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Tu Quoque

by Hans Bluedorn

Dear Mr. Bluedorn,

This is the logical fallacy of "bifurcation" or, in plain English, the "Either/Or" fallacy. It over-simplifies the choices, and neglects to see if there could be another option, or a combination of options. Another logical fallacy I have noticed recently was in the New Hampshire Democratic debate. Often Vice-President Gore would use the "tu quoque" argument to refute Senator Bradley's accusations. He would basically say, "well, you do it too!"

Unfortunately, my family didn't record this debate :(, but I will tell you the example of tu quoque I was thinking of, in general terms. At one point Senator Bradley accused Vice President Gore of some type of Campaign finance abuses. The Vice-president's response was basically, well, you were dishonest at such and such a time, so what is the big deal, and why do you bring up my dishonesty. Again, I apologize for not having more specifics, but I am sure that it will come up again and again during the rest of the campaign. Thank you so much for this is a great way to review the logic I learned previously!

I really enjoy these questions!

Amy Simmons grin

Thanks for your response and example. Unfortunately I didn't watch the Democratic debates – I prefer getting my humor elsewhere – and so I didn't see your example. Like you said, Tu Quoque, a form of Ad Hominem, attacks the person proposing an argument, accusing them of the thing you are accused of, instead of going for the argument itself. The example every one uses is: "you can't tell me smoking is bad for my health, you do it more than I do." It would seem from both the VP's and senator Bradley's records that they would have plenty of chances to use Tu Quoque on each other.

Also, about the G. Bush quote, just about all modern polls contain an either/or fallacy. Pollsters use this technique very effectively to sway public opinion. They will ask a one-sided question, giving you only a few answers to choose from and then interpret the data as they see fit. For example: what if I were to send out a poll asking the question: "which one of the following things do you like to do the most? 1.) go shopping, or, 2.) stay home all day." After collecting the data I would make a press release: "News flash! 74.5568% of Americans consider shopping their favorite activity, while the other 24.2% would rather stay home." (1.2432% stuck the questionnaire in the pollsters bow tie). Would that be a proper interpretation of the facts? The ones who ask the questions and define the terms are the ones who control the answers.

Hans Bluedorn


This is really hard; this is the best I could do:

I think that the fallacy is in item number two and that the Camel Nose Fallacy is being used: The quote assumes that the government has an inherent right to our money, which it doesn't. Also, who are the wealthy and how is that determined? Are the wealthy not allowed to benefit from keeping the money for which they worked hard?

I'm not sure, though, but it seems to me that item number one also contains a fallacy, the Fallacy of False Dilemma, even though there is not an either/or proposition directly stated: suppose I believe that the nation's top priorities are not any of those items, but, say, reducing taxes and dismantling the NEA? These, and other, items are not mentioned and presumably not considered.

Craig & Jinnine Nitschke

You did a good job. False Dilemma was the answer I was looking for. However, you are partially right about the "camels nose" fallacy. I think that you are focusing more on the particulars of the question instead of the reasons for the entire question. Using words like, "risky," "scheme" and "overwhelmingly" make the question very inflammatory and bases it on the pollsters interpretation of the actual plan. I'm sure Bush wouldn't think of his tax plan as a "scheme" that is "risky" and only helps out the rich. That is what the person who wrote the question wants you to think. He writes a poll that has a message hidden inside it. He wants you to think that if you vote for Bush you are putting a "risky" "scheming" aristocrat into the White House. This would be called a Loaded or Complex Question, but not Camels Nose, which is similar. Camels Nose is where a question is loaded so that it infers, or is based upon, an appeal to something that was seemingly allowed to happen in the past. Camels Nose is covered again in another part of this loop.

Our quote also contains elements of Poisoning the Well – anyone who votes for #2 will share with Governor Bush in his "risky," "scheming" ways that only benefit the wealthy.

Hans Bluedorn

Fallacy in the News

Quote: "The primary argument surrounding [the] debate [over whether to tax Internet sales] is fairness: "If consumers only had to pay taxes when they bought from Main Street stores but not when they bought goods from Internet sellers, this would discriminate against Main Street stores and put them at a competitive disadvantage based solely on government tax policy," according to the NGA's [National Governor's Association] website." – From an article entitled "Internet Tax Freight Train" on the WorldNetDaily website.

There are two fallacies used here.

The first is called the Fallacy of Isolation, or not telling the whole story. Example: "I fired him because he refused to do his job" (omission: he was unconscious from asphyxiation at the time).

Omitted facts are:

1. Internet sales are exactly the same as mail order catalog sales. The taxing of mail order catalog sales, fair or not fair, has been demonstrated in many supreme court cases to be totally unconstitutional (under the Interstate Commerce clause).

2. What about shipping and handling and other costs? When any mail order catalog company ships an item to you, that company has to pay postage and other packaging costs. When you want to return an item through the mail you have to pay these postage and handling costs again. These costs usually end up being higher than the normal sales taxes (believe me, we would know). Also, mail order businesses have to print catalogs, build warehouses and hire packers. A case could be made that main street stores have a competitive advantage over catalog businesses. While mail order businesses have been around for a very long time, these "Main Street" stores seem to be still around too.

The second fallacy used – while not stated in our quote, it is clearly inferred – is this: Since normal main street businesses are already taxed on just about everything they do, (buying, selling stocking, earning, etc.) it's not fair to let the Internet businesses off scott free.

Well, first of all, Internet businesses don't get off scott free. They are subjected to all the same taxes that ordinary businesses are. But, apart from that, this second fallacy relies on a form of Complex Question I call the Camel's Nose.

Complex Question (sometimes called Loaded Question) is where two questions are made to sound like one. When you answer one, the other is unwittingly answered, whether you agreed with it or not.

Example: "What did you do with the knife after you killed him?"


"Oh, so you admit you killed him? And still have the knife?"

The related Camels Nose is where an appeal is made to something that was apparently allowed in the past – something that you never agreed to in the first place – to show we need a new thing done, just to be fair (or some similar sentiment). But when you allow this new demand, the previous one (which you never agreed to) is automatically admitted as valid.

Example: "Since the government already has a tax on earning money, winning money, giving money, spending money, borrowing money, saving money and inheriting money; the government ought to put a tax on stealing money!" (But, wait a minute, that would put THEM out of business.)

In reality two statements are being asserted. First, main street stores need to be taxed for every transaction they do, and second, because it isn't fair that Internet businesses don't share in this pleasure, they need to be taxed for it too. Both are unsupported.

From a previous loop:

I received this question from Iva Brkic, a 12th grade student in Zagreb, Croatia.


This time I'll print some of the verses mentioned last time, and maybe even give you hints. What I want to know is: was Jesus leading people astray by using a logical fallacy in these verses, and, if so, what is His justification for doing this? I'm warning you, this may take some thinking.

John 4:13 Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again:

14 But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.

Hint: What does the phrase, "drinketh of the water" mean?

John 9:39 And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.

40 And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also?

41 Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth.

Hint: Who "sees," and who just thinks they "see?"

Matthew 13:11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.

12 For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.

13 Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.

14 And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:

Hint: This explains the former verses.

Copyright February 20, 2000, all rights reserved. 8064 views

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