "good" is doing double-duty (good-for-education and a good-politician). You could even call it a hasty generalization, because the argument jumps from good in a small context to good overall.

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  • Fectin -- yes most fallacious reasoning makes use of more than one fallacy, AND many informal fallacies tend to blend into one another. Also, yes, the standard of "good" is often fundamentally disputed, as our world has not settled on a single moral standard , hence "goodness" needs a lot more explication. I implied the need to better characterize, and then justify the definition of "good" in this aside: "(or whatever standard one thinks is appropriate -- this too will need comparative evaluation)".
    – Dcleve
    Jul 31, 2022 at 17:00
  • @Dcleve your answer was great! I think all the objections I raised point to sloppy presentation; they are all curable without (necessarily) changing the shape of the argument. You point at the real problem. But I do also think you need a clean presentation before you can address the real problem; hence my answer.
    – fectin
    Jul 31, 2022 at 17:53
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I don’t usually see it on lists of “fallacies,” but a common term for this is one-sided. More formally, partial (with its double meaning of “biased” and “incomplete”) or the broader term tendentious. This is also often called a “lie of omission” or “lie by omission.”

1

If what you describe is a honest mistake (and not a conscious rhetorical tactic), then another name for it is "inductivism", or, more specifically, naive inductivism. This is a scientific method which became popular in the 17-th century, and, despite its limitations, has led to important scientific discoveries. Crudely explained, naive inductivism works as follows:

  • discover a new phenomenon
  • observe conditions that lead to it
  • generalize those conditions into a law

In the context of your first example, one could analyse actions of successful politicians and observe that they tend to spend more on education than their predecessors. Then one could deduce that a promise to increase the education budget is an indicator of a successful politician.

Of course, such naive inductivism ignores conditions that lead to the absence of the phenomenon, essentially making it certain that a "law" will always be found. Even if our sample of "good politicians" includes some who reduced the education budget, another condition would match instead. E.g. we might find out that all good politicians have introduced a titanium tax (and had "Jack" somewhere in their full name), or were good golf players.

If we include bad politicians into the analysis, then we have a chance to discover that being racist and corrupt is a stronger indicator of "quality", albeit in a different direction.

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The argument is essentially:

doing A is good
X does A
therefore X is good

The problem here is that "doing good" is not the same as "being good". Like if the statement were:

doing A is good
X does A
therefore X is doing a good thing

then this would actually be valid. But the previous one makes another implicit conclusion:

(doing a good things means being good)
doing A is good
X does A (a good thing)
therefore X is good

So yes it would definitely be a fallacy because the conclusion does not follow from the premises. Probably one of equivocation "is good" = "being good" which sound similar but are not the same or idk fallacy of misattributed adjectives/adverbs.

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Consider Confirmation Bias.

A definition cited by Wikipedia (originally in an article in Review of General Psychology) is "Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one's prior beliefs or values."

Confirmation bias is generally considered to be an unintentional affect (https://www.britannica.com/science/confirmation-bias) while "cherry picking" is more often considered deliberate. The examples in the original question seem like they could be deliberate or unconscious.

The original question specifically asked about evidence that made something seem "good." Confirmation bias only operates towards supporting a previously-acquired value, it does not necessarily support only "good" views. The same could be said of cherry-picking evidence.

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Take the short answer would be confirmation bias or Rose colored glasses or beer goggles whereas the opposite would be ocular rectitis or a crappy Outlook. Negative Nancy

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