Friday, May 26, 2006

(Ad) Hominems, Hypocrisy and Harding

Cirdan comments that this post is simply an ad hominem tu quoque. Whilst I am fully aware that I am no match whatsoever for him as regards analytical philosophy, I suspect that this is not the whole truth. I offer the following post to allow my thinking to be tested (most likely to destruction...).

The original post quoted Mr Eugenides as follows:
Being told by China and Algeria that your human rights record is poor is rather like Charlie Kennedy admonishing you for ordering another beer.
I assume that Cirdan highlights the tu quoque fallacy because, well, one can easily see the circumstances in which it would indeed be tu quoque : if a nation is up in front of the UNHRC for breaches of Human Rights, it would indeed be "tu quoque" for that nation to ignore the charge by making such a statement.

However, I don't think that that is enough. I offer two defences.

Defence 1: What about Hypocrisy?
The question that immediately springs to mind is this:
Where does a legitimate accusation of hypocrisy stop and a tu quoque fallacy start?
Good old Wikipedia:
Hypocrisy also refers to the act of criticizing others for behavior which one engages in as well, or in other words, not practicing what you preach.
If Cirdan is right, one could not level the charge of hypocrisy, without one's target making the corresponding accusation of tu quoque. That doesn't seem right to me.

I suspect that the line between the two has much to do with the way that the accusation is made.

Thus:
Charlie Kennedy [looking meek and proffering an AA leaflet]: "P-G, I know from experience from alcohol is a dreadful thing and I can see that you drink too much"
P-G [who has just emerged from a friend's stag party and knows that he will pay for it in the morning]: "You are a right one to talk."
would be a tu quoque fallacy on my part. But:
Charlie Kennedy [tottering uncertainly, looking aggressive and taking a swig from a bottle of buckfast wrapped in a brown paper bag]: "P-G, you drink too much"
P-G [who has just emerged from a friend's stag party and knows that he will pay for it in the morning]: "You are a right one to talk."
would be a legitimate accusation of hypocrisy on my part.

In both cases, the same proposition is made, that P-G drinks too much, but the outcome is clearly different. I offer therefore the general case:

"A" and "B" both display failing "F".

There are (broadly) four cases:
A displays F more/less than B
x
A, in making the accusation of B, admits/does not admit to F

  1. If A admits to F, any retort from B drawing attention to A's failings is almost definitely tu quoque, as A has already done so.
  2. This is true pretty much regardless of their relative degrees of failing.
  3. But if A does not admit his own failing when accusing B, then things are less clear. If A's failing is substantially worse than B's, B would almost certainly be correct to call A a hypocrite. A's rebuttal that that is tu quoque would be very very lame.
  4. However, if B's failing is substantially worse than A's, then B is on distinctly sticky ground to draw attention to A's failing in order to distract attention from his own. A could accuse B of tu quoque with some justification.
So to go back to the substantive example, substitute Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan for "A", the US for "B" and "flagrant abuses of Human Rights" for failing "F". I think we can be clear that we are in case 3 here. A's failing is considerably worse than B's and there is very unlikely to be any substantive admission of this when trying to haul "B" over the coals. "B" would be correct to call A a hypocrite and A's rebuttal that that represents a tu quoque would be very very very very weak.

Defence 2: Limited Resources
It would be nice if we could right all the wrongs in the world but we can't. We have limited resources. This means that our aim should be to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number. In this context, it would be a better use of limited resources to tackle the most flagrant and persistent abuses of Human Rights where there is clearly not going to be any internal pressure - indeed because of the suppression of Human Rights - to do so.

For "B" to argue that the resources of the UN are not best used in dealing with its problems has some merit. By contrast, tu quoque looks lame against this. It might be true, but it is substantially less than the whole truth.

To return to the very top, I think that Cirdan's original suggestion that my original post is simply tu quoque focusses on the smallest and least important part of it and could be dismissed with a suitably gallic shrug. I am reluctant to do so as much of the reason for my starting this blog was to test out my own thinking.

And if anyone is going to explain why I am completely misguided, I'm pretty sure Cirdan is the man to do it.

Whilst we are on the topic of hypocrisy, and given the definition quoted above, I ought just to mention our favourite moron. He has a simply fabulous post here. Whatever the merits of the arguments listed (or lack thereof) I can see nothing in the post that even begins to explain how or why they are hypocritical. He may not like them and he may not agree with them, but that is not the same thing. I hesitate to say that this smacks of woolly thinking on his part as I strongly suspect that that charge will shortly be laid at my door for the majority of the post above...


12 comments:

ninme said...

I don't see how Charles Kennedy is made more of a hypocrite by stating a (hypothetical) fact if he is drunk as he says it, or fails to disclose that he is drunk as he says it. He is only a hypocrite if he tells you "I know from experience that sobriety and clean living is a wonderful thing, and I can see that you drink too much." As my trusty dictionary says of hypocrisy:

"the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavio[u]r does not conform; pretense."

The Pedant-General in Ordinary said...

ninme,

I'm not sure I quite see.

I am arguing, not that he is made more of a hypocrite if he says it when drunk, but that he is less of a hypocrite if he admits that he is drunk when he says it.

If he admits it, he is not "claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavio[u]r does not conform" and is not a hypocrite by your definition.

To fail to admit what is clear does indeed make him a hypocrite and denies him the rebuttal that I am engaging in ad hominem tu quoque.

err... I think....

ninme said...

But whether he admits it or not, or is staggering drunk or not, in either case all he is doing is stating a fact: you drink too much. To be hypocrisy he must be claiming a moral standing he does not possess.

The Pedant-General in Ordinary said...

ninme,

I think I see your point, but but but but but but...

This is what I was hinting at with the admission test.

By admitting that he also succumbs to the failing, he is very definitely saying that he does not claim a higher moral standing.

To fail to make this admission - particularly when visibly in a worse state - when making the accusation must be seen in that light.

I also refer you to my definition above:
"Hypocrisy also refers to the act of criticizing others for behavior which one engages in as well, or in other words, not practicing what you preach."

By this measure, it would indeed be hypocritical: the admission serves only as an adequate guard against a "tu quoque", which was what this was about.

The Pedant-General in Ordinary said...

Sorry: "serves only as an adequate guard against a tu quoque"

should read "gives A the cover to retort 'ad hominen tu quoque'".

ninme said...

Well, I'd say it's dishonest, but I think that hypocrisy is just that much more spicy, and not the same thing.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Yes, I did very much enjoy ripping into Neil's post and his comments.

Who is worse: Neil or Polly? What a question...

DK

Cirdan said...

P-G, I must apologise for the delay in my reply. I've been busy moving flat (I'm still rearranging stuff). incidentally, my email is the 'at' sign flanked by 'cirdan' to the left and 'gmail.com' to the right.

On to the meat of the matter. I want to suggest that you've got it wrong. The ad hominem is a fallacy of relevance. A says P. B argues: A is F, therefore not P. The fallacy arises when F is not relevant to the truth of P. Hypocrisy is, unfortunately not usually relevant to the truth of P: If a pathological liar says that the sky is blue, he speaks truly. That he doesn't usually tell the truth is irrelevant to the veracity of his statement.

The way to get ad hominems to stick is to drop the issue of the truth, and attend to justification. If one knows that a speaker S is a habitual liar, then its alright to lower one's strength of belief in S's assertions. But that issue is distinct from the truth or falsity of S's statements.

The Pedant-General in Ordinary said...

Cirdan,

" I must apologise for the delay in my reply."

not at all old chap: It is good of you to pop in and raise the tone of the debate. The Lord alone knows how much we need it with the likes of DK and ninme lurking here as they do.

;-P

Your comment deserves a decent response and that requires thought. I shall try to give it that and will respond in due course.

DK,

Polly is, of course, being entirely hypocritical in her insistence that
a) we should all tell everyone what we earn whilst
b) refusing to do so herself.

Whereas Neil is merely a rather delightful human incarnation of the autorantic virtual Moonbat.

PG

Larry Teabag said...

Where does a legitimate accusation of hypocrisy stop and a tu quoque fallacy start?

The latter starts where you attack your interloquator's hypocrisy instead of rebutting their argument. Your accusation of hypocrisy may well be legitimate (as a comment on their character), but making it does not prove their argument false.

The Pedant-General in Ordinary said...

Larry,

Welcome to Infinitives Unsplit. My goodness, I shall have to up my game if I am keep up in such exalted company.

"The latter starts where you attack your interloquator's hypocrisy instead of rebutting their argument."

Yes but...
I quite agree, but I think that ignores the rest of my post. Since it is relatively easy to avoid the charge of hypocrisy (e.g. by making a candid admission), it is probably a fair cop if it can be made. Equally, the respond to an accusation of hypocrisy by pointing out the use of the tu quoque is very very weak.

I think that is what I was trying to get at. The stronger the charge of hypocrisy, the weaker the "tu quoque".
The hypocrisy does not in any way disprove the truth of their argument, but it makes it possibly a little irrelevant.

To answer Cirdan,
"A says P. B argues: A is F, therefore not P."

I don't think that this is necessarily the case: the examples above do not make the second (erroneous) step to complete the ad hominem, in that they do not make the "therefore NOT P".

The charge of hypocrisy would more accurately be rendered as: "A is F, therefore P not really very important by comparison", which is not the same thing at all. It is not an attempt to deny P: it is to downplay its significance.

This becomes even more important in the case of limited resources, which is the source of the issue.

Or is that even less clear?

Larry Teabag said...

Welcome to Infinitives Unsplit.

Well thank you. It's lovely to be here at Infinitives Unsplit on such a beautiful sunny day.

I suppose the problem is that we're not just discussing the merits or otherwise of these arguments per se, but in the context of a large international organisation attempting to take action about real problems.

So when Cirdan says "Hypocrisy is, unfortunately not usually relevant to the truth of P", he is right on some intellectual level. But it's really not the point.

The point is a pragmatic one, as PG and Mr Eugenides say: "They [i.e "A", i.e China and Algeria acting as part of the UNHRC] will be ignored". In other words the hypocrisy of A is highly relevant, because humans being humans, it will have an appreciable effect overall outcome. Pointing this out is not a fallacy - it's an important observation.