Is this argument a logical fallacy?
August 14, 2017 12:39 PM   Subscribe

" Because children and innocents all over the old are killed by America in foreign wars etc. , grieving for "white" Americans or Europeans ( while NOT grieving of all the other nameless innocents who are killed) is hypocritical." This statement is obviously problematic and not entirely reasonable but I'm trying to determine if it falls within some logically false argument, I can't quite think of one it fits into. Thanks for the help.
posted by Liquidwolf to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
The worst thing I could find there, logically speaking, is an appeal to unstated premises (namely, to a definition of hypocrisy).
posted by thelonius at 12:52 PM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]


Hypocrisy requires a claim about oneself which is false. Is the hypothetical person claiming to grieve for all innocents who are killed?
posted by kidbritish at 12:54 PM on August 14, 2017 [5 favorites]


It seems that it's only hypocritical if you claim to grieve for all innocent lives lost, then actually only grieve when the lives meet certain conditions. I don't know if that is the original claim by people who do this. A common attitude I see in the U.S. is that American lives are worth more than others. If that is what you believe in, then I guess it's not hypocritical to only grieve for Americans.
posted by monologish at 12:55 PM on August 14, 2017 [4 favorites]


I could see it as an example of begging the question, since the conclusion, that one ought to grieve for all of war's victims, is also implicitly used in the definition of hypocrisy at play.
posted by Ragged Richard at 12:55 PM on August 14, 2017 [2 favorites]


I also don't consider this statement obviously problematic and I consider it reasonable. I concur with thelonius that the only fallacy I can identify in here is a lack of definition of hypocrisy.
posted by saeculorum at 12:55 PM on August 14, 2017 [2 favorites]


It rings a little bit of relative privation.

E.g. Why are you concerned about the streetlights by your house, Ms. Jones, when there are children starving in this city right now?! Maybe you should do something about the starving children before you expect us to care about your streetlights.

The fallacy is that you can care about more than one thing at a time, and the fact that there are worse things out there does not mean that the thing in question is not bad.

Anyway, not a perfect fit of course, but tangentially related.
(And I'm another person who finds the statement fairly reasonable, modulo the vagueness surrounding hypocrisy.)
posted by SaltySalticid at 12:58 PM on August 14, 2017 [12 favorites]


It rings a little bit of relative privation.

Thanks I think that's it, that sounds closest.
And for what its worth, of course I agree all those lives are equally important. In this case the person was specifically criticizing people for caring about one person's life and not all the others.

A bit like saying "you have no right to be sad when your friend's dog dies because you eat meat".
posted by Liquidwolf at 1:04 PM on August 14, 2017 [3 favorites]


As you phrased the argument, what protects it from falling under the umbrella of some Famous Fallacies with Names is that its conclusion isn't "therefore x is true" or "therefore y is false." The conclusion that someone is a hypocrite is simply about a lapse of internal consistency. And, at least if the target claims that people's lives matter equally, then their grieving for some strangers and not others is inconsistent.

However, in broad spirit, the argument could be suspected of relying on a false dilemma: the idea being in this case that if you care about one person or group, you must not care about another person or group.
posted by Beardman at 1:08 PM on August 14, 2017 [2 favorites]


Kind of repeating what others have said here, but "hypocrisy" is when one's actions do not coincide with one's stated beliefs.

The statement seems to make assumptions about the subject's beliefs which are not in evidence, at least from the statement alone. If the statement is directed at a particular person who has stated that they value all human lives equally, then perhaps there is some validity there.

If the statement is directed at a particular person, but the speaker does not have evidence that the person claims to value all human life equally; or, if the statement is just intended as a broadside against all people who grieve the loss of white Americans or Europeans more than others, without inquiring as to their stated beliefs; then the statement is untrue. The expression of grief is not hypocritical. Problematic, perhaps, but not hypocritical.

Too often, people who charge others with hypocrisy in online discussion either do not understand what hypocrisy is, or else they are making unwarranted assumptions about the other person's beliefs.

Another line of argument against the statement is that grief is an emotional response, not an intellectual one, and thus should not be held to the same standards of rationality. On an intellectual level, I would find the murder of a child living in a distant country to be as morally reprehensible as the murder of a child who lives next door; but I would grieve the latter more than the former. Even though I consider all human lives of equal value, that does not make me a hypocrite; it makes me human.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:14 PM on August 14, 2017 [12 favorites]


Another line of argument against the statement is that grief is an emotional response, not an intellectual one, and thus should not be held to the same standards of rationality. On an intellectual level, I would find the murder of a child living in a distant country to be as morally reprehensible as the murder of a child who lives next door; but I would grieve the latter more than the former. Even though I consider all human lives of equal value, that does not make me a hypocrite; it makes me human.

Thanks for putting it this way. This encapsulates it.

Thanks for everyone else's input too.
posted by Liquidwolf at 1:25 PM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]


Was going to say what DevilsAdvocate did already: the intensity of grief is usually proportional to the emotional connection you had to the person who is lost. Which might also explain the extreme grief some people feel for the loss of a celebrity they never met, there was a lot of emotional connection, even one sided, that is suddenly severed.

But does it explain my aunt who casually wishes death on people who disagree with her politics but bursts into tears at the mention of my cat (that she never met) that died of natural causes decades ago?
posted by buildmyworld at 4:22 PM on August 14, 2017 [2 favorites]


The statement is not a complete logical argument; the premise does not directly imply the conclusion. I imagine that the author had an unstated premise and meant to say something like "because children and innocents all over the world are killed and the loss of all innocents is equally worthy of grief, grieving only for white Americans / Europeans is hypocritical."

This argument more clearly exposes another premise (all loss of innocent life should be grieved equally) which loops back to the relative privation argument SaltySalticid provided. Furthermore, I think the other arguments that grief is an emotional reaction, not a logical one also holds weight; I'm not sure if it's possible for feelings (as opposed to actions) to be hypocritical.
posted by bsdfish at 4:28 PM on August 14, 2017 [1 favorite]


I think you've gotten some good answers, so I'll just add that this reminds me of the reasonable remark of Kwame Anthony Appiah in his book Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers that cosmopolitanism doesn't require the impossible standard that we care about complete strangers on the other side of the world just as much as we care about our immediate family: just that we do care about them, as fellow human beings, instead of seeing their interests as completely alien from us.
posted by brianogilvie at 4:55 PM on August 14, 2017 [5 favorites]


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