Laugh at the stupidity, cry at the fact that these arguments are used regularly by millions of people, feel vindicated that you’ve tried to explain these logical fallacies to others – but then repent of your own intellectual sins. Most likely, everyone reading this has used several of these before.
Having spent a few years in Catholic apologetic circles and otherwise engaged in the culture wars, here are my top six favoriate bad arguments:
#6 – “I do (or someone I know does) the action you are saying is immoral, therefore it is not immoral”
You’re discussing something with a friend, and you mention that you think a particular action is immoral. Your friend responds: “Well…but I do that.” The unspoken premise is that the person (or person’s friends) are not capable of immoral acts, which is obviously false. This is also a form of intimidation, trying to make a person back down due to social pressure rather than due to the force of argument.
#5 – “Since you think what that person does is immoral, you therefore must hate that person”
Very related to #6, this seems to be based on a childish notion of love/hate. For those who propose this argument, “love” seems to mean you have good feelings about the person or think the person is a good person, and “hate” means you have bad feelings about the person and must think the person is a bad person. If you think what the person is doing is immoral, so the reasoning goes, that probably means you have bad feelings about the person and think them to be a bad person, and therefore hate them. In reality, to love is to will the good of the other (not merely that the other would have good feelings, but their actual good).
#4 – “A lot of people agree with this proposition, therefore it is true”
This is just a sophisticated version of the middle school argument “but everyone is doing it”. The number of people who agree with a proposition is irrelevant to truth or falsity of the proposition. This argument is also often used as a form of intimidation since it emphasizes that you may be in a socially weak position.
#3 – “You are wrong because you are [insert characteristic]”/”You can’t say that because you are [insert characteristic]”
Insert “white”, “black”, “male”, “female”, whatever, it doesn’t matter, this is just an old fashioned ad hominem attack – attacking the person rather than the argument. Any given argument can be articulated by any kind of person. The truth/falsity or logic of a given argument is irrelevant to who happens to be proposing it at a given time.
#2 – “You are a fundamentalist”
The term “fundamentalist” was coined by evangelical Protestants in the 20th century and meant that they wanted to return to what they believed were the fundamentals of the faith. Today, the term appears to be a derogatory term that means simply “I believe you are wrong, and you are more conservative than me”. Sometimes, it can mean “you are insisting on using logic and are showing my view to be illogical, please stop”.
#1 – “That’s just your interpretation”
This is a way for the person to try to avoid engaging what you’ve proposed. The act by which a person extracts any meaning whatsoever from a text is called interpretation. The “just” is supposed to imply that the act of interpreting somehow makes whatever you have to say irrelevant. Of course, simply pointing out that a person is interpreting is like pointing out that a person is speaking (“That’s just what you say” is actually a common variant), and obviously has no bearing on the truth or falsity of what they’ve claimed. Neither does it follow that your interlocutor can dismiss what you’ve said without argument.
About Brantly Millegan
Brantly Millegan is studying for a MA in Theology at the St Paul Seminary School of Divinity in St Paul, MN, is a Co-Founder and Co-Editor of the online journal Second Nature, and is an Assistant Editor for Aleteia. He and his lovely wife Krista live in South St Paul, MN with their two small children, Elijah and Adelaide. His personal website is brantlymillegan.com