Category Archives: Ad Hominem

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.



Your argument’s fine, but I don’t like your friends

Gideon Caplin, Benjamin Gourgey and Josh Goodman over at AmSpec have piece on the “lawfare” of Muslim student associations and the Councilon American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).  The issue is whether Muslim students should have permission to pray during school hours. Caplin, Gourgey, and Goodman concede that the case can be made for student-led prayer under certain conditions. But then they turn ad hominem circumstantial:

Despite the fact that student-led prayer in public schools that adheres to the above criteria can be carried out within the law, Muslim students undermine their cause by directly inviting the assistance of CAIR, an organization that has been accused of financially supporting the terrorist activities of Hamas.

The trouble is that it doesn’t matter who CAIR has given money to (or has been accused of giving money to). If the students have the right, they have the right.  It’s not clear what the implication is or how this circumstance is supposed to undermine a case.  If the implication is that CAIR gives money to Islamic exteremist groups, and this student rights group gets support from CAIR… so they must be extremists?  Or is it that their case is undermined by the fact that they lose their rights to free religious expression because they have someone standing up for their rights that also supports Hamas?  Can someone lose their First Amendment rights of free expression just because they have radicals for friends?  Can someone’s argument be worse by virtue of the company they keep?

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.

True tolerance

Chris Broussard at ESPN said that Jason Collins, the NBA player who’s come out as gay, isn’t a true Christian and is “in open rebellion to God.”  So what?  Well, he got some blowback from a variety of sources.  So what?  Well, he’s now got to clarify things, and when he does, he also needs to clarify a concept for all of us:

true tolerance and acceptance is being able to handle [differing lifestyle beliefs] as mature adults and not criticize each other and call each other names

I don’t think that’s true tolerance.  Tolerance means that even when you think someone else is wrong about something that matters, you don’t exclude them or prohibit them from doing the things that they do.  Tolerance isn’t tolerance if you like what they do.  It means putting up with things you hate.  That, by the way, was one of the reasons why the stoics thought of themselves as the ones who kept the old Republican virtues alive, by the way. But, notice, that doesn’t mean that you have to hold your tongue.  In fact, tolerance without care for criticism and correction isn’t much of anything — it’s more like ignoring each other.  Oh, and convenient that he’s NOW saying that tolerance is not criticizing others.  Again, sometimes inconsistency is evidence of a double standard.

RINOs are Hypocrites? Who knew?

Washington Post op-ed columnist Kathleen Parker recently made a case for a concerted effort from moderate Republicans to “take back the Republican Party.” (Here)  In fact, she calls for a “RINO rebellion.”  The trouble she sees is that taking over a party requires zeal, and RINOs are just sane people.  This yields a zinger:

First, sane people are too busy Being Normal to organize. No, “normal” is not a relative term. We all know what normal is, and it doesn’t involve carrying gigantic photos of aborted fetuses to political conventions.

That’s pretty funny.  (And, if I’m not mistaken, a step toward pro-choicing the Republicans?)  Regardless, this suggestion to draw the Republican party closer to the center has yielded some criticism.  Matt Purple over at the American Spectator is up to run the argument.  Purple’s main line of criticism is that all of Parker’s suggested changes are actually all standard conservative commitments.

Yes, if only there was a political movement calling for reasonable budgets, more privacy for the individual, upholding the rule of law, and concern for national security. She must imagine hordes of earthy Tea Partiers holding the Post in their gunpowder-stained fingers while recoiling and exclaiming, “Compassion for the disadvantaged?! This paper’s gone to the dogs!”   So Parker’s principles seem pretty similar to those of modern conservatives

Okay, that’s a nice point, I suppose.  Though there’s a difference between ‘reasonable budgets’ and ones that, say, slash the Department of Education or that eliminate the IRS.  It’s all what you’re counting as reasonable, I suppose.  But when Purple turns to candidates, things get weird.

To understand just how vacuous the moderate stance has become, consider their embrace of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. John Avlon praised the Garden State firebrand as a “Northeast Republican” with a “moderate record.” Joe Scarborough defended his accomplishments.… Conservatives can’t even support sequestration without drawing condemnation from the center-right. But Christie cuts funding for AIDS patients and he’s the moderate Moses leading the GOP out of the electoral desert. Again, it’s pure air.

First, to make this point, Purple had to look to other moderate Republicans to find Chris Christie as the candidate of choice. Now, you can’t make a hypocrisy charge stick when the inconsistency is that between different people.  That’s not hypocrisy of the RINOs, that’s just that they disagree.  Second, I’m unsure whether the moderate line was right with Christie in the first place — if he’s such a moderate, then why did Ann Coulter endorse him?  My thought was that hailing him as a moderate was strategic packaging, not accurate description.

Finally, even were all these charges right, I have no idea what kind of point this hypocrisy charge scores with the RINOs.  If it’s that the ‘moderate’ candidate they chose wasn’t all that moderate, then shouldn’t the RINOs just say back:  Well, that’s as moderate as we can get in this party. We’d actually prefer John Huntsman.