A Lesson in Reason – Tu Quoque

Recently, there was a post put up on the RNL defining people who did not serve in the military but who advocate the use of military force as ‘chicken hawks.’ I tried to explain to the author that this was fallacious reasoning, but he didn’t want to see it. The problem with the argument in this post is it attacks the person making the claim and not the claim.  It also relies on making an attack based on soemthing that is known to have mass emotional appeal, then it frames the attack so it favors the attacker.  But the argument does not try to show that the definition is correct, that the people being attacked meet that definition, and – most important – it doesn’t even address the argument the people being attacked are trying to make.  It is all about attacking the messenger.


So, as you can see, the post in question contained multiple fallacies, but, on the whole, it commits what is known as the fallacy of tu quoque.  Now, if you follow my posts, you are probably aware that I harp on fallacious reasoning quite often.  However, this time, rather than just point out the mistake in reasoning, I decided it might be more useful to actually define it in detail and then explain how and why it is damaging and dangerous to accept a fallacious argument:

Tu Quoque

The fallacy of tu quoque occurs in our reasoning if we conclude that someone’s argument not to perform some act must be faulty because the arguer himself or herself has performed it. Similarly, when we point out that the arguer doesn’t practice what he preaches, we may be therefore suppose that there must be an error in the preaching, but we are reasoning fallaciously and creating a tu quoque. This is a kind of ad hominem circumstantial fallacy.


Look who’s talking. You say I shouldn’t become an alcoholic because it will hurt me and my family, yet you yourself are an alcoholic, so your argument can’t be worth listening to.

Discovering that a speaker is a hypocrite is a reason to be suspicious of the speaker’s reasoning, but it is not a sufficient reason to discount it.

So, why should we care if an argument is fallacious? The answer only matters if you care about the truth, or the truth as close as we can determine it. Look at the definition of fallacious:

Definition of FALLACIOUS

1: embodying a fallacy

2: tending to deceive or mislead : delusive

And at the definition of fallacy:

Definition of FALLACY

1a obsolete : guile, trickery b : deceptive appearance : deception

2a : a false or mistaken idea b : erroneous character : erroneousness

3: an often plausible argument using false or invalid inference


In other words, if you accept a fallacious argument, you are most likely being deceived. The tricky part is that a fallacious argument can often sound reasonable and, from time to time, it will even arrive at the correct or a true conclusion. But, if you do not arrive at the truth by the correct path, you do not really understand that truth. This makes it more likely that you will fall for the next fallacious argument based on that conclusion: because you don’t really understand the fact. Think of it this way: when you were in school, why did your teachers make you show your work in math class? And did you get full credit if you got the answer right but worked the problem wrong? Well, accepting a fallacious argument is like giving full credit for a correct answer where the work is all wrong – or even missing all together.



Your teacher would have assumed you either cheated or have no understanding of what you are doing and got the correct answer by chance. In reason, we should treat the author of a fallacious argument the same way, but, depending upon the importance of the argument, we should be even more suspicious of the author’s intentions. If the author is someone who should know better – such as a professor or a journalist or even an elected representative – and they are using fallacious arguments, we should assume deception first and allow for honest mistake last. This is the only way to insure the preservation of truth within our society. It is also the duty of a free and self-governing citizen.

40 thoughts on “A Lesson in Reason – Tu Quoque

    • Thank you. I’ll ‘try’ to move more in this direction. I’m even tired of the ‘old me,’ so I can only imagine everyone else is fed up with me, as well.

  1. A note about “defining people who did not serve in the military but who advocate the use of military force as ‘chicken hawks.’” To be more precise, I was defining people who went out of their way to avoid serving in the military, but who actively promote the use of military force, as chickenhawks. But that’s a small distinction, and those folks are indeed chickenhawks, regardless of the “rightness” of their policy claims. I am especially critical of those who dodged the Vietnam draft through deferments or family connections, such as Mitt Romney, Dick Cheney and Bill Clinton.

    But I’d be interested in what kind of fallacy you would consider it to be to falsely claim that “the majority of our founders”–whom, to my knowledge, did not go out of their way to avoid fighting for their country–would fit my definition of a chickenhawk? Thanks.

    • Your definition of ‘went out of their way’ seems to be nothing more than an opinion to me – an opinion designed to illicit an emotional response from the reader (appeal to emotion). By making personal attacks based on opinion, you also commit ad hominem – another fallacy in reasoning (see link in story above). Furthermore, you have designed a definition that is entirely self-serving: it has been constructed to ‘convict’ those you accuse. This smacks of confirmation bias, or confirming the antecedent – more fallacies. the truth is – to the best of my knowledge – none of the people you have accused broke any laws.

      In this light, the founders – who openly and loudly opposed the draft and forced military service – would fall smack into the definition you are providing (perhaps even more so given their position on forced military service). This means that the majority of our founders meet your definition – just not your opinion of that definition. that’s why I caution people against accepting fallacious arguments: they seldom lead to real understanding or truth.

      BTW: this also means my assertions are not fallacious. All I have done is taken you assertions, applied everything implied by them, and carried them to their logical extensions. If you do not like where that leads, then show me the fallacy in my reasoning or leave me alone and start looking at your argument again. Were I you, I’d start with the latter.

  2. I’m happy to let people follow the links provided in my article to determine whether it’s simply opinion that these folks went out of their avoid military service. And despite many of the founders opposition to conscription, I still see no evidence that they went out of their way to avoid fighting for their country (just as many of those who opposed the Vietnam War and the draft still went). Perhaps you can provide some, rather than asserting opinion (or intentional deception, though I’m sure you’d never resort to that) as “logical extension”?

    • Simple: his entire post is nothing but a personal attack against people he does not like. It has nothing to do with whether or not the war is necessary, reasonable or even that it was started illegally. That was the reason for my post: to show how and why it is fallacious.

      Now, assuming you actually read my post (something I actually doubt), you telling me you still do not understand confirms the validity of my decision to stop responding to you. I understand you will not understand and that you will see this as an attack, but it isn’t. I’m just stating a fact – nothing more.

  3. How do you know whether or not he likes them? Also, I read your post in its entirety as I do all the posts here. I also visited the fallacy site twice; so you may doubt me and ignore me all you please!

  4. “How do you know whether or not he likes them?”

    He doesn’t, of course — though to be fair and clear (as opposed to the “fair and balanced” that Fox News pretends to be), I’m not a fan of most people in Congress or most cable news talking heads. A careful reader would have noted that I said we were a nation full of chickenhawks, who “love to get behind a war, dispite the fact that few of us consider the long-term ramifications or actually choose to serve in the military.” And that “We pretend to honor those who serve in the military, but mostly we ignore them – or even go so far as punishing those with the guts to actually serve.” The guilty include many people that I otherwise “like.”

    In fact, my post illustrates one of b’s points from above: “Discovering that a speaker is a hypocrite is a reason to be suspicious of the speaker’s reasoning.” By the way, you may have noticed that he used a poor example with the “alcoholic”–the alcoholic would be more credible, not less, because of actual experience. Likewise, someone with experience in the military would generally be more credible when saying we need to kill thousands of our soldiers and tens of thousands of civilians to “protect America.”

    Perhaps someone has a guilty conscience.

  5. “Perhaps someone has a guilty conscience.” = personal attack;
    Another improper argument, if one wishes to appeal to reason…

    • Thank you for demonstrating how not to argue if one wishes to appeal to reason. Now of course you are demonstrating quite well how to appeal to emotion and throw the opposition off their game. The party to an argument who has neither the facts nor “the law or reason” appeals to emotion in order to win. Nice, if you want “the mob” to follow you. That worked out great for the French in 1789 didn’t it?

      • Merci beaucoup.

        And if you folks are so easily thrown off your game, I guess b won’t be coming up with the names of any founding fathers who went out their way to avoid fighting for their country. Not that I expected any, of course.

        • Not easily thrown off, and that is what is driving you nuts. You can’t make that stick anymore than the rest of your fallacious diversions because I have been explaining what you are doing, what it is called, how it works and then showing how what you are doing fits the definition and function of each fallacy.

          In other words, you have been brushed aside: your fallacious objections identified and defeated. 🙂

          • Now that’s funny–I see why you added the emoticon. And I’ll look forward to those names. 😉 See, I can use ’em, too.

                • TA-DA! And THAT is how you get a lib to throw MORE ad hoinem at you 😀

                  As Texas has RIGHTLY pointed out, when someone starts using ad hominem, it means they know they have lost the argument and have nothing left but insults.

                • Truly amazing, though pitiful. I make a joke at my own expense as much as yours (using your water cooler reference) and the master of the ad hominem and of the generalization (“all libs,” etc.) accuses me of attacking. Wow. Perhaps you should ease up on whatever’s prompting the paranoia. I’m beginning to worry about you. You know what bleeding hearts we libs are.

  6. More interesting, je ne sais pas. More intellectual, non. To me the Founding Fathers were willing to fight, but felt that it must come to the individual’s decision. Simply put, this goes hand-in-hand with Natural Law. (If an individual desires to defend his liberty, he has the option of saying yea or nay.) This is one of the reasons I voted for Ron Paul. He gets it.

    I’m sure B. will counter me now…….

    • Trying to work through this statement, kells. “If an individual desires to defend HIS liberty . . .” I believe is where I am struggling to agree. What if the individual does not percieve his liberty to be the same as the liberty of the majority? (To quote Spock, “The needs of many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.”) For example, what if the perception of liberty had been to stay under the crown of England for the colonists? Would we have had “founding fathers”? Is the individual’s decision the right opinion for the majority? I don’t believe Ron Paul “got it” at all. While I might agree we could get out of the middle east, I don’t agree that we should abandon our allies (Israel). Paul preached an isolationist platform. In today’s world, it won’t work.

    • Collective reasoning? Why do you (kells) seem to be using this in a derogotory way? To some degree it exists in everything we do. Do you belong to a church or specific religion? Is that not a “collective” of people with similar beliefs and practices? Do you belong to a civic organization? Do you belong to a political party? By definition you are participating in collective behavior.

  7. So an individual bearing arms is not that? Is an individual not fighting for his own liberty with a group of like-minded individuals? Is an individual deciding whether or not he will participate in church or a political party? These are your God-given rights as an individual. I hope I clarified my response. Somehow, I feel as though I probably have confused you more…

    • “(If an individual desires to defend his liberty, he has the option of saying yea or nay.) ” Perhaps I am confused, still, by this statement or perhaps I just took it the opposite way from which you now seem to have intended it.

      Does one, as an American citizen, not have a duty to protect the “collective” security of the United States or can s/he simply refuse as his “God-given right as an individual”. If s/he refuses to defend the security of his country, clan, or collective group, does s/he have a right to remain part of that group? Go back to the Jamestown colony where it supposedly came down to, “No work, no eat.” By not working but still eating, the layabouts were consuming the limited store of food available. Was that their God-given right or did they have a duty to the group to contribute work? If everyone doesn’t support the “collective”, be it military, religious, civic, or patriotic, do they have the God-given right to participate?

        • tex – I agree. You can apply the Jamestown example to the entitlement programs of today. The entitlement programs are consuming a limited resource (taxed funds) for no discernable gain. Did someone tell these people that it was their God-given right to take these resources and not work for them?

          • You’re getting to the crux of my comment; that is, collectivism and individualism. And your questions bring out the obvious question: Where do you draw the delineating line between the two in society? It’s very interesting to me because in a sense, we are all collectivists, right? I mean, it fits the definition: The principles or system of ownership and control of the means of production and distribution by the people collectively, usually under the supervision of a government. Just thinkin out loud here….

            • Kells,
              I refer you to Utah’s new post “Plucking Chickens”, and the Declaration of Independence Pre-Amble in my “UT Post”.

  8. I’d read it if you were a Volunteer and not a Longhorn…..or an Aggie. @_@

    I enjoyed both posts. It would just be nice if you would finally admit to the chickens you’ve been pluckin. I know…shh….

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