Copping To The Tu Quoque

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post headlined, “Secret Children for Me, No Gay Marriage For Thee!” because I lack the subtlety gene that most human beings are born with.* The post concerned a philandering Senator who still made a point of opposing gay marriage. I found both his philandering and his subsequent moral hypocrisy galling. You can read that post here.

Although nobody approved of Domenici’s indickscretions*, my attempt to conflate the senator’s libidinous behavior and the larger social conservative movement was met with opposition. I was accused of willfully engaging in something know as the Tu Quoque Fallacy**. The Tu Quoque Fallacy can be invoked to describe any argumentative attempt to appeal to the idea of hypocrisy; rather than debating the issue, the Tu Quote is a method wherein an ideological opponent becomes the issue. Jason Kuznicki wrote the best of the (many) replies:

Whenever anyone makes an argument, pretend simply that you’ve found the argument carved on stone tablets in the desert. You have no idea who made it, or why, or when, or how. It’s just a set of propositions. Discuss those, not the messenger.

First and foremost, I want to make my admiration for Kuznicki and his work clear. That he took the time to respond to something I had written – but especially something that he didn’t agree with – means much to me. I wanted to clarify that ahead of time, because after several weeks of genuinely introspective consideration, I have come to the following conclusion: I thoroughly disagree with the notion that the Tu Quoque Fallacy is necessarily problematic.

A Late Introduction
Before I go farther, I should acknowledge that I am already in the deep end here. The reality is that my own understanding of fallacious thinking is tenuous at best. Hell, my own understanding of thinking itself is tenuous at best. I thus recognize in advance that those who oppose the position I am going to take will almost certainly have a better understanding of the traditional approaches to appropriate argumentation. I also want to explain, as I have in other posts and in other threads, that I find actions more meaningful than words, full stop. I am troubled by the notion that we would ever assume the opposite. This biases me hugely against the Tu Quoque Fallacy. We will get to that.

An Acknowledgement of Fact
Kuznicki was correct when he advised me to think of arguments as ideas carved onto stone tablets found in the desert. He was correct because that is what appropriate reasoned argumentation demands of its participants. Here is Wikipedia’s handling of fallacies generally; here is its explanation of Tu Quoque more specifically. In both pages, it is plainly clear there are clear rules that govern conduct. And because those engaging in the Tu Quoque attack the arguer and not the argument, it is fallacious.

I do not dispute the reality of this within the rules that govern reason.

I do, however, dispute that this is necessarily problematic. I dispute this for two reasons: that arguments are products that should be treated as such and that there is no reason to necessarily give an opponent the benefit of the doubt, especially when evidence exists that suggests he might not be telling the truth.

Arguments As Products
The first of these – and again, this is deep end territory for me – has to do with the nature of arguments themselves. Wikipedia says the following about argument:

In logic and philosophy, an argument is an attempt to persuade someone of something, by giving reasons for accepting a particular conclusion as evident.[1][2] The general structure of an argument in a natural language is that of premises (typically in the form of propositions, statements or sentences) in support of a claim: the conclusion.[3][4][5] The structure of some arguments can also be set out in a formal language, and formally-defined “arguments” can be made independently of natural language arguments, as in math, logic and computer science.

I tend to focus like a laser on seven of those words: “…an attempt to persuade someone of something.” That is the gist of the thing. I would like to believe that we all can agree to this. But the idea of persuasion should hold steady regardless of the something being considered, whether it is an idea or a tangible, physical product.

I write that not (necessarily) because I am daft but because I cannot see a difference between an individual trying to convince me of the rightness of social conservativism and an individual trying to convince me of the rightness of buying this particular toaster. In both cases, I want to know everything I can before I make a decision; although the idea of perfect information is theoretical at best, the more the merrier.

The invocation of the Tu Quoque Fallacy demands otherwise; rather than gathering as much information as possible, we are limited only to information about the product itself, even if information about that product’s pitchman might prove incredibly valuable. Again, this was the recommendation that I received:

Whenever anyone makes an argument, pretend simply that you’ve found the argument carved on stone tablets in the desert.

Here is what that statement looks like if one key word is replaced:

Whenever anyone makes a car, pretend simply that you’ve found the car on in the desert.

There are those both capable of and willing to purchase a car based upon nothing more than its appearance. I am not one of these people. I want to know about the car’s reputation. I want to know about the manufacturer’s reputation. And, perhaps most importantly, I want to know about seller’s reputation. As nearly as I can tell, the invocation of the Tu Quoque Fallacy demands that we abandon this final concern, not because the lacks value, but because the seller’s reputation is oddly out of bounds.

Person One: You should buy this car from me as it is a great car.
Person Two: But you are a scumbag who is known to sell lemons.
Person One: You must not consider me; think only of the vehicle itself.

Is this unfair? Perhaps. But I struggle to see the difference what I wrote above and the following:

Person One: Gay marriage is bad because it disrespects traditional marriage.
Person Two: But you are a scumbag who is known to cheat on his wife.
Person One: You must not consider me; think only of gay marriage’s damage of traditional marriage.

It is difficult for me to imagine a scenario in which I would be so taken with a physical item that I would not want to also possess information about the individual selling it. I struggle to see any reason to treat a consideration of ideas differently, because even if the back and forth is purely speculative, I am doing something with a thought that I would not do with a thing. And in the political arena, an arena in which winning and losing can have significant impact in the lives of individuals? I ought to consider that idea more seriously than I would consider that thing. To then falsely staunch the flow of potentially useful information is anathema.

Giving The Benefit Of The Doubt
Without saying so explicitly, the Tu Quoque Fallacy demands that we give our ideological opponents the benefit of the doubt in that we are asked to assume that everything they claim is a true representation of their beliefs. I can vaguely understand why this might make sense in an academic setting – although, really, I do not, and this inability may explain my own, uhh, somewhat flawed*** graduate student career – but in a political setting, where the costs are much higher? Assuming an honest opponent is damned near naïve.

Earlier, I mentioned my own belief in the superiority of actions to words when it comes to understanding an individual’s beliefs. I find the alcoholic who says he wants to get sober less convincing than the alcoholic who is actually emptying his liquor bottles. Perhaps this is unfair; perhaps this is reasonable. That is a discussion for another day. But knowing that I believe this helps me to understand why I do not necessarily object to the Tu Quoque Fallacy as it is frequently employed.

Let us briefly return to Domenici. Domenic was a staunch opponent of gay marriage, arguing repeatedly for Constitutional amendments to ban the practice nationally, the harshest of the positions that social conservatives are capable of taking (short of, I suppose, ending the national prohibition on stoning in the public square); in that formulation, even states that recognize gays as human beings would be prevented from implementing their own structures of legal marriage. When asked, about the issue, Domenici often said things like this:

“I am a strong believer in the benefits of traditional marriage. While I understand that individuals are involved in various types of relationships, I believe we must give special recognition to marriage for one man and one woman, as it was defined in the Defense of Marriage Act a decade ago…”

Subsequently, it was revealed that Domenici’s strong belief in the benefits of traditional marriage was not as precisely explained as it might have been. Here is a primer on what else Domenici might have included in his definition. I guess he ran out of time before clarifying, “When I say I am a strong believer in the benefits of traditional marriage between a man and a woman, what I mean is a marriage in which the man is sleeps with his co-worker’s daughter and fathers a secret child that he only bothers to fess up to thirty years later.”

The Tu Quoque Fallacy prevents us from mentioning this during an argument, not because it is not relevant, but because tradition demands it of us. We are then forced to take Domenici’s value-of-marriage claims at face value despite contradictory evidence that suggests something else might be fueling the New Mexican’s opposition. That something else might be a lot of things; one obvious possibility is an outright animus toward gays but because we are forbidden to discuss the individual making the argument, our hands are tied. Thus, a man concealing his hatred is allowed to continue concealing it, to his and his argument’s benefit, in the name of…something. Comity? Decency? Reason?

Perhaps, but if the achieving those things requires excluding evidence that may be of importance? I am not sure that what is gained is actually worth it.

Tradition For Tradition’s Sake
The idea behind the Tu Quoque Fallacy is one in which we do not cast aspersions against our argumentative opponents, and that in fact, to do so is dirty pool. I get why we would not want to bog the conversation down by thoroughly accounting the entirety of our unrelated beliefs that might happen to be hypocritical. Arguments would be worthless if any unrelated hypocrisy could be considered damning enough to end the conversation. But when the hypocrisy is evidence of at least the possibility of a dishonest opponent, to exclude its consideration from an intellectual back-and-forth is to do a disservice to the exchange. This is not theater after all, at least as far as I understand it. It is not about putting on a show. It is about a back-and-forth that seeks to move us closer toward something that might vaguely appear to be truthful.

Before I finish, I want to make one other point: when I have made this argument before, I have been asked if this means I am more willing to take somebody’s point seriously if they themselves do not possess the same sort of hypocrisies that Pete Domenici does. The answer, in short, is yes. This does not then mean that I am simply looking for the person who has lead the least hypocritical life; but I struggle to believe an individual is being honest with me about the badness of something if I know that individual has engaged in it. My working assumption, although this might be wrong, is that most people tend to feel similarly.

Perhaps that last part is not true. I acknowledged above my own bias toward actions rather than words; somebody who prefers the opposite presumably believes deeply in the mistake of the Tu Quoque Fallacy. I can certainly understand why. It allows an arguer to have their cake and eat it too. Or in Domenici’s case, it allows him to have his co-worker’s daughter while still married to his own wife and still demonize gays as the ones who are a threat to marriage.

In ending, I want to again acknowledge that Kuznicki, who generously allowed me to quote him, was right to describe me as engaging in the Tu Quoque Fallacy, and he was right to recommend the approach that he did. The problem though is that I do not think I was wrong to have done it.

*Nailed It
**I really wish I thought to combine Pete Domenici and the Tu Cock Phallusy in some way more effective than this, mostly because I’m still 14 apparently.
***Yeah, that’s the ticket!

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134 thoughts on “Copping To The Tu Quoque

  1. Two quick comments: Please feel free to tear this to shreds. I don’t usually write about these sorts of things, mostly because of that intellectual deep end stuff I talked about toward the beginning. I recognize that there are good reasons out there to disagree with me. I just don’t find those reasons terribly convincing.

    Also, I’m running a marathon this weekend (my first!) so if people do reply specifically to me, I might not get back to them immediately. Tell them I’m sorry and that I regret the decisions that I made which ended at me running a marathon.

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  2. Well, there’s a difference between matters of substance and matters of faith.

    A matter of substance… the Tu Quoque Fallacy is dangerous because the substance is usually separable from the messenger. If Domenici is talking about particular outcomes of particular policy proposals that are measurable empirically, it’s best to engage that part of his argument on that basis.

    To the extent that he’s confusing matters of taste and matters of morality, as Jaybird likes to put it, the reliability of the messenger matters.

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  3. Grea post Sam,

    I agree with a lot of this.

    Put simply, there are rare occasions when you should judge a book by its cover. (For example, if it has Fabio on the cover.)

    The issue isn’t just with tu quoque arguments, it’s with all ad hominem arguments (guilt by association, abusive ad hominem, tu quoque, circumstantial ad hominem, etc.). Ultimately, a tu quoque argument is a species of ad hominem where you attack the person for being a hypocrite (whereas other ad hominems attack the person for being stupid, immoral, etc.).

    But on rare occasions things that look an awful lot like ad hominems are valid.

    This is a cool blurb:

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=character-attack

    I also think of Nietzsche as arguing ad hominem in valid ways, on occasion.

    Ad hominem arguments about moral issues are sometimes confusing. If someone claims that their moral intuitions are dispositive in an argument, it might be valid to say that they are a bad, viscious, or hypocritical person because you could be showing their intuitions are often wrong.

    I think your original post may have contained a fallacy of ad hominem though.

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  4. I share your feelings. I don’t think the Tu Quoque fallacy is inherently wrong or never useful. The fact that the Senator cheated on his wife doesn’t mean that gay marriage is right because he thinks it’s wrong and he’s a philanderer. It might well still be the case that gay marriage is wrong. But it is fair for us to consider the messenger and whether theirs is a position that can we trust. As I see it, hypocrites do not strengthen their opponents’ position so much as they weaken their own position. And it is fair to consider it when appropriate.

    As I understand, Sam’s original position is (or mine would have been, at least), “Why should we trust you on the issue of the integrity of marriage when you’ve demonstrated to have very little regard or understanding of it?”; it was not, “You’re wrong and I’m right because you’re a poopy head cheater.” Framing it this way allows the individual being critiqued (in this case, the Senator) to respond in a way that makes the objections moot, but puts the burden on him to show why he ought to be considered a credible source.

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  5. You can always go to a tu quoque and, within it, make true statements.

    But when you do, you’ve changed the subject. You’ve moved from debating “Gay marriage should be allowed” (yes!) to “Pete Domenici is a person of good moral character” (No!).

    Now, while I take your side in both of those, I don’t think that they are connected. Pete Domenici could have been a devoted and loyal father, and never harm anyone, and I’d still disagree with him about gay marriage. His goodness wouldn’t influence my conclusion, and his badness shouldn’t either.

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    • But as a matter of public concern, it isn’t of just zero interest whether our public officials are people of (particularly) low character – or hypocrites, or etc. Especially if they’re hypocritical on moral questions they make a particularly large part of the public profile that helps them maintain their standing as important people (something it’s not clear to me Domenici did on gay marriage or other social issue, but which I took Sam to think he did). I think that’s the point that Sam’s defenders in the other thread were making – that in itself, moral failings on the part of public officials that reveal hypocrisy on moral questions that the person has made a large part of his public profile, and on which he’s pursued policies that restrict freedom in just the areas where they themselves have granted themselves personal license, is a subject for legitimate public conversation irrespective of the fact that that conversation won’t prove any particular policy or moral stance to be unjustified. And that’s not because you ever looked to Pete Domenici’s authority to help you determine whether you should adopt the views he espoused, but because a number of other people might have. To the extent Pete Domenici’s example as a moral authority ever helped advance acceptance of those views in some quarters (I’m not sold that was ever that great a phenomenon, but if it wasn’t then the result is just that Sam is attacking something that doesn’t exist (much), not that he’s attacking something that exists in an invalid way), it’s legitimate to attack that authority by pointing out personal failures that may undermine it in the eyes of observers. That still leaves the views themselves to be confronted by non-fallacious argument on the merits, but as long as we’re clear about that I don’t see where a foul or fallacy has been committed.

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      • But as a matter of public concern, it isn’t of just zero interest whether our public officials are people of (particularly) low character – or hypocrites, or etc.

        Of course. But when we turn to that issue, we have turned away from the question of same-sex marriage. Both are important, but they are different issues. As you yourself wrote:

        Sam’s rejection of moral disapproval for gay marriage (or embrace of moral disapproval of rape) doesn’t hinge on Pete Domenici’s (or someone else’s) personal morality. Only his esteem for Pete Domenici does.

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        • But if we were always talking about what we thought about Pete Domenici (specifically whether we, or anyone, should allow ourselves to be moved by his position on SSM if we’re not compelled by his arguments about it), then we were never strictly talking about SSM in the first place, so we never moved away from it. I contend that is what was happening all along.

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  6. I would agree that people have the tendency to want to demonize the messenger with opposing views. The problem is not one about lack of information or credibility based on the messenger. Someone being a hypocrit doesn’t change the message. One’s personal failings have no bearing on the fact that the message still exists regardless of a particular messenger. For all the hypocrits, there are true believers who are’nt. Humans are not perfect and we can not legitimize that as a reason for disregarding a message. Focusing on the messenger while it feels right, just isn’t ever helpful or insightful regardless if we have a tendency towards it or not.

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    • For all the hypocrits, there are true believers who are’nt.

      This is worthy of emphasis. So Domenici’s an anti-SSM guy who cheated on his wife–what about all the anti-SSM folks who haven’t cheated on their spouses? How could it be that Domenici’s action is relevant to the legitimacy of the anti-SSM argument, and their actions are not?

      (FWIW, I’m pro-SSM. And there ain’t much I like about Domenici.)

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      • How could it be that Domenici’s action is relevant to the legitimacy of the anti-SSM argument, and their actions are not?

        It’s not, and I don’t believe Sam is saying it is. He’s saying it is (or at least it’s legitimate to suggest to people that they might consider it to be) relevant to the merit of Domenici’s position as a moral authority in public life, to whatever extent that exists, which he thinks may sway some people to hold a view of SSM that they might not if not for Domenici’s moral authority (i.e. not because of the merits of his arguments but because of who he is or was), or hold it more strongly than they otherwise would – influence it in some way or other, in any case.

        Sam, I believe, grasps and does not dispute that the legitimacy of the anti-SSM argument or lack thereof in no way hangs on anyone’s personal morality. Though I shouldn’t speak for Sam, so the above is what I think, nothing more or less.

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        • I don’t believe Sam is saying it is

          I believe Sam is saying it is.

          Or at the very least, he’s saying in this particular post that if he did say that, it would be an ok thing to say.

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            • Well, I invite you demonstrate that.

              Would his own words, from this very post, be sufficient?

              In ending, I want to again acknowledge that Kuznicki, who generously allowed me to quote him, was right to describe me as engaging in the Tu Quoque Fallacy, and he was right to recommend the approach that he did. The problem though is that I do not think I was wrong to have done it.

              Or, “Yes, I engaged in a Tu Quoque, and there’s nothing wrong with it.”

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              • I acknowledge that per the rules of the game, I have engaged in this fallacy. But please don’t dismiss the fact that I believe that the rules of the game are wrong. I do not believe that I owe dishonest people the favor of pretending as though they are being honest.

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                • Mike Schilling made the point elsewhere, but I’ll rephrase:

                  There’s nothing wrong with using someone’s character, as evidenced by their known actions, as a metric for evaluating what they say; there’s too much vying for our attention to sort out message/messenger constantly; so discarding a message because of a faulty messenger is okay as a method of filtering things vying for our attention.

                  When the messenger becomes testimonial for the message, and we decide based on that testimonial, it doesn’t mean the message equals the messenger, but that we’ve opted to filter or decide about he message because of the messenger.

                  I’ve had friends who mostly listen to the genre of music called New Country recommend specific musicians, messages I’ve ignored because I reject their musical taste. On occasion, I’ve later heard some of the recommended musician, and regretted my choice to ignore the messenger because the music is awesome. But more often, my rejection is completely justified, too.

                  It’s not that filtering the message because of the messenger is wrong; it’s a method of preserving sanity. But it’s got nothing to do with the merits/flaws of the message.

                  The other obvious fun thing here is when the messenger is so tainted that the message becomes lost. See Al Gore and Global Climate Change or Michael Moore and War in Iraq for examples.

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                  • I was just considering some alternative views:

                    1) Boston bombers were on the FBI watch list; the messenger was Russian, so the message was discarded;

                    2) Police informants often give false/misleading messages leading to unpleasant results for the folks reported on if the police choose to take action.

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                • please don’t dismiss the fact that I believe that the rules of the game are wrong

                  Oh, believe me, I haven’t. But I honestly believe that’s because you’re still not quite grasping what the actual rule is.

                  The essential point is that an argument’s validity is entirely independently of the qualities of the person making it. So to judge an argument’s by the qualities of person making it is to judge it on factors that are–literally–unrelated to its truth value.

                  So the underlying rule really is, “don’t judge an argument on factors that have zero causal effect on its truth value.” It seems pretty hard to make a good argument that this rule is wrong, and that we should judge arguments on factors that have zero causal effect on their truth value.

                  Or alternatively, you’re arguing that a person’s character really does have a casual effect on an argument’s truth value. But that’s also a pretty hard argument to make.

                  Now, if you want to stand on just exposing Domenici’s hypocrisy, and asking him why, if he’s really serious about the sanctity of marriage, he’s not starting with himself, that’s fair enough (although by its nature it can’t actually serve as an argument for. But that is not actually a Tu Quoque. So if that’s all you’re really saying, then you didn’t actually committee a Tu Quoque.

                  But you’ve still put yourself in the position of defending the Tu Quoque. And given the difficulty of defending either of the two rules (mentioned in my 3rd and 4th paragraphs), I suspect that your defense is based primarily on not having really drilled down to the actual rules underlying the Tu Quoque.

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                    • It’s unnecessary to dig into that.

                      Even if we opt for the position that there is no “truth” in the SSM issue, that the arguments for and against it cannot be meaningfully said to be either valid or invalid, you don’t solve the problem.

                      I can counter your “I think Pete’s anti-SSM preference should be rejected because he infidelitated” with “I think Pete’s position on SSM ought to be accepted, because even though he infidelitated he’s pposed to rape, child molestation, child porn, murder and the torture of puppies for sport, which outweigh his infidelity and show me he’s a guy who’s so overwhelmingly on my side of moral issues that I ought to accept his position on this one.” And standing in heavy support on my side here is the ease with which Pete could say, “I agree my infidelity was wrong, but it happened in a moment of weakness that I regret and I want to never commit that immoral act again, while SSM involves a conscious decision to commit, perpetuate, and celebrate an immoral activity.”

                      Yes, that’s a bullshit argument. But by the standards I’ve put forth, not yours. By your own standards that argument kicks your argument’s ass eight ways to Sunday, because you’ve got only one way in which Pete’s bad–and that one plausibly agreed to and regretted by Pete himself–while I’ve got a bunch of ways in which Pete’s good.

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                    • You’re invoking unrelated moral stances. I specifically have made clear that I believe the acceptable invocation of what is described as a Tu Quoque is when the moral failing is specifically related to the issue at hand.

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                    • Many folks would argue that there are no unrelated moral claims.

                      Anyway, I reject the idea that infidelity is specifically related to SSM. I think you’re still just riffing off the hypocrite issue, about which nobody has actually disagreed with you. But a person’s infidelity has no bearing on the validity of an argument against SSM. We can logically claim that both infidelity and SSM harm the institution of marriage (as I bet Domenici himself would truly believe), or we can logically claim that infidelity does and SSM does not. We can logically choose either of those contradictory positions because the one moral issue is not in fact directly related to the other moral issue. The validity of one is not correlated with the validity of the other.

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              • Would his own words, from this very post, be sufficient?

                […]Or, “Yes, I engaged in a Tu Quoque, and there’s nothing wrong with it.”

                James, you yourself say that Sam isn’t grasping what the fallacy actually is. And the thing Qub insisted Sam said was not whether he engaged in the Tu Quoque fallacy. It was whether what he was arguing (from the beginning) was “that Domenici’s action is relevant to the legitimacy of the anti-SSM argument.”

                As I’ve said, I’m not totally clear what Sam has been arguing. But I don’t really see where he’s argued that. If you want to show me, that’s fine, but I don’t think where “cops” to the tu quoque gets it done, because, as you say, it’s not clear that he grasps what it is.

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  7. How do you draw the line between which of his moral issuese matter and which do not? I’d wager good money Domenici disapproves of rape, murder, child molestation, torturing dogs for sport, and a host of other similar issues. Are you willing to reject moral disapproval of those things because Domenici-the-unfaithful-husband disapproves of them? Because if not, how are you choosing which moral domains to link to his infidelity? If it’s just the ones on which you happen to agree with him, that’s suspiciously convenient.

    And we can’t side-step and say it’s about his actions, because if Domenici in his actions has never raped, murdered, molested a child or tortured dogs for sport, why shouldn’t we take that into account alongside his infidelity?

    Also, the car–whether on the used car lot or in the desert–can be inspected by a mechanic, independently of any knowledge about the maker or seller. We can do the same with ideas.

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    • Sam’s rejection of moral disapproval for gay marriage (or embrace of moral disapproval of rape) doesn’t hinge on Pete Domenici’s (or someone else’s) personal morality. Only his esteem for Pete Domenici does. He isn’t saying, “Because Pete Domenici adulterously fathered a child out of wedlock, that is why we should reject disapproval of gay marriage.” Sam already rejects moral disapproval of gay marriage for his own reasons, and hopes that everyone else does too. Sam is saying, “Because Pete Domenici adulterously fathered a child out of wedlock we should stop listening to him altogether on the topic of marriage (those of us who may still be doing so) and consult our own consciences and a variety of good-faith arguments as to what we should think about marriage, or if we have to rely on the instruction of authority figures like public office holders to tell us what to think about marriage, we should find some that haven’t been revealed to be adulterers and hypocrites on the issue, like Pete Domenici has.”

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      • Of course Sam has his own reasons for rejecting Domenici’s argument. Sam’s the mechanic in my example. That’s why his linking rejection of Domenici’s argument to Domenici’s infidelity is not just wrong, but extra pointless.

        But he is trying to persuade others that Domenici’s infidelity bears on the issue of Domenici’s correctness/incorrectness on SSM. So you can’t just dismiss that by saying that’s now how he made his own decision.

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        • If he is, you’re right that it’s a fallacy. I reread his initial post and have tried to wade trough this one, and it’s still a little unclear to me exactly what he’s saying. But that’s not what I take him to be saying. I don’t see where he’s saying that whether SSM should or shouldn’t be allowed hinges on Pete Domenici’s behavior. I think he is saying that what we should think of Pete Domenici as a moral authority figure should be affected to some degree by his behavior. That’s a valid argument. If Sam is saying what you say he’s saying and not that, then you’re right that it’s fallacious. I’m going to beg off figuring that out now. I believe I have offered something that he validly could be arguing. It’s up to you whether or not you’re going to acknowledge the validity of what I said he could be validly arguing about the significance of Domenici’s behavior in this and the previous comment in response to you and in one or two other comments in this section.

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          • I couldn’t really follow his original post, either, except that he (reasonably) thinks Domenici is a slug. But in this post he’s explicitly defending tu quoque arguments, which means he’s defending the argument about infidelity and SSM that he himself may or may no be making. That is, even if he’s not actually making a tu quoque argument, he has just written a post defending tu quoque arguments.

            I think that last clause is pretty undeniable. Let’s look at Sam’s own words that conclude this particular post.

            In ending, I want to again acknowledge that Kuznicki… was right to describe me as engaging in the Tu Quoque Fallacy…The problem though is that I do not think I was wrong to have done it (emphasis added).

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            • Your claim was that

              he is trying to persuade others that Domenici’s infidelity bears on the issue of Domenici’s correctness/incorrectness on SSM.

              Saying that he didn’t think he was wrong to engage in the tu quoque fallacy in this instance doesn’t establish that what he was arguing is what you say he was arguing. In fact, it doesn’t say anything about what substantive point he may or may not have been arguing. See my response to Kazzy below.

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            • I want to make this clear: Domenci’s relative morality on other issues doesn’t play here, nor am I making that claim. If I knew that Domenici was a tax cheat, I would consider it problematic to say, “Because Pete Domenici is a tax cheat, he has no moral authority to claim that gay marriage harms marriage.” Those are unrelated things.

              But when the individual’s hypocritical action is directly related to the subject at hand, I struggle to understand why that shouldn’t be part of the conversation. If you’d like an even clearer cut example, look at Newt Gingrich: twice divorced, both times as a result of cheating on his then current wife with the woman who would become his next wife, still teeing off on gay marriage. I think one of the most potent responses to his particular brand of bullshit is saying, “Your opposition to gay marriage is predicated on the idea that you value marriage so much. But if that’s true, why is there no evidence of that in your life?”

              I still boggle that the whistle would be blown on what I did in that scenario, and not on the fact that Gingrich was being dishonest in his claims about the sanctity of marriage.

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              • I think the relevant case matter here is that serial philanderers who oppose gay marriage rarely do so on actual policy grounds; they’re doing it on the grounds of political expedience. And while you may not be able to link their marital infidelity to a positive case for marriage equality, you can realize that trying to have a substantive policy debate with them is going to be unproductive.

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  8. I’m no fan of tu quote arguments, but I’m not at all certain that pointing out Domenici’s hypocrisy – or SSM opponents’ frequent hypocrisy – is a true tu quoque. I mean, the anti-SSM argument is that SSM somehow (they never explain exactly how) degrades the institution of marriage. A legitimate counterargument to that is “Bullshit. SSM will actually strengthen the institution of marriage. Besides, the institution of marriage is already so degraded that even if I’m wrong, SSM can’t possibly make things worse. Oh, you want evidence? I don’t see why you need evidence from me when you won’t provide any yourself, but for starters, How about your own horribly degraded marriage, for starters? How about the fact that divorce rates are highest in states where opposition to SSM is strongest?”

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    • It might be one legitimate counterargument, but I think it must be coupled with a demonstration of the ways in which ssm makes the institution of marriage stronger. To point out some advocates’ hypocrisy or the divorce rate invites the retort that not all marriages are degraded, and therefore any “radical” redefinition of marriage might degrade it further. It’s at least a theoretical possibility.

      At any rate, when anti-ssm folk talk about ssm degrading marriage, they probably mean a lot of things. One is the type of social conservative signalling that we’re all too familiar with. And another is probably the reactionary, homophobic disgust about gay people.

      And yet another is probably not about whether legal marriages create incentives for couples to stay together or raise children more effectively. I think there’s a more nuanced critique that presumes opposite sex marriages are normative and need to be supported by the state (and that the state ought to have the special power to promote this “moral” vision of marriage), and that legalizing ssm “degrades” this conception of marriage.

      I don’t agree with that view, both because I don’t see any morally relevant difference between gay and straight relationships and because I wouldn’t empower the state to make that kind of decision for society. But to that argument, the hypocritical infidelity of any ssm opponent–or, hypothetically, of all ssm opponents–is irrelevant.

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        • I guess that’s where we probably don’t see eye to eye. I can imagine a scenario where the argument is facially valid (in the sense of being relevant) and legitimate, but my first impulse is to go in assuming it’s not relevant.

          But, and perhaps you agree, I think it’s kind of a stretch to get there and there’s not much cash-value in pursuing the argument.

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          • Pierre, in most cases, I would agree and even in this case I largely agree. However, there are circumstances in this particular case where it can have a certain amount of real value, though those circumstances are not usually present in most arguments over SSM.

            Specifically, insofar as we’re discussing the constitutionality (as opposed to the practical merits) of prohibitions on SSM, discriminatory animus is a major issue. If the sole justification for it that holds up to inquiry is a lizard-brain discomfort with homosexuality, then a prohibition on SSM is basically unconstitutional per se.

            But of course, no opponent of SSM will ever admit to such animus, or at least no opponent with half a brain, since they know that would be a death knell for their position. So they’ll use other justifications, which do not typically hold up to much scrutiny but which at least may be plausible enough to meet the low bar to survive a rational basis examination even if they can be proven incorrect.* To the extent that low bar is initially met, the only possible way to push such arguments back below the bar is to demonstrate that they’re mere pretexts to justify discriminatory animus. Show that enough prominent SSM opponents don’t act in ways consistent with their arguments yet continue to retain their prominence and you start to have a pretty good claim that arguments against permitting SSM aren’t merely wrong, they’re actually pretexts to legitimize discriminatory animus. While it’s not possible to ever conclude that discriminatory animus lay behind everyone who opposes SSM, it may well be possible to conclude that it lay behind enough opponents of SSM to become a “but-for” cause of SSM prohibitions.

            *I recognize that some prominent cases have found that SSM bans fail to even withstand rational basis scrutiny, but by and large the rational basis test is an ally of SSM opponents.

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            • Thanks, Mark, for your reply. I hadn’t even thought of the legal arguments.

              My only pushback–and this is not really a countermand to your point–is that the tu quoque is relevant only because the rule-setters say it is. If the courts were to focus on, say, only effects and facially invidious discriminations (and not, say, animus), then the tu quoque would be less legally relevant here.

              But again, I hadn’t even thought of that aspect of the issue and I was probably too dense to discern it from the other comments. So thanks for bringing it up.

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  9. This is a good point, Mark. But still the marital infidelity itself does not weaken the anti-SSM argument. So it can’t be used as, “well, you cheated on your wife, so I know your argument is wrong.” It can only be used as, “if you’re worried about the weakening of the institution of marriage, perhaps you should get your own house in order before you worry about others; people who live in glass houses, motes and logs, etc. etc.” It can legitimately be used to demonstrate that Domenici is a hypocrite, but it cannot legitimately be used to demonstrate that Domenici is actually wrong on the issue.

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    • “It can legitimately be used to demonstrate that Domenici is a hypocrite, but it cannot legitimately be used to demonstrate that Domenici is actually wrong on the issue.”

      All true. But it can also be used to question his credibility on the issue.

      Not all references to the messenger are ad hominem. If someone stands up and declares that the sun revolves around the Earth, it is not an ad hominem to point out that the man has never studied astronomy (if that is indeed the case). It doesn’t necessarily make him wrong, but it indicates how seriously we should take his claim.

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      • No, it actually is ad hominem. And if he’s just some guy with no particular authority, then it’s actually a type-A example of the ad hominem fallacy to say that he’s never studied the matter to try to convince people he’s wrong. Maybe he has preternatural abilities to observe astronomical data and draw inferences from them! The proper thing to do there is to take his claims at face value and demonstrate why they are mistaken. It would only be a proper response to point out his lack of studies if his argument for his position reffered to his own authority as a learned scholar of astronomy (in which case he’d be committing the fallacy of argument from authority, sorry don’t know the Latin). As a formal matter, the correct response to that would be to simply point out that he was committing that fallacy, and then demonstrate by substantive argumentation why his claims were wrong. But if you did that and the public seemed unpersuaded by your substantive argumentation and swayed by his claim to learned authority, it would then, it seems to me, be reasonable to point out that in fact the claim to learning that underlies his claim to authority is in fact fraudulent.

        That’s the position Sam is saying he believes he finds himself in if I read him right. He believes that substantive arguments about SSM have been fulsomely laid out for people to decide. but he believes that some number of people are being swayed in their views on SSM by claims to moral authority from self-appointed moral authority figures of greater than common notoriety. Sam is trying to address whatever part of people’s views of SSM that are influenced by Pete Domenici’s status as a moral authority figure by pointing out his moral failing on a closely related issue and trying to establish his hypocrisy, and thus his unfittingness as a person whose moral authority one ought to let influence one’s deliberations about the SSM issue. Essentially, Sam, like you would be doing in your astronomical example if it played out like I extended it, is trying to refocus the discussion back to a debate on the merits – away from an argument from authority, by means of the tu quoque species of ad hominem argument.

        We shouldn’t deny that these are both ad hominem arguments, but neither should we deny that in the real world, sometimes discussions get away from whether something is true, when someone says, “You should trust me because I’m ____.” At that point, if your intended audience is responding to those appeals, it seems to me that you’re justified in saying why they should think twice about trusting him.

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          • Maybe no one, maybe a few people. But one can still contend that a particular politician is particularly unsuitable to look to for guidance (from authority, perhaps with no or little argumentation) on particular issue because of (what on might consider to be) hypocrisy on that issue stemming from personal behavior contrary to the advice he’d give.

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            • You could contend that, but then you would be accused of setting up a straw man. You cannot undermine support against SSM by pointing to an alleged source of support that no one actually utilises.

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              • I don’t think it can be shown that no one does. It seems reasonable to me to think that people are occasionally influenced by public officials to think certain ways without being persuaded by them on the merits. If someone wants to send their time saying, “No one should think X” without knowing whether anyone does (but being willing to use the energy because of a reasonable suspicion that some people do), I don’t really see what’s wrong with that. It may or may not be a strawman, but it doesn’t seem like it’s problematic until you say someone said it who didn’t.

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        • Mike,

          Allow me to clarify. Yes, that is an ad hominem, but it is not necessarily the problem folks make it out to be. If someone paints himself as an expert on astrology and makes proclamations based on that perceived expertise, drawing attention to his lack of expertise (if indeed he lacks it) is valid.

          Here, the argument being made in opposition to SSM is that it denigrates the integrity of marriage. That is a moral argument. If the person making it has demonstrated to be a non-expert on marriage integrity and morality, it is fair to say, “This is not someone we should trust on the matter.” We cannot conclude that he is wrong, but we can dismiss him from the conversation as being unqualified to participate.

          Not everyone’s views are equally valid and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise.

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          • Kazzy,

            I pretty much agree with what you say, especially if the conversation is about venal politicians who claim to speak for “MORALITY.”

            But speaking for myself, one reason I push back so much against Sam’s tu-quoque’ism is not solely because I want to be the “logical fallacy police” (well, maybe it’s a little bit of that!), but because I believe that type of argument 1)is likely to harden people who already disagree with ssm and to encourage them to resist it, 2) is likely to turn off people who are truly on the fence, and 3) is likely only to convince people who already agree anyway.

            Both 1) and 2)–and maybe 3)–might be debatable, and it’s probably a mistake to generalize my own hostility to such argumentation to others’ approach to it. The only evidence I have is anecdotal and too personal to be useful to prove anything (maybe it’s even a “me quoque” argument): when I was anti-gay rights (before ssm was even really discussed), many of the so-called campus activists who loved to point out others’ hypocrisy and who responded with “when did you choose to be straight!” when my qualms about sexual identity and gay rights had almost nothing to do with whether it was a choice–those tactics only encouraged me to stand tight in my opposition even to consider gay rights. (I’ll admit that they did compel me to construct justifications to myself for my own position, and in the ensuing years the hollowness of those justifications were made evident and proved one of the reasons I changed my mind. So their effect was not entirely bad.)

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            • PC,

              There is a part of me that worries about “logical fallacy police”. Is appealing to logical fallacies itself a logical fallacy? I often see people, obviously well versed in logical fallacies, dismiss people whole cloth when they engage in them. It can get a bit mind boggling.

              I think there is room for reasoned disagreement with Sam’s stance with regards to its effectiveness. But that is a different conversation.

              If Domenici wants us to enact laws based on his moral vision, a full accounting of his moral vision seems fair. Really fair. Necessary, even.

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              • I confess that I’m often guilty of playing the logical fallacy police card. And I try not to, although I often succumb to temptation anyway. I also believe–more than I let on this comment thread–that (pace James Hanley) postmodernism’s emphasis on the situatedness of the individual calls into question, for me, some of the neat distinctions between ad hominems and putatively tight and “logical” arguments.

                Still, I’m not sure how much I agree with your last sentence. I think it has something to do with the fact that I’ve done a lot of things that go against my own moral code and that I’m ashamed of, and yet I think my moral code is–in a “by-and-large, open-to-suggestions” sort of way–a good one. (That doesn’t, by itself mean I have the prerogative to impose it on others, of course.)

                But it also has something to do with the fact that I think the tu quoque’ism just is in some ways untruthful or dishonest, as a sort of misdirection.

                Perhaps that leads me back to being part of the logic police, which can be bad, too.

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                  • Or between his actual moral code and his conscious understanding of it – I had the same thought.

                    I don’t think it’s necessarily the case that he can’t have honestly violated his moral code as it actually exists. But I think it’s a possibility that his (our) conscious understanding of his (our) moral code isn’t a true representation of what his (our) moral intuitions actual tell him (us) is and isn’t moral.

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                  • …And, yes, that may be part of the human condition. But that doesn’t render the fact insignificant for this discussion. On the contrary, it may render it more significant.

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                  • I don’t mind you saying that at all. But I’ll add that my own venality and propensity (sometimes!….I’m not perfect but I’m not the worst of the worst) to violate that code do not by themselves negate that code. When I do wrong, I do wrong whether there’s a disconnect or not.

                    Now, I’m not going to go into details, so it’s kind of unfair to you because you don’t have much to go on. I will give you this much, though: it is possible that if I fail to live up to my moral code, then that can be a good reason for me to question that code. In part, that’s how I turned from homophobia to (what I hope is) greater acceptance and welcoming of gay people into my life: my homophobia was a contradiction to other notions of right and wrong I had, and the homophobia had to give way.

                    So on a personal level, you have a point.

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                    • I find that most people who seem to be acting hypocritically with regards to their moral code are actually demonstrating inconsistencies within the code rather than inconsistencies between believes and behavior.

                      I think it is far more rare that someone says, “I believe this is wrong but I’m going to do it anyway.” It is more likely that they think, “I know this might seem wrong, but here is why it isn’t.” And that might be a bunch of rationalizing BS, but having that conversation allows us to unearth that.

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                    • Kazzy,

                      I don’t think this is often how it works. I think people present positions to us that they either think we want them to have or that we actually want them to have. The alcoholic might tell us, “I want to get sober…” because they want us to think that of them, but if they continue to drink, have they been honest with us? Or have they told us what we wanted to hear?

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                    • I think it depends. And alcoholism is tricky because there is a difference between “can’t” and “won’t”, or at least the perceptions therein.

                      My friends who pirate… they, to a man, all argue that there is no moral issue with piracy. How convenient, no?

                      And the suicide bomber… do you think it more likely that he says, “I know killing all these people is wrong and I shouldn’t do it but, what the hell, I’ll do it anyway?” or that he says, “This is the right thing to do,” or something resembling, “These deaths are wrong but they are in service of a higher and greater purpose.”

                      I just don’t think most people say, “I know this is wrong but I’m going to do it anyway.”

                      And I’m not just referring to what people say. People lie and bullshit. I’m talking about what they actually believe, which only they can know.

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                    • Given my own familiarity with sobriety, I want to disagree. I might have told people, “I really should cut back…” but the reality was that I had no interest in doing so. I was just telling people what they wanted to hear. That, of course, is potentially the insidiousness of addiction: it changes our rationality. (Which isn’t the same thing as making us irrational. Another conversation for another day.) It makes sense to tell people what they want to hear; it briefly makes the situation go away.

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                    • Sam,

                      I’d say it’s possible both are at least partially true. I know someone who has problems with drugs–not just weed, but heavier stuff–and this person knows she has a problem and knows that only something drastic like rehab is going to help (if anything will help) her shed the problem. Yet knowing this, she continues to do it. I don’t know her well enough to know her rationalizations, etc., but I strongly suspect that she is at once lying to herself and being honest with herself. She has a physical dependency and she knows what decisions will (or at least might be most likely to) counteract it and what decisions will likely exacerbate it, and so far, she’s not made the decisions most likely to help.

                      That’s an overly dramatic example–informed as much by a sense of powerlessness and physical addiction as it is by self-honesty or self-morality–but I do think we, or at least I, act in a very similar way when it comes to making decisions that challenge our morality. (And let’s face it, if it were easy to be moral, we wouldn’t have to be moral, we’d just do what comes naturally. I realize that for some people, that’s the basis of morality, and if it works for them and doesn’t hurt others, then the more power to them.)

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                    • Kazzy,

                      I just don’t think most people say, “I know this is wrong but I’m going to do it anyway.”

                      I think you’re right, especially in that most people, usually, probably aren’t not so bluntly honest (to themselves or others). But I strongly suspect that when people do wrong (by whatever standard) they usually “know” it on some level, and the refusal to say it is more of a refusal to acknowledge it or a willingness to lie to oneself (or others). And I believe that those self-lies are part of the rationalizations you’re talking about.

                      Obviously, we’re getting into territory of what lies in one’s hearts, and although I have some insight into my own heart, I have almost none into yours or anyone else’s. So their (and your) mileage may very.

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                    • PC,

                      First, I want to make clear that I ache for your friend. She is in a terrible place. But I caution you against believing that she fully understands the extent of her problem. Although I have never been to an AA meeting, the concept of rock-bottom makes sense to me. Mine though wasn’t a horrible drunken evening – it was a complete stranger who’d just met me asking me if I was an alcoholic. I had been asked a thousand times before if I was going to stop drinking or at least slow down, and a thousand times before the ramifications of what was being asked of me hadn’t penetrated. It was that question, on that day, that changed my thinking about my behavior to the point that change became possible.

                      But this is different for all people. There is no silver bullet for sobriety (sadly). So while your friend acknowledges that her use is a problem, my instinct again tells me that her continued use indicates that the problem in her eyes isn’t as big as the problem in your own. You hear her saying, “This is a problem…” but then she uses again. It is only when “This is a problem…” makes MORE sense than using again does her rationality change and the reality of rehab becomes more realistic. Again, it is this which makes addiction so insidious.

                      I’m sorry to cite myself as an example – and perhaps somebody could say, “Ah ha! You have a drinking problem yet you’re speaking to other’s drinking problems!” However, I know my own example best.

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                    • PC,

                      I think you might be talking about regret, which I don’t doubt. I’m thinking more about premeditated wrong, which I think is rare, even if only because people have rationalized that A is wrong but they’re really doing B because of Reason Y, even if most folks see A and B as identical. It might be self-deluding, which ought to be addressed, but it’s different than hypocrisy. I think.

                      Sam,

                      Congrats on your sobriety.

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                    • Kazzy,

                      I don’t think I’m talking about regret, or at least that’s not only what I’m talking about. I really do believe that we as moral agents choose to do wrong when we do wrong, and part of that choosing often involves the self-lies that rationalization can be, although sometimes rationalizing may be something closer to a means-end calculation.

                      To the extent I’m talking about regret at all here, I think it has to do with the realization that we chose to act wrongly. There are of course cases when we do wrong based on a mistake and “regret” that choice, such as when I accidentally step on someone’s foot. And there may be, perhaps, “regret” that something necessary had to be done, even if it justifiably intrudes on a certain aspect of a moral code. The latter might include, for instance, the decision to tell a white lie.

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                • Pierre,

                  If you re-read that last sentence, I’m not saying that errors or inconsistencies in one’s moral vision and/or life invalidate their opinion. Only that they are a necessary part of a larger assessment.

                  If I say, “Same sex marriage damages marriage,” I think it is fair to press me on what my view of marriage is. If it turns out that I have this belief because I think the only proper marriage is between male ponies and female monkeys… well… that sorta matters, right? That is part of evaluating the entirety of my moral vision with regards to marriage.

                  And I do think there is room to say, “This is my moral vision. It is an ideal. One I have not yet met but which I strive for.” If the guy in question here did that, my response would be different.

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                  • Thanks for clarifying, Kazzy. You’re right that you did not insist that hypocrisy invalidates the truth/value claim. If we’re talking about assessment, I think perhaps there’s room for you and me, and perhaps Sam and me, to see things similarly. I still think Sam’s arguments extend to the actual truth/value claim itself and to a large degree than simple assessment. But I’ll admit for the possibility that I could be reading too much into what he wrote.

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                    • I agree. Assholes can be right. As such, being an asshole, or a hypocrite, or a cretin, doesn’t make you wrong. I’m more likely to say, “I’m not interested in your argument because you don’t demonstrate yourself to be someone I ought to take seriously on the matter,” than I am to say, “You’re a hypocrite so you must be wrong.”

                      And I *think* Sam is saying the same, but I’ll let him flesh that out.

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                    • It isn’t that “You’re a hypocrite so your position must be wrong.” It is, “Because you’re a hypocrite, I’m suspicious of your own claims about your position.” Note that those opposed to gay marriage only rarely say things like, “This is about gay people and how much they skeeve me out.” Why? Because that message won’t play. The opposition to gay marriage is couched in the idea of not damaging marriage; that’s a softer message. But the hypocrisy in some cases seems to hint that we’re getting the more marketable message because it is appealing, not because it is truthful.

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                    • Sam,

                      Thanks for clarifying your point, and I think I agree that one can discern another’s true rejection in part by looking at their actions. So, perhaps we’ve finally arrived at a point about the validity of tu quoques that we both agree on? Maybe.

                      I gotta say thank you for the good discussion. I’ll have to bow out now. I gotta go to the post office and mail about a million wedding invitations.

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                    • Thanks, Kazzy.

                      By the way, I just got back from the post office. It turns out there’s a special 66 cent stamp for wedding invitations, presumably based on the theory that the typical wedding invitation weighs just enough to fall into that range. I had not known that. (Unfortunately, I had already placed one “forever” stamp on each invitation, so I had to by some 20 centers.)

                      But again, thanks for the congratulations.

                      I wonder if I could ask my fiancee to make the wedding into a podcast so everyone here could “be there” virtually. For some reason, I’m thinking she might not go for it :)

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        • Michael Drew May 3, 2013 at 9:14 am

          “No, it actually is ad hominem. And if he’s just some guy with no particular authority, then it’s actually a type-A example of the ad hominem fallacy to say that he’s never studied the matter to try to convince people he’s wrong. Maybe he has preternatural abilities to observe astronomical data and draw inferences from them! ”

          Maybe every deranged-sounding person wandering the streets knows mystic wisdom, but that’s not the way to bet.

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      • it can also be used to question his credibility on the issue.

        Likewise, it can be used to question his credibility in opposing child pornography.

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    • The motives to exclude gays from marriage – in this particular case – are not worth discussing? My general view is that those opposed to gay marriage aren’t defending the institution of marriage; they’re interested in punishing gays. Why are we duty bound to trust somebody’s stated motives when their behavioral motives suggest other possible explanations?

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  10. The reason why buying an argument is different from buying a car is that the argument is the same whether or not the person giving it personally believes it or adheres to it. Even if we could show that Domenici doesn’t give a fig about the sanctity of marriage, if you cared about or thought the state should care about the sanctity of marriage (and the empirics of the argument obtained) you are rationally required to adopt the conclusion. (Or at least suppouse that it is a weighty consideration against if not decisive).

    With the car, we have a story to tell about why a car sold by one person can be faulty. He is dishonest or incompetent or something. An honest person would not sell that car. But an honest non hypocritical person may very well try to sell you that argument. But, if you are to base your beliefs on epistemic reasons and not other kinds, then you must have a story to tell about how the factor you count as a reason actually makes the content of the belief more likely to be true.

    This is why there is a wrong kinds of reasons objection to certain belief formation methods. For example, if a monster threatened to destroy the world unless you believed that grass was purple (by taking a pill) you may have reasons to believe that grass was purple but it would be the wrong kind of reasons. The reasons you have would not be epistemic reasons.

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    • Murali,

      I agree. A better example of a tu quoque with car dealers might be this:

      Person One: That car has four wheels.
      Person Two: But you are a scumbag who is known to sell lemons.
      Person One: You must not consider me; think only of the vehicle itself.

      Here, the fallacy is quite clear. Whether the car has four wheels or not is pretty easily verifiable and is irrelevant to the question of whether Person One is a scumbag. Now, if the question is whether we have to take Person One’s word that the wheels won’t fall off as soon as Person Two hands him a cashiers check, then we’re back to the point of how much we trust Person One.

      Of course, my revision is somewhat question begging. I personally believe the issue gets a little murkier when we talk about politicians preaching morality, even though I’m still on the “it’s better to avoid tu quoques because they’re irrelevant to the argument at hand” side of the fence.

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    • If a person who has remained loyal to a spouse for an entire lifetime wishes to talk to me about the sanctity of marriage, I am willing to discuss the topic on the merits of their defense of its importance. In moralizers like Domenici’s case (and even if he wasn’t a national figure, he was a major figure in New Mexico; there are plenty of hypocrites we can choose from of course, but I chose Domenici on that day because his story was so shocking) though, I’m not interested in what they consider to be the sanctity of marriage if there is no evidence that they actually BELIEVE what they’re telling me.

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      • Sam,

        What if Domenici took the position that homosexuality damaged the integrity of marriage but his actions did not? How would you respond?

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        • That is inherently the argument made by Limbaugh, Gingrich, and others, one that involves asking us to believe that their own behavior remain beyond the state’s sanction while demanding policy that reflects their own moral intolerance of gays. In Domenici’s specific case though, I would love to hear an explanation of how cheating on his wife does not damage to marriage but gay marriage does.

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          • Okay, what if they ‘fessed up and said, “cheating on my wife damages marriage, and gay marriage does, too. Let’s institute no-fault divorce, with ‘fault’ including adultery, to punish people like us, and let’s outlaw gay marriage”?

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            • Then the conversation would spin out differently, wouldn’t it? If somebody said, “I am opposed to things that damage marriage, including gays getting married and infidelity, and while I am not guilty of the former, I am of the latter. So I propose that gays not be allowed to get married, and those who engage in adultery have their right to marriage stripped from them by the state.” At least we’d have some sort of acknowledgement that they were taking a broad view of behavior which can damage marriage. I might still disagree with them, but that would blunt the charge of hypocrisy.

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              • Well, at least I can’t accuse you of being hypocritical on this score :)

                But to me, that’s part of the problem in charging hypocrisy in the first place. The truth claim or value claim gets hung up on other people’s actions and not on the truth or value.

                But again, at least you’re being consistent.

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                • We haven’t even touched on this in the back and forth, but I am genuinely shocked by how many people appear to value words over actions when it comes to understanding positions. I am clearly an outlier, at least here, in this regard.

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                  • I don’t think it’s so much a question of valuing words over actions as it is a question of how to value words and how to value actions, what relevance each has.

                    I leave open the possibility that Mr. Domenici’s actions have created much more harm–to his family, to his constituents who care about such things, to his cause(s) and maybe even to the reputation of marriage itself–than his words about ssm have done. But I see his actions as largely irrelevant, though I’d perhaps allow a certain degree of limited relevance along the lines that Mark Thompson posits.

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                    • I don’t think it’s so much a question of valuing words over actions as it is a question of how to value words and how to value actions, what relevance each has.

                      This. To say that some of us are valuing words over actions is to badly misunderstand the argument we’re making.

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                    • If I am duty bound to ignore a man’s actions in favor of his stated claims – if, in fact, the “rules” prevent me from mentioning the man’s behaviors, even if those behaviors are in opposition to his stated claims – how am I not supposed to arrive at the conclusion that words matter more than actions?

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                    • Sam, if you want to judge the individual, then actions matter more than words. If you want to judge the argument, then the words at least come first. Their implications for action can be assessed empirically, of course, but that’s not what you’re claiming to do here. You’re essentially judging the person, and then applying that judgment to the arguments the person uses. Do you not see the difference?

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                    • I don’t agree with you when it comes to judging the argument. If the person making the argument presents evidence that runs counter to what is being claimed, I believe that ought to be admissible. In fact, I don’t see how (or why) they should be disconnected.

                      And yes, I am judging the person, but only in the scenario in which their own lives offer us evidence that runs counter to the argument that they’re asking us to accept.

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                  • I think you’re misunderstanding the dynamic here. There is a very real sense in which, even when we’re considering arguments (and not just practical ones, but all the more with practical ones), their implications for life as demonstrated by the behavior of those who convey the arguments are relevant. If I argue that X will always lead to Y, and so I adopt Z, and I myself always end up at Y, then at least to the extent that avoiding Y is the reason why people tend to pick Z over X, my argument against X in favor of Z is called into question. If everyone who argues against X because Y, and chooses Z instead also ends up at Y, then the argument against X is pretty much out the window, right?

                    Since we raised the spectre of Schopenhauer elsewhere in the thread, someone writing of Schopenhauer once said, “I profit from a philosopher only insofar as he can be an example… But this example must be supplied by his outward life and not merely in his books—in the way, that is, in which the philosophers of Greece taught, through their bearing, what they wore and ate, and their morals, rather than by what they said, let alone by what they wrote.” And again, there’s something to be said for this: if one has a philosophy, one should be able to live it, and if one loves it enough to hold it, one should love it enough to live it.

                    But none of this reflects the argument that you have made, which is that because certain individuals singled out by you, because they are powerful or visible, have failed to live the sort of moral life they are using to condemn the choices of others can’t be used to judge the arguments they used to condemn the choices of others unless a.) it was the arguments themselves (or the philosophy underlying it) that led them to fail to uphold the very values they claimed to be promoting, and b.) their behavior is representative of the people who share those values and arguments. You’ve shown neither of these things.

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                    • Basically I’m just saying that behavior is important, but only when you’ve shown that it’s important by showing that it is either the inevitable consequence of a position (or the philosophy behind it) or that it is representative of those who hold the position.

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                    • If the people who share those values and those arguments – that marriage is an institution that must be defended – refuse to engage in any sort of defense of marriage from actions such as Domenici’s, I don’t believe it is unreasonable to point that out. Is it?

                      “One of your own leaders is guilty of engaging in behavior that surely must be considered a threat to the institution, and yet you propose no policy to either prevent such occurrences or remedy them after the fact, yet you continue to claim that gays are a threat.”

                      As for Shopenhauer? Above my paygrade. Way above my paygrade. I’m lucky that I even spelled the man’s name right.

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                    • If the people who share those values and those arguments – that marriage is an institution that must be defended – refuse to engage in any sort of defense of marriage from actions such as Domenici’s, I don’t believe it is unreasonable to point that out. Is it?

                      No, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to point that out, as it would certainly show that their motives are less likely to be about marriage itself. Have you shown that the people who hold this argument “refuse to engage in any sort of defense of marriage from actions such ad Domenici’s?” If you have, I missed it. Knowing as many evangelical Christians as I do, I think you would have a hard time showing this, because it’s not the case.

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                    • Has the Evangelical Movement been advocating for policies that punish straights? I don’t believe that they have been, at least not to the degree that they’ve opposed gay marriage. We haven’t seen movements to criminalize adultery, to ban multiple marriages, to pull marriage rights. The only aggressively advocated for policy involves the exclusion of gays. Why?

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                    • Sam, I don’t think you’re being dishonest here, but I think you’re being deeply unfair. For one, you won’t have a hard time finding evangelicals who opposed the striking of adultery laws from the books, or who are in favor of making divorce either. The difference between adultery and divorce on the one hand and gay marriage on the other is that, legally, the changes to the laws concerning the former have already taken place, and the societal movement towards them (which, if you haven’t noticed, evangelicals and conservative Christians generally bemoan pretty much constantly, and definitely consistently) is pretty much out of their control, while the changes to the legal and societal treatment of gay people is still an ongoing struggle. So their attention to the legal issues of the latter clearly has more to do with stopping legal change rather than an active attempt to change the law against gay rights.

                      Also, I’m really beginning to wonder if you have any real exposure to conservative Christians, Protestant or Catholic, at all. If you did, you would have observed the way they talk about and treat adultery. It’s common (they recognize that we’re all sinners, so sinning is inevitable), but prominent Christians who do it are often at least temporarily shamed within the community. Look at the way American Christians handle adultery by contemporary Christian musicians, for example.

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                    • Chris,

                      Again, I respectfully disagree with you. I believe that the Evangelical Movement recognizes that it has to pick and choose its battles if it wants to maintain whats left of its apparently dwindling clout. You don’t win battles by going after divorce, by going after adultery, by going after the straight freedom to marry.

                      As for shunning privately as a possible solution: that’s not a tit-for-tat. That’s not an example of the Evangelical Movement being fair; that’s an example of the Evangelical Movement treating its own people far better than its willing to treat anybody else. Because they’re not proposing legalistic punishment for their own, they’re proposing social punishment. All due respect, but who gives a shit about that when their proposals for handling gay marriage are so draconian?

                      I wouldn’t object at all if these groups decided that shunning and shaming was a perfectly reasonable way to treat gay people. But that’s not what they decide. They decide that the law must continue to punish gay people for sins against marriage in a way very different than the law treats straights for sins against marriage. That’s the hypocrisy, and hardly worthy of any sort of respect.

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      • One logical extreme to which the sentiment behind your comment can be put is to say that before I listen to anything you have to say on a wide array of topics, I have the right to investigate your own morality and the way you live your own life before determining whether I listen to what you say. For example, when you accuse Mr. Domenici of being unfaithful, and therefore a hypocrite, and therefore a bad person (leaving aside the issue of ssm), in order for me to believe your argument, I’d have to inquire into your own fidelity, and your own hypocrisies, and your own goodness, to see if they balance out enough for me to believe your accusations against Mr. Domenici.

        “But,” you might say, “the reductio does not apply. Mr. Domenici’s infidelity is a matter of record. He admitted it [or it was reported….I forget which] while ssm is a matter of policy.” Still, I believe my reductio holds: the best arguments for ssm revolve around fairness to same sex couples and opposition to empowering the state to impose invidious distinctions. If the issue is only symbolism or a notion about “degradation of marriage,” then I would still support ssm, but would probably despair of convincing others.

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  11. Sam,

    In a weird way, I think you’re inadvertently playing the game that Mr. Domenici and his allies want you to play. Regardless of whether tu quoques are necessarily irrelevant or only incidentally irrelevant or wholly relevant, by using them, you’re signalling, perhaps unintentionally, that ssm is primarily about personal morality. The anti-ssm stance gets a lot of its traction by appealing to personal morality, and by making it about personal morality, you’re providing cover for opponents to hide behind that as a justification.

    I don’t go as far as some here who would like to distinguish neatly between notions of good policy and equal protection from “morality.”* But making the argument so much about the speaker–even if you can demonstrate that it’s somehow relevant to the question at hand–gives a lot of power to the very image of “morality” you are contesting.

    I’ll admit that my argument in this comment is irrelevant to your point about tu quoques. I obviously disagree with that point, but my point here in this comment was to question the wisdom of making the initial argument, whether you’re right or not that it was or could be relevant.

    *I think the notion some libertarians here advance that “morality” is not a good basis for policy sometimes does not account for the possibility that they base their critique of government action on a notion of right and wrong that is reducible to something I’d call “morality.”

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    • Pierre,

      Again, I’ll politely disagree: I don’t believe that allowing for gay marriage is a moral issue. It is about forging tolerant policy that does not propose to pick winners from losers. Those opposed to gay marriage’s legality are arguing for intolerant policy which does pick winners from losers.

      Meanwhile, I know you said elsewhere that you think that my approach would serve only to calcify opinions. That assumes the bluntest possible application of the argument, one in which Domenici (or whomever) makes his point and then I say, “Yeah, but you cheated on your wife, you douchebag.”

      But if I think people might agree if I asked them if adultery can harm a marriage. And I think that people might agree if I asked them if fathering children outside of your own marriage can harm a marriage. And I think that those people might then be inclined to be dubious about Domenici’s claims of gay marriage’s harm if they knew that he had engaged in both behaviors which they themselves had just acknowledged were harmful. I might be wrong on that strategically, but I do not think that it is a weak argument.

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      • That’s a pretty succinct explanation of where you stand. And you have demonstrated a willingness to acknowledge where I stand–and I think you do so more or less accurately. I guess we’re just at a point where we disagree on this issue as well as on the issue of effectiveness. On the latter issue, it’s quite possible I’ll be proven wrong, or at least partially wrong.

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  12. Domenici failed the standards he hold for himself, on that, we both agree. I have no problem with him holding high standards; and I really don’t have much problem with him failing those standards, either.

    Where the problem arises is how he chooses to enforce his standards: not on himself, not by rectifying his own behavior, but on others and an attempt to rectify their behavior. Since he cannot live up to his standards of marriage, he then turns around and creates these standards for others to live up to. Classic ‘Do what I say, not what I do” garbage. He’s trying to fix himself by fixing others.

    This is actually a pretty common thing, in my experience. Recognize your own failure/problem, and force what you perceive to be the solution on others rather then on yourself. Because doing it yourself is difficult and self-denying.

    Perhaps there’s a name for this, I don’t know.

    As to the message on SSM: I have many friends/family in same-sex relationships. Several women, all in the ’70’s, were all previously married to men, have children and grand children. And each and every one admits that they were unfair to the former husbands; they were unable to commit to them as life-partners in a way that honored their own ideals of what marriage means. If they’d been able to have relationships/marriage with women, instead, that would not have been a problem.

    Denying SSM actively harms the sanctity of marriage, and the more shameful homosexuality is perceived to be, the more harm is done. The shame of homosexuality led many homosexuals into marriages; and this damages the sanctity of marriage because it leave the straight spouse in a marriage that can never live up to their hopes and dreams, the gay spouse living a lie, and both unable to achieve the potential of a loving, life-long marriage. It often leaves the straight partner wondering, “What’s wrong with me?” And there’s one simple answer: nothing. You would not be so dishonored if your partner had been free to choose a mate more appropriate to him/her.

    Like cheating, marrying someone you can not be fully commit too because they’re the wrong gender, destroys the sanctity of marriage.

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  13. Have you all heard of “flippism”? It’s the basic idea that if you don’t know which of two choices are before you, you should flip a coin. Not because you should do what the coin says, mind, but because the moment the coin is in the air, you’re a lot more likely to say “OH I HOPE IT’S HEADS” at which point you’ll know which choice you actually prefer in your gut.

    Then you just have to figure out how much weight to give your gut.

    I bring that up because hypocrisy can work that way for people who are on the fence. Let’s say that you’re torn on a particular policy. There’s this way, there’s that way… you don’t know which is the best one… then you encounter a hypocritical politician. Are you inclined to snort and reach conclusions about all those people? Are you inclined to get defensive and start defending the guy even before you read a single attack? Well, now you know what your gut thinks.

    (Note: this trick doesn’t work for people who know themselves fairly well.)

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    • Jaybird,

      I do wonder about this dynamic for myself. My professed values tend to be civil libertarian, etc., etc., but I’m more quick to rise to the (reluctant and qualified) defense of right wingers like Domenici than I am to the defense of, say, John Edwards.

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      • Yeah, my professed values tend to be in response to my gut checks. Heck, my professed values are usually in direct opposition to my gut checks. The id of my desires need to be whipped, subdued, and caged by my better nature.

        That doesn’t prevent me from saying “oh, I hope they’re not protesting Tax Day” when there’s a bombing. To pick an example at random.

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  14. Why are we listening to someone who doesn’t think that Beethoven’s Ninth is better than A Horse With No Name?

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