Definitions

special-pleading

Special pleading

Special pleading is a form of spurious argumentation where a position in a dispute introduces favorable details or excludes unfavorable details by alleging a need to apply additional considerations without proper criticism of these considerations themselves. Essentially, this involves someone attempting to cite something as an exemption to a generally accepted rule, principle, etc. without justifying the exemption.

The lack of criticism may be a simple oversight (e.g., a reference to common sense) or an application of a double standard.

A more difficult case is when a possible criticism is made relatively immune to investigation. This immunity may take the forms of:

  • reference to vocabulary that is owned by a distinct community with sole rights to assess meaning and application

Example: If you do something illegal it is right for the government to arrest you.

  • unexplained claims of exemption from principles commonly thought relevant to the subject matter

Example: I'm not relying on faith in small probabilities here. These are slot machines, not roulette wheels. They are different.

  • claims to data that are inherently unverifiable, perhaps because too remote or impossible to define clearly

Example: Cocaine use should be legal. Like all drugs, it does have some adverse health effects, but cocaine is different from other drugs. Many have benefited from the effects of cocaine.

  • assertion that the opponent lacks the qualifications necessary to comprehend a point of view

Example: I know you think that I should be giving my money to the poor, but you've never been rich before. There are things about wealth that you don't understand.

  • assertion that literally nobody has the qualifications necessary to comprehend a point of view

Example: I know the idea that ball lightning is caused by ghosts makes no sense to you, but that's only because you're human. Humans cannot understand supernatural phenomena.

In the classic distinction among material, psychological, and logical fallacies, special pleading most likely falls within the category of psychological fallacy, as it would seem to relate to "lip service", rationalization, and diversion (abandonment of discussion). Special pleading also often resembles the "appeal to" logical fallacies.

In philosophy, it is assumed that wherever a distinction is claimed, a relevant basis for the distinction should exist and be substantiated. Special pleading is a subversion of this assumption.

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