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Tu Quoque

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Tu Quoque (which is latin for "you too") is defined by Wikipedia as the "appeal to hypocrisy". The examples given are all of someone who's been accused of some moral breach responding that their accuser is guilty of the very same thing, which (by sidestepping the moral principle involved entirely) is fallacious.

However, I've found it to be an effective response to anyone who's trying to assert the morality of altruism: not only do I not see any good reason for altruism to be right (nor, consequently, do I accept it as such) but you aren't consistently practicing it either. If you were then you would be dead already.

 

This leads to the question of whether the "you too" defense is necessarily fallacious in all cases. I obviously don't think it is when I use it against the charge of "selfishness" but do see how it would be against, say, theft or murder (&etc). It seems to be valid only when one disagrees with the moral principle involved.

 

As an issue that gets right down into the nature of principles themselves, though, it also strikes me as a fertile subject for dissection. And since it's been cropping up regularly in our public dialogue since January Sixth this seems like the best time for such a dissection. So I'd like to look at a form of Tu Quoque (although most people are referring to it as "whataboutism") that's all over the place presently:

 

Do the Democrats who sanctioned this summer's race riots have the right to denounce Trump's siege of the capital building?

 

I'm placing this under "epistemology" instead of "current events" because I'm not primarily interested in the specific details (which I'm sure we're all far too familiar with already) but in what's underneath them. Not to mention that everyone involved probably deserves to be denounced in all sorts of colorful ways. But when precisely is Tu Quoque a valid or invalid response, and what else can it teach us about the nature of principles?

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Tu quoque isn't about who has a right to denounce something. It's about whether something is denounce-worthy or not.

And often times, the conclusion being repeated is not even merely "you have no right to complain about this bad thing because you also do this bad thing," it's "therefore were going to do this bad thing too."

They cannot tell the difference between these things because there literally is no mind there. They repeat what their respective source tells them.

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46 minutes ago, Harrison Danneskjold said:

Do the Democrats who sanctioned this summer's race riots have the right to denounce Trump's siege of the capital building?

That is hypocrisy.

It is also hypocrisy to sanction the siege of the capital building and denounce this summer's race riots.

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50 minutes ago, Harrison Danneskjold said:

 And since it's been cropping up regularly in our public dialogue since January Sixth this seems like the best time for such a dissection. So I'd like to look at a form of Tu Quoque (although most people are referring to it as "whataboutism") that's all over the place presently:

 

 

http://ip1.thejmg.com/t/1818257/2735224/96544/41/

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2 hours ago, 2046 said:

Tu quoque isn't about who has a right to denounce something. It's about whether something is denounce-worthy or not.

That's exactly what I'm wondering about.

2 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

That is hypocrisy.

It is also hypocrisy to sanction the siege of the capital building and denounce this summer's race riots.

Well, yes. It should go without saying that rioting is a bad thing that we shouldn't usually support (and certainly not for any of the reasons being given to try and justify any of it).

 

But is if someone who supported one form of rioting were now to hypocritically condemn the other, would they actually be wrong to do so? I don't know yet, but my gut reaction (for whatever that's worth) would be to say that they're at least halfway right, which is better than consistently supporting all the riots.

Or would it be better if they were more consistently committed to evil?

 

2 hours ago, 2046 said:

And often times, the conclusion being repeated is not even merely "you have no right to complain about this bad thing because you also do this bad thing," it's "therefore were going to do this bad thing too."

I suspect so; that's part of why I'd like some clarity on the finer points of the different applications of this argument. Some of the Republican statements sound like nothing more than some richly-deserved barbs about the summer riots, but far too many of them sound more like "we'd also like to burn some stuff down"! Which is a rather different kind of "me too-ing" than what we're used to hearing from them.

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46 minutes ago, Harrison Danneskjold said:

But is if someone who supported one form of rioting were now to hypocritically condemn the other, would they actually be wrong to do so? I don't know yet, but my gut reaction (for whatever that's worth) would be to say that they're at least halfway right, which is better than consistently supporting all the riots.

I would agree with your gut feel philosophically speaking. You have successfully discovered the philosophical issues.

But isn't what you really want to know: "what should I do about it when they say it to me?"

That depends on your purpose, how much they can handle, what is expected of you etc. The ethical question is about how to interact or influence them.

It's similar to getting in the middle of a conflict between a husband and wife when they are both halfway right. What do you do?

Ultimately, the answer probably would emanate from a mediation (conflict resolution) or marriage and family counseling skillset.

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2 hours ago, Harrison Danneskjold said:

I suspect so; that's part of why I'd like some clarity on the finer points of the different applications of this argument.

Valid: You're complaining about bad thing X, but you're also doing bad thing X. You should stop that, it's bad.

Not valid: You're complaining about bad thing X, but those people also doing it, so we're going to do it too.

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24 minutes ago, 2046 said:

Valid: You're complaining about bad thing X, but you're also doing bad thing X. You should stop that, it's bad.

Yes, definitely valid, but when the person is deeply emotional about their position, this fact/principle/argument is ignored. It requires a settling down of the emotions, or a way to calm the situation down for it to be heard. The other version is "Two wrongs don't make a right".

2 hours ago, Harrison Danneskjold said:

Or would it be better if they were more consistently committed to evil?

An "appeal to extremes", reducing it to absurdity would be valid too (would also work), but again, only if they can hear it. The effectiveness of psychology in this area is far more relevant than acknowledged.

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When getting mired in the overly-rich inventory of fallacies with Latin names, I recommend the Stanford entry on fallacies, §13.

  • The third version of the ad hominem fallacy is the tu quoque. It involves not accepting a view or a recommendation because the espouser him- or herself does not follow it. Thus, if our neighbor advises us to exercise regularly and we reject her advice on the basis that she does not exercise regularly, we commit the tu quoque fallacy: the value of advice is not wholly dependent on the integrity of the advisor.

You might imagine Pelosi expressing the view that violence is an improper means of effecting political change, but you reject that conclusion on the grounds that Pelosi advocates violence as an effective way to bring about political change. But actually, she has advocated neither thing. It seems to me that to apply this tu quoque concept to contemporary issues, we need a new sub-category of tu quoque.

A implicitly appeals to principle X to derive conclusion M about facts Q

A fails to apply principle X to derive analogous conclusion M¢ about analogous facts Q¢

___

{A has no moral right to speak; A is evil for being intellectually dishonest; A has identified a relevant factor that distinguishes M, Q from M¢, Q¢; A should derive conclusion M about Q (ergo, A can be criticized for being inconsistent)}

The conclusions that can be drawn are about the person A, and not about the proposition M: that is, the “fallacy” is not about a proposition, it is about the character of an individual. It is ad hominem, but an ad hominem is valid in the realm of evaluating individuals, as opposed to ideas.

The conclusion that “you have no right to complain because…” is itself a profoundly fallacious and evil conclusion. When did “right” become such a meaningless junk word? (I guess in the 60’s). Man’s rights are not derived from the consistency of an individual’s philosophy, they derive from man’s nature. Obviously, those who hold that “you have no right to complain because…” themselves have no “right” to expound that ridiculous position. And yet indeed you do have the right to believe all sorts of crazy things. We should scratch the “no right” conclusion. It is not about rights, and it is wrong to imply even by proximity that this has to do with rights.

In Pelosi’s case, I suspect that she is simply engaged in intellectual dishonesty, and has done so for many years, but I don’t know her personally. Whether or not I opt for denunciation as evil, versus criticism for inconsistency, depends on many facts such as who is the person and who I am expressing this conclusion to.

I crossed out one of the options in my above table of conclusions: is there a distinguishing fact which could justify being more supportive of BLM violence than Trump violence? If you want to understand the position of people who don’t agree with us that violence is wrong in both contexts, you should try to state what the relevant facts are, and relate the facts to a moral principle: “violence should never be used to effect political change”. FYI, this principle is wrong: you need to integrate the relevant facts, and say when violence can properly be used to effect political change. Then tell me if those facts existed this summer, or in January. I believe that in the minds of the BLM-riot apologists, there are facts that make the summer riots excusable, which do not exist w.r.t. the election. Interestingly, those facts did exist 4 years ago when Trump was elected, and there were protest riots.


 
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7 hours ago, Harrison Danneskjold said:

Tu Quoque (which is latin for "you too") is defined by Wikipedia as the "appeal to hypocrisy". The examples given are all of someone who's been accused of some moral breach responding that their accuser is guilty of the very same thing, which (by sidestepping the moral principle involved entirely) is fallacious.

However, I've found it to be an effective response to anyone who's trying to assert the morality of altruism: not only do I not see any good reason for altruism to be right (nor, consequently, do I accept it as such) but you aren't consistently practicing it either. If you were then you would be dead already.

I'm glad you brought up tu quoque; I've been thinking about it recently, too.

Logical/reasoning fallacies have a narrow scope. Tu quoque demonstrates that you cannot establish that any particular claim is false due to a proponent of that claim being hypocritical. The reason why altruism is false/wrong/evil is not that any given proponent fails to act in a consistently altruistic manner, just as selfishness would not be shown wrong if some proponent of selfishness did not always act selfishly.

That doesn't mean that calling out hypocrisy isn't effective rhetorically, or have other uses. Showing a person that he does not always act in the manner he claims is best could help provoke him into examining or questioning his own reasoning or beliefs. (I fear that some of the folk who invoke "whataboutism" do so primarily to avoid such examination.) It can be an invitation to refine arguments, to better distinguish between cases, or to rationalism/sophistry.

Citing a formal fallacy has its uses and can be powerful, in the proper context, but conversation (especially good conversation) is wider, richer, and more nuanced than a mere give and take of logical proofs.

7 hours ago, Harrison Danneskjold said:

Do the Democrats who sanctioned this summer's race riots have the right to denounce Trump's siege of the capital building?

With respect to tu quoque, the point is: a denunciation of the attack on the Capitol ought to stand or fail on its own merits, irrespective of whether the people making said denunciation have always been consistent in their principles. If a Democrat was wrong in sanctioning an earlier riot, that doesn't make him wrong to denounce a different riot today.

And we should want people to have the ability to change, to grow. Ideally, if we judge both riots to be wrong, an examination of the present circumstances could be an opportunity for some Democrat to reflect on the earlier situation, and maybe eventually find himself in error. People always have the "right" to try to get things right, regardless of how many times they have previously gotten it wrong (or the ways in which they otherwise continue to err).

If we judge both riots to be morally acceptable or correct, it could still serve our purposes to draw parallels. Logic in this sense does not judge, as such; observing hypocrisy does not tell us which of two conflicting behaviors or beliefs is to be preserved (if either), and which must go. And sometimes you will point out some hypocrisy in another person's arguments/behaviors/ideas, and they'll respond with some form of, "You're right!" and proceed to take the worse side of both cases -- in the name of consistency! 🙂

But in reality, I'm not convinced that the earlier riots and the Capitol assault are sufficiently similar as to be subject to a charge of hypocrisy, generally. It would take us too far into "current events" to get into the specifics of that, but suffice it to say that while I think both riots are wrong and horrible, this most recent one is of yet an entirely different (worse) character.

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7 hours ago, DavidOdden said:

I believe that in the minds of the BLM-riot apologists, there are facts that make the summer riots excusable, which do not exist w.r.t. the election. Interestingly, those facts did exist 4 years ago when Trump was elected, and there were protest riots.

Correct. Which is why it's not, strictly speaking, hypocrisy. Their principle isn't "rioting is bad." Their principle is "what do we have to do to get what we want."

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10 hours ago, DonAthos said:

The reason why altruism is false/wrong/evil is not that any given proponent fails to act in a consistently altruistic manner, just as selfishness would not be shown wrong if some proponent of selfishness did not always act selfishly.

Coincidentally though, this reminds me of something one would use to show a particular proposition for a moral imperative is disqualified according to Kant...  I wonder if there is some remote connection?

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14 hours ago, DonAthos said:

while I think both riots are wrong and horrible, this most recent one is of yet an entirely different (worse) character

At your leisure (and in a separate thread), I'd like to see what leads you to this conclusion: not that there is a difference, but the conclusion that it is worse.

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On 1/16/2021 at 4:54 PM, Easy Truth said:

But isn't what you really want to know: "what should I do about it when they say it to me?"

Not necessarily. If both husband and wife are committed to murdering each other without regard for any form of collateral damage then I wouldn't say anything nor touch that marriage with a 39.5 foot pole; I'd let them kill each other as far away from me as possible.

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On 1/16/2021 at 7:04 PM, DavidOdden said:

The conclusion that “you have no right to complain because…” is itself a profoundly fallacious and evil conclusion. When did “right” become such a meaningless junk word? (I guess in the 60’s).

I meant something like a moral right; not a political one (sorry).

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On 1/16/2021 at 9:02 PM, DonAthos said:

And sometimes you will point out some hypocrisy in another person's arguments/behaviors/ideas, and they'll respond with some form of, "You're right!" and proceed to take the worse side of both cases -- in the name of consistency! 

That's actually happened to me a number of times! XD I didn't think of it until now but I guess that's the downside of applying tu quoque to altruism.

 

On 1/16/2021 at 9:02 PM, DonAthos said:

Citing a formal fallacy has its uses and can be powerful, in the proper context, but conversation (especially good conversation) is wider, richer, and more nuanced than a mere give and take of logical proofs.

Of course. But I'm trying to use the formal fallacy as a good example of other things that I'd like to tease apart and get clear on.

 

I know it involves principles and consistency. Although whether some individual works out or not doesn't in itself prove whether or not people should work out, in general, it does at least give us a good reason not to take the couch potato's word at face-value if HE decides to espouse such. Maybe the principle itself is fine, maybe not, but at a bare minimum its current representative has failed to consistently apply it.

 

And there's a special social twist on how it's being used today which specifically involves the rules about how we treat each other. Jordan Peterson's "games we play together" is the best metaphor I can do off the top of my head, for right now.

It's as if all 350 million of us in America had been playing monopoly together for several centuries and then some on the left started grabbing fistfuls of cash from the bank while screaming tu quoque at anyone who protested (since the bank itself was built on slave labor, racism and sexism and could only be defended by the morally bankrupt). And in response those who had been posturing as the enforcers of the rules and defenders of our continued game flipped the monopoly board over and set the bank itself on fire since that's how all REAL Monopoly-lovers play, and also since we've already agreed that you don't need any rules to play by anyway. And I'm sitting here (thankfully untouched so far by any of it) just wondering what infernal sort of activity everyone else has switched to.

 

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I'm not even at the point of asking what happens next; I'd just like to decode enough of this double-speak to be able to know what happened just now.

 

And that's why I'm trying to focus on digging down into this absurd new way of speaking (and this particular form of argument): just to understand what argument everyone else is actually having.

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold
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On 1/17/2021 at 8:02 AM, StrictlyLogical said:

Coincidentally though, this reminds me of something one would use to show a particular proposition for a moral imperative is disqualified according to Kant...  I wonder if there is some remote connection?

Universality? If Kant's rule was that you can only assert a moral principle if you could wish for everyone to practice it consistently then failing to practice it consistently yourself would put a pretty big hole in everything else you might try to say on the matter.

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold
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On 1/16/2021 at 5:50 PM, Reidy said:

"People forever mired in an imaginary future when they redeem humanity through the power of their ideas naturally do not possess the time for the very real past in which the power of their ideas looted an immigrant’s American Dream, murdered a retired elderly African American policeman guarding a friend’s property, and torched businesses already burned by lockdowns — and then called it 'social justice.' This happened. This happened recently. Should we all pretend it didn’t? And should people not bothered by any of that deliver gaslighting moral lectures about whataboutism to all the normal people horrified by all of it?"

-from the linked article

 

Yeah; the only voices I've heard condemning the violence on January Sixth are the ones trying to pretend that last summer never happened. And the only ones trying to talk about what happened last summer are doing so in a lame attempt to excuse what happened on January Sixth. And again I'm just baffled by what the resulting conversation even is.

The only other thing I can think to add at the moment is this song.

 

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold
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