Logical Fallacy Series -- Part 18: Special Pleading

This is part 18 in a series I'm writing on logical fallacies. A logical fallacy is when someone makes a mistake in reasoning. Fallacies come in 2 types; formal and informal. So far, we've gone through informal fallacies. I'll address just a few more of them and then I'll move on to formal fallacies. Formal fallacies are committed when the form of the argument is logically invalid; that is to say, when it doesn't follow any of the 9 rules of logic (e.g modus ponens, modus tollens, hypothetical syllogism, disjunctive syllogism, etc.). Informal fallacies, by contrast, are committed when the content of the argument is logically fallacious. For example, an argument may follow the rules of logic, but the conclusion still be unjustified because a fallacy is located in the content of the argument. Perhaps one of the premises attacked the opponent instead of the issue, or perhaps one word stated in different premises take on different definitions of the word.

We've looked at many logical fallacies in this series so far. Today, I'll be talking about....

The Special Pleading Fallacy

Special Pleading is when one makes up an exception or moves the goal posts when one's claim is shown to be false. This logical fallacy also sometimes goes by the name "The Taxicab Fallacy" because the one committing this fallacy simply makes exceptions when it suits his fancy, just like how a passenger of a taxi hops out of the taxi whenever he reaches his desired destination.

Examples Of Special Pleading

One example of this fallacy sometimes comes from atheists who try to refute The Kalam Cosmological Argument. They attack the first premise of the argument "Whatever begins to exist has a cause" by saying that the principle is true for everything in the universe, but is not true of the universe itself. For all we know, these atheists argue, the universe could have popped into being out of nothing without a cause!

Now, these atheists aren't arguing that the universe is eternal, and that's why there's no need to be a cause its beginning. Rather, they're saying that that the universe is the exception to the premise "Whatever begins to exist has a cause". The problem is obvious; this rebuttal commits the special pleading fallacy. There's just simply no reason to think that the universe is an exception to the causal principle. The only way to show that the universe is an exception would be to refute the second premise "The universe began to exist". Apart from refuting the second premise, the atheists response is special pleading.

Another Example: "Pastor, I do believe we should love our enemies, but I cannot love THAT guy after what he did to me."

The person in this example made "THAT guy" an exception to the command Jesus put forth that we love our enemies. Jesus didn't say to love your enemy under certain conditions, or to not love an enemy if he crosses some sort of line. He said to love your enemies, to pray for those who persecute you, to bless those who curse you. (Matthew 5:38-44 cf. Luke 6:27-36). Jesus didn't mention any potential exceptions to this command. This resentful person is committing the special pleading fallacy.


That does it for today's logical fallacy. Come back to Cerebral Faith tomorrow to read about another one.