Fallacy Friday!

Today's Logical Fallacy is...Shifting the Burden of Proof!

(related to “appeal to ignorance”) This fallacy occurs when the burden of proof is placed on the wrong side of an argument. In a logical...

Friday, July 3, 2015

Today's Logical Fallacy is... Blind Loyalty!

(the Nuremberg Defense, Blind Obedience, the "Team Player" appeal, Argument from Inertia, Appeal to Loyalty) 

This very dangerous fallacy occurs when an argument or action is deemed acceptable or correct because an authority figure (parent, boss, commanding officer, adult, coach, etc.) says so. Instead of examining whether or not the idea or order is ethical, reasonable, or moral, they shift the responsibility of their actions to the authority figure, prioritizing loyalty over truth or conscience in order to justify their behavior, behavior that may harmful or criminal.

It is also known as the “Nuremberg Defense” for a very good reason: the Nuremberg trials were military tribunals held after World War II held to prosecute the most important political and military leaders of Nazi Germany who planned and participated in The Holocaust and other war crimes. This defense was a common theme during the trials: “I’m not responsible for what I did because a superior officer told me to do it.” One of the decisions of the trial was that this defense does not excuse you of the responsibility of your actions (it can only serve to lesson punishment).

While some may think that only those with supreme racial or ethnic hatred could carry out such atrocities in the name of this fallacy, the Milgram experiment in 1961 highlighted how dangerous this kind of thinking is and how prevalent it is in society. When an authority figure ordered an individual – an individual without any significant animosity or hatred – to perform an action that they believed would cause serious physical harm to another, the individual would likely follow the orders, even to the extent of potentially killing an innocent person (65% of those in the experiment delivered lethal doses of electricity to someone they knew to be innocent based on the orders of someone they perceived to be in authority, even while hearing the innocent person scream). As Milgram himself put it, “Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority” (Obedience to Authority, 1974).

Our society compounds this problem when we ingrain unquestioned obedience into our children: children who question instructions are often met with, “Because I’m your mom,” “Because he’s your teacher,” or “Because she’s a police officer.” They are trained not to question those in authority, especially if they’ve been taught that these authority figures come from a position of moral or legal superiority. When this obedience to authority is coupled with strong emotional ties to the institution, such as a political party, religion, family, or country, not only can it be difficult to identify the morally superior position, but once recognized, it can be difficult to resist a morally inferior authority. 


"Ours is not to reason why / Ours is but to do or die."

"How can torturers stand to look at themselves in the mirror? But, I guess it's OK because for them it's just a job like any other."

"That's what I was told to do.”

“I was just following orders."

A man by the name of Heinrich Boere was an Ex-Nazi. He claims that he was following orders and “I knew that if I didn’t carry out my orders I would be breaking my oath and would be shot myself.” He is claiming that he shot 3 people on the basis that he was just following orders from his commanding officers.

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