Tag Archives: non fallacious tu quoque arguments

A foolish consistency*

Here is an extreme libertarian type (wrongly identified, I think, as a Tea Party type by Gawker, etc.), Greg Collett, father of 10, from Utah, going all Ayn Rand on social programs he makes use of.  Which is to say: “I’m against Medicaid, but I use it for financial reasons” (or something, because he doesn’t really say why).  He writes:

The vast majority of the comments directed towards me try to paint me as a hypocrite for being a limited government advocate and having my kids on Medicaid. My political beliefs are certainly not popular, and in this case, there are many people in the liberty movement who want to take me to task. Again, we are dealing with a situation where people have been socialized into believing a lie.

Let me set the record straight. Yes, I participate in government programs of which I adamantly oppose. Many of them, actually. Am I a hypocrite for participating in programs that I oppose? If it was that simple, and if participation demonstrated support, then of course. But, my reason for participation in government programs often is not directly related to that issue in and of itself, and it certainly does not demonstrate support. For instance, I participate in government programs in order to stay out of the courts, or jail, so that I can take care of my family; other things I do to avoid fines or for other financial reasons; and some are simply because it is the only practical choice. With each situation, I have to evaluate the consequences of participating or not participating.

Collett is a kind of anti-government purist (all government taking is theft, essentially).  He doesn’t personally carry health insurance, but he uses government programs (Medicaid but not public schools–you really have to read the manifesto) to cover his children.  Children are expensive, sickness is expensive and can be financially devastating.  His choice of Medicaid to cover his children  (as well as his choice of becoming a foster parent to eight children) demonstrates that perhaps his insistence that government leave this role is not actually feasible.  It’s nice, in other words, to have ideals, but seriously, they have to be practical.

And this is a critical point about non-fallacious tu quoques.  They do not demonstrate that your beliefs are false.  They demonstrate that your beliefs may be too hard to put into practice if not even you, ardent exponent of milking your own cows, cannot do it.

*Here’s the rest of the Emerson passage (from “Self Reliance”):

 A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored  by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a  great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself  with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words,  and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though  it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be  sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be  misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and  Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every  pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be  misunderstood.

Having a face like their ass*

A couple days ago we had a discussion about the non-fallacious sense of ad hominem.  As recent research has shown (decisively, I think), fallacious forms of argument schemes exist along side non-fallacious ones.  Attacking the person isn’t ipso facto impermissible, because sometimes people who argue are bad and that fact bears on their argument.

Here’s another fun example pulled from Twitter.  A Catholic hospital in Denver has been sued for malpractice involving the death of a mother and one of her twin fetuses.  Their defense?  Well:

As Jason Langley, an attorney with Denver-based Kennedy Childs, argued in one of the briefs he filed for the defense, the court “should not overturn the long-standing rule in Colorado that the term ‘person,’ as is used in the Wrongful Death Act, encompasses only individuals born alive. Colorado state courts define ‘person’ under the Act to include only those born alive. Therefore Plaintiffs cannot maintain wrongful death claims based on two unborn fetuses.”

Please consider the usual caveats about legal cases and legal reporting and let’s say for the sake of argument that this is the Catholic hospital’s view (but don’t let this stop you from commenting on them should you want to).  It seems like we’d have reasonable grounds for saying: how inconsistent this argument is with your long-standing views!  In fact (from the same source):

The lead defendant in the case is Catholic Health Initiatives, the Englewood-based nonprofit that runs St. Thomas More Hospital as well as roughly 170 other health facilities in 17 states. Last year, the hospital chain reported national assets of $15 billion. The organization’s mission, according to its promotional literature, is to “nurture the healing ministry of the Church” and to be guided by “fidelity to the Gospel.” Toward those ends, Catholic Health facilities seek to follow the Ethical and Religious Directives of the Catholic Church authored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Those rules have stirred controversy for decades, mainly for forbidding non-natural birth control and abortions. “Catholic health care ministry witnesses to the sanctity of life ‘from the moment of conception until death,’” the directives state. “The Church’s defense of life encompasses the unborn.”

So here we have probably (again for the sake of argument) perfectly reasonable interpretation of the Wrongful Death Act.  But it is exactly the opposite of the views of the institution which is making the argument.  This inconsistency has (justifiably) occasioned the non-fallacious tu quoque charge.  Imagine had the plaintiff making the argument been represented by Planned Parenthoood.  Nonetheless, I think this illustrates a critical issue about ad hominems, namely: it is impossible to entertain this argument in isolation from the other commitments–even those not currently up for discussion–of the arguer.

*having “your face like your ass” (la faccia come il culo): (roughly) not ashamed of anything.