Category Archives: Ad hominem tu quoque

Tu Quoqu…erm

Arguments from hypocrisy can legitimately target a number of features of a speaker’s case.  They may show that a proposal is really impractical, or they may show that things are more complicated than the speaker’s pronouncements make it seem.  Or they, in ad hominem fashion, may show that the speaker lacks the ethotic standing (has a moral right) to lecture us about X, Y, or Z.  But they usually are irrelevant — that’s why they have a name for the fallacy, the tu quoque.

One, I think uncontroversial, constraint on these (even fallacious) versions of arguments from inconsistency/hypocrisy is that the two events must be actually inconsistent.  Otherwise, no hypocrisy.  Surely, an argument from hypocrisy needs for there to be hypocrisy, first.

Enter Jerome Hudson over at Breitbart with his clearly newsworthy report on Matt Damon’s apparent hypocrisy:

 “Great Wall” Star: “I’m not a fan of walls”

So, how is this news? Moreover, I don’t see the hypocrisy.  The Matt Damon movie is about a wall keeping out lizard monsters and what look like sword-wielding dragons.  The Trump wall isn’t designed for that purpose, no matter how racist you are.

Tu Quoque, Mr. President

I’ve been wondering for a while about what exactly gets shown with tu quoque arguments.  Is it that the premise is false, or no longer justified?  Since it’s an ad hominem form of the argument, perhaps it is more just a case against the people speaking, perhaps that they don’t understand their own case or aren’t sincere.  Or is it that they have a double standard. I think that, depending on the setup, these are all on the table.  Though the last one, the attack on the ethos of the speaker on the other side using a double standard is the most likely and most argumentatively plausible.

Here’s why.  When we charge tu quoque, it’s often a culmination of a series of argumentative exchanges.  Sometimes over years.  What we’ve got then is a lot of evidence about the person’s argumentative and intellectual character.  The tu quoque is a kind of caught-red-handed moment you serve up to show that the person’s not an honest arbiter of critical standards.  That they play fast and loose, and always to their own advantage, with evidence, degrees of scrutiny, and what’s outrageous or not.

Amanda Terkel at Huffpost, with “Trump Administration Absolutely Outraged Someone would try to Delegitimize a President” has an interesting tu quoque with the Republicans about the recent accusations that the current President isn’t legitimate.  Take, for example, John Lewis saying, in response to the challenge that The Russians had interfered with the election:

I do not see Trump as a Legitimate President.

The result was that the Republicans responded pretty harshly (including Trump’s tweet).  But then they complained about the negativity in the media about the Presidency, and Reince Priebus (ex-RNC Chair, now Trump’s Chief of Staff) complained that

There’s an obsession by the media to delegitimize this president, and we are not going to sit around and let it happen. . . .You didn’t have Republicans questioning whether or not Obama legitimately beat John McCain in 2008

But wait, Amanda Terkel points out.  Trump very famously was a birther.  And so had been on a years-long de-legitimating campaign.

So what follows?  A regular phenomenon with tu quoque arguments is that pointing out the hypocrisy is the end of the game.  No conclusions are offered, and so it goes with the Terkel piece.

Again, my thoughts have been that a conclusion about the target proposition very rarely can be supported by the tu quoque, but some cases are relevant to the issue.  Again, if the challenge is to the sincerity or the intellectual honesty of a speaker, especially with double-standards, there are conclusions we can draw.  But does the fact that it’s politics make it worse or better?

Tu quo… um, what?

Here’s the setup for a meta-tu quoqueStage 1: A makes crazy claim.  Stage 2: B criticizes A for crazy claim.  Stage 3: A defends A’s claim by noting B’s criticism is based on a double-standard. Stage 4: B notes that A, in charging a double-standard, employs a double standard. I’ve noted elsewhere here at the NS that some forms of double-standard arguments are relevant and argumentatively appropriate.  (And John, Colin, and I also published a paper on it a year ago.)

OK, so here’s application.  Stage 1:  Brian Kilmeade of Fox News said he wouldn’t support the Syrian opposition groups, because they say “Allahu Akbar” when they score military successes.  Stage 2: John McCain criticizes Kilmeade for Islamophobia.  (Here’s the Huffpo review of the exchange.)  Stage 3: George Neumayr at AmSpec defends Kilmeade noting that McCain’s criticism deploys a double standard:

When Fox News host Brian Kilmeade said on Tuesday that he didn’t want to back Syrian rebels who scream “Allahu Akbar!” after bombing buildings, McCain, revealing the Islamophilia behind America’s Arab-Spring foreign policy, replied that those chants don’t bother him. “They are moderates,” he said, dismissing the chants as no more “offensive” than a Christian who says “thank God.” Too bad Kilmeade didn’t ask McCain to give examples of Christians yelling “thank God” after slitting someone’s throat.

The first trouble is that Kilmeade is taking the speech act performed after a horrible deed to be identify the perpetrator as representative of the group that speech act indicates.  So because a Muslim terrorist says “Allahu Akbar” after a terrorist incident, those who say “Allahu Akbar” are dangerous radicals.  McCain’s reply is by way of counter-examples – Christians say “Thank God” all the time… that’s what the phrase is analogous to.  Neumayr’s case is that McCain’s double standard is not to take extreme behavior as representative.

Here’s stage 4: Religious man murders his friend after his friend tells him he’s an atheist.  We don’t take that as representative, do we?

That’s not hypocrisy

Actor Matt Damon is an advocate for public schools. He also is currently sending his kids to a private school.  When asked why his kids aren’t going to public schools, his answer was that they were not progressive enough.  The conservative media went crazy.  Sean Hannity in this VIDEO says:

If you love public schools so much, why don’t you send your own kids there, Matty?

The piece is, of course, titled “Hollywood Hypocrite?”.  First, there’s the obvious problem with the tu quoque fallacy – hypocrisy is rarely relevant to the acceptability of the conclusion, and is more a matter of turning our attention to the person speaking and less to the matter at hand.  Hence we call it a specie of ad hominem.

But I don’t see Damon’s case as hypocrisy.  Being a public school advocate means that you want the public schools to be better and teachers to be treated with dignity.  If you live in a place where those ends aren’t being met, it’s not hypocrisy for you to send your kids to private schools.  You may not be buying in by sending your kids in, but you still pay your property taxes and can still look out for teachers.  That’s not hypocrisy, because there’s no inconsistency there.  It’s like saying: We should fix the refrigerator, but move the food to your portable cooler in the meantime.

No, YOU calm down!

Ron Ross’s piece over at The American Spectator is really a mess.  AmSpec usually does a pretty good job of keeping the tinfoil hat brigade off the page and only in the comments.  Not so this time.  The core view is that liberalism is a lie propped up by lies and executed by liars.  Why would these folks lie so much and be such liars? Well, because they want power.  Most of Ross’s examples aren’t examples of lies per se, but more cases of either confusion, just being wrong, or are matters of reasonable disagreement.  For example, Ross holds that President Obama lied when he said he’d uphold the Constitution.  But because Obama’s interpretation of the Constitution conflicts with his, Ross takes this as a lie.

Barack Obama took a sacred oath to uphold the Constitution. He never had the slightest intention of adhering to the Constitution, as we now well know.

Oy.  That’s not a lie.  That’s a disagreement about what the Constitution allows for the executive branch (between an opinion journalist and a man who taught Constitutional Law), and using ad populum (“that we all know”) to cover that over is more in lie territory than what he’s accusing Obama of.  Regardless, Ross’s view of liberals culminates in the following assessment:

Liberals cannot tell the truth, and in this context the word has two meanings. They cannot tell the truth because what they want to accomplish isn’t what most people want. And they cannot tell the truth because it’s become habitual not to. It is so much a part and parcel of their being that it’s become second nature. They do it without thinking. They actually enjoy lying. It’s their favorite pastime.

What’s particularly irritating about the piece is Ross’s regular complaint that liberals can’t even see any conservatives as reasonable.

They cannot imagine any legitimate reason anyone would disagree with them. If you disagree there must be something wrong with you.

First off, the lying view and this No Reasonable Opposition view are inconsistent.  If you must lie to get your view out, you must think that reasonable people will reject it.  That’s why you must lie.  So the lying thesis requires reasonable opposition.  But that’s not the real problem here.  Look at how Ross has painted the liberal, as someone who has no interest in truth or rational exchange, but rather as someone looking for raw power, someone who has something wrong inside.  I just wonder if Ron Ross’s house has any mirrors.

The problem with No Reasonable Opposition views is that they actually have a very heavy burden of showing how the opposition actually fails to even be in the hunt for truth.  It’s taken to be an all-to-easy burden, but it’s actually a very demanding burden to handle.  No wonder those who make use of it (perhaps because it’s rhetorically very powerful) never properly deploy it.



Support abortions, but don’t have them? You must be a hypocrite

Rick Perry tried the old tu quoque with the Texas state Senator and abortion rights defender Wendy Davis the other day.  (Reported here at SALON.) Davis, as it turns out, hasn’t had an abortion.  Even when she, like, could have.

… she was a teenage mother herself. She managed to eventually graduate from Harvard Law School and serve in the Texas senate. It is just unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example ….

First, one can support abortion rights and still not have one.  Second, if Perry is trying to make the point that having children isn’t all that disruptive of a life by pointing to one woman who made it through law school with a child… The answer is that at least she chose that option.  That makes a big difference.

You’re gonna be a hypocrite

The tu quoque argument is  the argument from hypocrisy or inconsistency: S says that p, or that we should do a, but then turns around and says not-p or fails to do a.  It’s usually not clear what the consequences of the tu quoque are – either evidence of insincerity, evidence that the proposal is too difficult to follow, or that the person can’t keep his story straight.  We’ve at the NS had a variety of discussions about tu quoque, ranging from conditions for its acceptability to the breadth of its form.  Our best discussion was started by Colin with his observation that sometimes, tu quque arguments needn’t be in the form of actual hypocrisy, but rather hypothetical hypocrisy.  Hence, subjunctive tu quoque. (See Colin’s post HERE) I’ve found a close cousin to the not-actual-but-hypothetically-relevant form for tu quoque.  It’s the predictive tu quoque.

Witness Jonah Goldberg’s recent posting at NRO.  He says: young voters have supported Obama and his policies overwhelmingly.  But now that the Affordable Care Act is starting to be implemented, they will be required to buy health insurance — at rates greater than they would have to on other systems.  That’s because they are keeping the larger system afloat, as they are supporting the old, sick, and dying.  He predicts that they will then bolt on the issue.  First, he presents the dilemma.

You’d insist that millennials are not only informed, but eager to make sacrifices for the greater good.  Well, here’s your chance to prove it: Fork over whatever it costs to buy the best health insurance you can under Obamacare.

Then he sarcastically presents the decision:

[S]ince the fine for not signing up is so much lower than premiums, lots of people will just wait until they’re sick before buying insurance.

Now, that might be the smart play — for cynics.

But you’re not cynical. You didn’t vote for Obama and cheer the passage of Obamacare because it was the cool thing to do. You did your homework. You want to share the sacrifice. You want to secure the president’s legacy.

And now’s your chance to prove it.

I think it would be best for these lines to be read out loud.  When he says “But you’re not cynical,” it has to be delivered with that special tone of voice one has when one’s caught another in a reductio.  He’s not being hortatory – as though he’s saying: I predict that you will not be cynics.  No, he’s saying: I expect you to be cynics, as you’ve been cynics all along… because your votes were bought by Obama’s policies regarding student loans and extended coverage under parental health care.  Now that you have to bear the burden, you’ll resent it.


OK quoque

Just in: James Inhofe  (R- OK) is now plugging for federal disaster aid for the tornado damage in Oklahoma.  That’s fine.  Ah, but he and his colleague, Tom Coburn (R-OK) were famously against similar aid for the East Coast after Hurricane Sandy. Oh, that’s weird.  I wonder what Inhofe has to say about that:

That was totally different. . . . They were getting things, for instance, that was supposed to be in New Jersey. . . . They had things in the Virgin Islands. They were fixing roads there, they were putting roofs on houses in Washington, D.C. Everybody was getting in and exploiting the tragedy that took place. That won’t happen in Oklahoma.

First, off, he’s opposed to funding help for those battered by a storm because he’s worried about grift?  Sheesh.  Second, if it does happen in OK, is he on the hook then?  Oh, and Inhofe and Coburn have a long history of opposing funding FEMA (despite the fact that OK has among the most disasters).

Senator Coburn wants the help, too.  He proposes to pay for it by cutting other federal programs.

Again, we have a case where we must ask whether we have a case of acceptable tu quoque.  We’ve regularly here at the NS argued that cases of tu quoque that show double standards are appropriate and relevant.  Similar cases should be judged similarly, and it zip code is not a relevant reason to change one’s view on whether funding is deserved.  So reveling in the hypocrisy charge here isn’t for the sake of feeling hate toward someone or to score points on a vice, but to show that someone’s not been an honest arbiter with reasons.  That’s what’s happening here.  It’s not schadenfreude, it’s not ad hominem abuse.  It’s evidence that someone doesn’t proceed fairly.  That’s what it shows, and when your constituency is suffering, you understand the role of government support.  That’s what the hypocrisy charges amount to.



You would have noticed this hypocrisy… if you weren’t such a hypocrite

Jonah Goldberg at NRO rings up a fantastic subjunctive tu quoque:

Yes, it’s extremely unlikely he ordered the IRS to discriminate against tea-party. . . . And his outrage now — however convenient — is appreciated. But when people he views as his “enemies” complained about a politicized IRS, what did he do? Nothing.

Imagine for a moment if black civil-rights organizations, gay groups, or teachers’ unions loudly complained to members of Congress and the press that the IRS was discriminating against them. How long would it take for the White House to investigate? Answer honestly: Minutes? Hours?

The overall form of subjunctive tu quoque is not that you have actual inconsistent behavior or double standards, but that you would have them.  You just know it!  Of course, this form of tu quoque requires, for the subjunctive to be accepted, that the audience think the President is a hypocrite and an employer of double standards.  So, often, the subjuctive form of the tu quoque isn’t an argument from hypocrisy, but one to it.

**A later addition to the post 5/21/2013**

For other discussions of  subjunctive tu quoque, see Colin’s original post HERE, and John’s got a lengthy discussion HERE, and we three co-wrote a paper that appeared in INQUIRY about a year back, which I’ve posted on my page HERE. For cases that tu quoque arguments are regularly relevant, see one of my recent posts on it HERE, and my essay in Informal Logic HERE.



TU to-the-evah-lovin’ QUOQUE!

We’ve had a number of discussions here at the NS about how ad hominem tu quoque can sometimes actually be a relevant form of argument. (See one of mine HERE, Colin on it HERE, John on it HERE, and my publication on it at IL HERE) In short: the argument form, when properly presented, can show in speaker inconsistency: incompetence, insincerity, or  evidence that a proposed practice is impractical.  I have one that seems a glaring case of insincerity.  Thomas Sowell’s syndicated piece (here at the American Spectator) is that because liberals control (most of) education, there’s no actual fact-checking from critics of conservatives. Instead, all liberals do, from his experience, is give counter-assertions, and that’s what’s supported by the educational institutions producing them.  Well, at least that’s what happened when Sowell read an email from a liberal critic.

It is good to check out the facts — especially if you check out the facts on both sides of an issue…. By contrast, another man simply denounced me because of what was said in that column. He did not ask for my sources but simply made contrary assertions, as if his assertions must be correct and therefore mine must be wrong.

He identified himself as a physician, and the claims that he made about guns were claims that had been made years ago in a medical journal — and thoroughly discredited since then. He might have learned that, if we had engaged in a back and forth discussion, but it was clear from his letter that his goal was not debate but denunciation. That is often the case these days.

OK.  So Sowell got an email from someone with outdated information.  From a medical journal, but outdated information.  Well, that’s not so bad, is it?  Apparently so, because Sowell takes this email to be representative of how liberals think:

If our educational institutions — from the schools to the universities— were as interested in a diversity of ideas as they are obsessed with racial diversity, students would at least gain experience in seeing the assumptions behind different visions and the role of logic and evidence in debating those differences.

Instead, a student can go all the way from elementary school to a Ph.D. without encountering any fundamentally different vision of the world from that of the prevailing political correctness.

Well, first, I smell weak manning here — thanks, Tomas Sowell, for picking a bad arguer for a liberal talking point and generalizing to all liberals.  Perhaps we could do the same for you and use Michele Bachman as the representative voice for conservatism?

At this point, Sowell then turns to the institutions that produce what he takes to be shoddy arguments, that is, universities.  And he’s got one case in point:

The student at Florida Atlantic University who recently declined to stomp on a paper with the word “Jesus” on it, as ordered by the professor, was scheduled for punishment by the university until the story became public and provoked an outcry from outside academia.

Ah, but then there’s the old fact-checking, getting the other side’s version of the story.  You know, like what a well-educated person would do.  The exercise did take place, but the student who refused wasn’t up for punishment for not stepping on ‘Jesus’, but for threatening the professor with violence.  And that’s where we know that Sowell’s not playing fair – when his side gets criticized, he wants his critics to be entirely up to date on all the details of the matter.  And when they aren’t, well, that’s evidence of how stupid, horribly educated, and disinterested in actual debate they are.  But when it’s his side, well, it’s just a matter of saying what his favored audience wants.

A final question, but now about the FAU case:  why would Christians care about stepping on the word ‘Jesus’? The name’s not holy. The letters aren’t either.  This strikes me as another case of hypocrisy — they’ve got their own graven images.  The name of god in their own language.  Christians who threaten Professor Poole with death over this don’t understand their own religion.