Subjunctive tu quoque

I'm looking for examples of this in the media, but I wanted to distinguish a form of tu quoque I've come across in conversations, the subjunctive tu quoque. I haven't checked any literature to see whether this is a well known variant.

In the subjunctive tu quoque, someone argues that a criticism of a policy or practice is unreasonable, because the critic would do the same in similar circumstances. So, for example:

"You say that it is wrong to detain without warrant suspected terrorists, but you would do the same if you had to confront the problem of terrorism that we confront."

"You say that it is wrong to ban minarets on mosques, but if you had the immigration problem we have, you would do the same."

Neither of these are actual arguments, but composites from conversations. They seem interesting to me for a number of reasons:  they're often entangled with a claim of epistemic privilege and an explanatory claim.

First, the epistemic privilege. Unlike a standard tu quoque, they involve an interesting dismissal of the critique that claims that the critic is not really in a position to judge because they haven't dealt with the reality of the difficult situation. This carries the strong whiff of the "ivory tower fallacy" (a version of the circumstantial ad hominem, though in some newspapers its really a abusive ad hominem).

Second, the explanatory claim. The subjunctive tu quoque seems to develop naturally from the reasonable attempt to explain some phenomena to a critic. The line between explanation and justification is often difficult to mark and in trying to explain e.g., how it came to pass that the swiss population would vote to ban minarets on mosques, it is easy to move from a causal explanation or an attempt to show how such a vote would appear rational to the population, to a justification of it, at least from the critique of its rationality.


19 thoughts on “Subjunctive tu quoque”

  1. That is an interesting distinction.  The subjunctive tu quoque (STQ) as a variation on the tu quoque ought to have the same critical form: i.e., it ought to be used in criticism.  "Repsonsibilities of leadership type arguments," or "heavy is the head that wears the crown" kinds of arguments fit this billl.  It seems there is a sense in which these arguments can be non fallacious.  For instance, in circumstances where indeed one does not have the requisite first person experience to judge someone.  Fallacious circumstances, however, would depend on relevance issues (like the TQ): when one makes a principled objection, one retorts with an irrelevant STQ to diffuse it. 

    Suppose someone says that shooting unarmed prisoners is morally wrong, and someone retorts: war is hell sonny, you would have done the same thing in that circumstance.  The proper response to this, as with all fallacies of relevance, is this: irregardless.   

  2. Seems akin to something that I have encountered regarding what might be called the "revenge justification" capital punishement: "If it had been your loved one, you'd want to kill the murderer also."
    There is an obvious emotional appeal to this version, which seems implicit in the other examples given. By virtue of the Subjunctive aspect, I wonder if this implicit emotional appeal is perhaps an essential component of the STQ?

  3. John or Colin, can either of you give an example for the non fallacious STQ and TQ? It seems to me that STQ is mostly to argue that maybe the critic has not considered all the circumstances. It looks like the easiest way to have the critic both understand what he's arguing against and offer an alternative.

  4. One common but generic (which is to say, I have no citation) example relates to capital punishment: "Well, if it had been YOUR …. then wouldn't YOU want to kill the person responsible?'
    This suggests a question, at least, and possibly a pattern: does the Subjunctive aspect of the STQ naturally or even necessarily involve an illicit appeal to emotion? The whole, "if YOU …" aspect seems to involve this kind of appeal. If that is the case, then could it be that the illicit aspect of the STQ stems from the slightly buried appeal to emotion, whereas the licit versions that Casey mentions above might be predicated on genuine and principled claims about legitimate authority?

  5. perhaps i'm being a perishing little pedant, but isn't the fallacious rhetorical strategy you're examining actually the conditional tu quoque, rather than subjunctive?

  6. You're right, BN, that sometimes the STQ could be used to point out the limitations of a critique.

    "it's easy for you to judge since you don't face problem x everyday"

    might be a way to make that point without suggesting that someone is wrong because they don't face the problem everyday. As such it is just a comment about judging without really understanding, and as such may be true or false.

    It's this latter claim that the reason that the critique is wrong is that you would do the same thing under similar circumstances. 

    Even if it I would do the same thing that does not, in the cases we're looking at, affect the truth or falsity of the claim. Even if I would call for the death of someone who murdered a loved one, that does not seem to be evidence against the claim that the death penalty is wrong. It might say something about me, but not about what we're talking about, the rightness or wrongness of the d.p.

  7. @englishprize Hmmmm. It is a conditional, but the construction "would. . .too" is a subjunctive apodosis in a future less vivid conditional (greek would be optative, latin subjunctive). So, I'm naming it based on the mood in the "you too" clause which is a subjunctive verb. "You too would do this, should this be true."

    @Gary Thanks for the great example! Capital punishment arguments are probably the best instance of this.

  8. thanks, Colin.
    John, are you saying you can have a non-fallacious STQ? I can't think of even a non-fallacious TQ.

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