Tag Archives: Subjunctive Tu Quoque

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 Academia.edu 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.

 

 

If the other guy were president

We’ve had a few discussions of subjunctive tu quoque here at the NS. (See Colin’s original post HERE). Well, here’s another version of it. Sean Paige at the National Review Online is concerned about a recent suggestion from two law professors that President Obama pursue environmental regulatory reform without including Congress. (NB, the title of his essay is “Under the Green Hammer,” a classic!) Here’s Paige’s reply:

But one can’t help wondering what they would say about the propriety and constitutionality of what they are urging if a conservative Republican were president. I’m guessing, at the risk of putting words into their mouths, that a Republican president who embarked on a concerted effort to ram an agenda through without even consulting Congress would stand accused by the two professors of having undemocratic, perhaps even dictatorial, tendencies.

Fair enough, but it’s worth wondering what Sean Paige would say, too.  I’m guessing that he’d be very proud of the Conservative President’s leadership in ignoring a Congress full of liberals. Hey, when we play the subjunctive tu quoque game, we get to stipulate counterfactuals so we all go down.

May cause a sudden drop in blood pressure

More fun with conditional hypocrisy, courtesy of the Virginia Senate:

The bill, SB484, says pregnant women must be given an opportunity to view the ultrasound image prior to an abortion and requires abortion providers to keep a copy in the patient’s file.

"I view this as a serious women's health issue," Vogel said on her website. "At a minimum, ultrasound is necessary to determine gestational age and that there is no anomaly that could affect the health of the mother or outcome of the procedure."

Pro-abortion rights advocates consider the ultrasound provision a tactic to add cost and inconvenience to the process with the goal of getting women to change their minds.

Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax County, was dismayed enough by the bill's progress that she tried to amend it so men seeking prescriptions for erectile dysfunction medication such as Viagra would be required to undergo a rectal exam and cardiac stress test.

She said that's "only fair, that if we're going to subject women to unnecessary procedures, and we're going to subject doctors to having to do things that they don't think is medically advisory."

Howell's amendment ought to help people visualize how such a bill would affect their own administration of their privates, were certain facts different. 

The amendment was defeated, but so was the bill. 

How would this affect me?

Rick Santorum, candidate for President, rushed home this weekend to be with his teenage daughter, who suffers from a rare genetic disorder.  An opponent of the Affordable Care Act, Santorum's daughter will certainly benefit from the pre-existing condition clause of the ACA.  The timing of this particular ad hominem is an important matter, no doubt.  But I think this argument from Elon Green at the Washington Monthly is a nice example of the non-fallacious use of the subjunctive tu quoque (discovered here!):

And it’s equally okay to remind voters that Santorum, in an act of startling cynicism, continues to equate the ACA with socialism, even suggesting that it would lead to the death of his daughter. His claim that he’s “fighting for Bella and other children like her” — and, by extension, proponents of the ACA are not — is spurious.

By all accounts, Santorum’s daughter has beaten the odds. She’s gotten marvelous healthcare. I have yet to encounter a decent justification from either Santorum or his fellow candidates for denying the nation’s children the same opportunity.

The unstated conclusion is that Santorum, were matters different, would hold a different view.  This kind of makes him a hypocrite.  Or it at least he would be a hypocrite, if the security of his family's health insurance were ever in question (which, to a certain extent, it won't be, given ACA). 

At the very least, the subjunctive tu quoque here aims to uncover an opponent's lack of thoughtfulness about how a given issue might affect people's lives in important ways.  The lack of thoughtfulness is particularly egregious, so the scheme alleges, because one fails to realize how their own positions would affect them, were one someone else.

In other news, someone has suggested "tu quoque etiam" as a name for this move.  Anyone?

Just what you’d expect part 872

Our university now has an Objectivist club.  Like all clubs, the Objectivist club puts up fliers to advertise its meetings.  Walking up the stairs yesterday at school I spied their (I have to admit) well-designed and well-placed flier.  What made it so well placed, you see, was that it was right exactly at eye level in the middle of the wall of similar fliers.  On the second floor, the flier was tacked on top of–you cannot make this stuff up–a flier advertising a blood drive.  On the third floor, the flier was tacked on top of a flier advertising a course on homelessness offered in the Department of Social Work.

In another, somewhat related, matter, a former real world star (I'm also not making this up), and current GOP congressman from Wisconsin, Sean Duffy, complained at a town all meeting that he struggles to pay his bills on his 174,000 salary (you can support him here).  Video here.   According to TPM, the congressman also supports cutting public employees' salaries:

Duffy also said that he pays more in health care costs and retirement savings than he did when he was a district attorney before he ran for Congress. That said, Duffy said he'd support the idea of "public employees across the board" taking a compensation cut.

"Let's all join hands together and say 'I'll take a pay decrease, absolutely," Duffy said.

Yes.  Let us all join hands together.  The median income in Polk County is around 50,000.  Some sacrifices are more meaningful than others–wasn't there some Bible story about this?

Duffy, it appears, is not actually inconsistent.  He supports Governor Walker-style cuts for everyone.

Nonetheless, we still might run a tu quoque on him–a subjunctive one.  It might go something like this.  The cash-strapped Duffy might be less likely to see the wisdom in that if he were actually cash-strapped.  He's not, in other words, cash strapped in the relevant way.  He is cash strapped relative to his expenses on a robust salary; he is not cash-strapped relevant to having cash at all.

War, Hypocrites, and Islam

Tu quoque arguments are posited on finding a contradiction or tension in the other side's position with regard to the matter at issue, and then holding on that basis that the other side is wrong or at least not qualified to speak to the issue.  I've argued elsewhere ("Tu quoque arguments and the significance of Hypocrisy" and "The truth about hypocrisy," with Robert Talisse) that sometimes these arguments are acceptable — e.g., if someone keeps contradicting himself, that's evidence he doesn't know what he's talking about.  Other times, the inconsistency of the other side is simply irrelevant to the issue (the classic example: even if your father smokes, he's right that you shouldn't smoke, and the fact that he is a smoker is at best irrelevant to the issue, and perhaps actually improves his case, as he, himself, is a testament to how addictive it is).

The tu quoque comes in a variety of forms.  The most significant differentiation to make is between the inconsistencies of speech and speech and speech and act.  The first is about a person who can't keep his story straight.  The second is about hypocrites.  Often the hypocrisy is actual — the person really says "do X" and they turn around and do not-X.  But sometimes, the inconsistency of the other side isn't something that's an actual inconsistency, just one that's likely.  One that would happen….  That is, sometimes the other side may not now be inconsistent, but if things were a little different, the other side would be singing a different tune.  So you say, "You say that now, under these circumstances, but were the shoe on the other foot…"  Colin called this phenomenon subjunctive tu quoque.

I've been on the lookout for it and for a few varieties, and I've found an interesting one in Sam Harris's The End of Faith (Norton, 2004).  Harris makes the case that we (in the West) shouldn't be too hard on ourselves for all the just war norms that we bend when we fight against Muslims.  His reasoning is perfectly subjunctive tu quoque.  First, in defending the way Israel deals with Palestinian aggression:

Ask yourself, what are the chances that the Palestinians would show the same restraint in killing Jews were a powerless minority living under their occupation and disposed to acts of suicidal terrorism? (2004, 135)

Harris uses the same form of reasoning when mitigating blame for disproportionate use of force in Iraq:

If the situation had been reversed, what are the chances that the Iraqi Revolutionary Guard, attempting to execute a regime change on the Potomac, would have taken the same degree of care to minimize civilian casualties? What are the chances that Iraqi forces would have been deterred by our use of human shields? (2004, 146)

The reasoning is appealing, but it doesn't support the conclusion that it's OK to be more cavalier in war with Muslims.  Jus in bello isn't affected by how the other side would be treating you, if they had the upper hand.  If it's unjust to wage war indiscriminately, it's unjust; and the fact that the other side has a clear inclination toward injustice may be a good reason to be at war with them, but it is not a reason to break the rules of war.

This said, I do want to retrieve what's appealing about the reasoning.  It does seem wrong for someone to insist on the rules of war when it's also clear that they, themselves, would not feel bound by them were they the dominant power.  It seems, first, dishonest.  And second, it seems like the use of moral argument is strictly strategic, instead of moral.  The most that would follow from the Harris arguments would be that there is a member of the discussion who is not an honest arbiter. 

One final thing is that these subjunctive moves carry a weird burden of proof, that it seems, is difficult to satisfy.  It's one thing to show that someone's a hypocrite — all you need to show is that he said "Do X" and then show that he did not-X.  But how do you show that the person, after having said "Do X" would nevertheless would, if circumstances were different, would do not X?