Friday, June 17, 2016

Today's Logical Fallacy is... Argument from Motives!

(Questioning Motives)

Both a type of Ad Hominem and a type of red herring, this fallacy occurs when an argument is dismissed or supported because of the motives of the one making the claim, not the actual argument itself. Just because someone appears to have questionable motives does not mean that their position is wrong, and just because appears someone has excellent motives doesn’t mean that theirs is good. Arguments must be examined based on the evidence presented, not the person presenting the evidence. Often this fallacy is used even without evidence of a questionable motive, only the mere possibility that it might exist. Too often people rely on someone’s supposed intention as evidence for their idea: a “good person” would never recommend a bad action, a “good Christian woman” would never do something mean, and an “evil atheist” would never stop and help someone on the street. This is further complicated by the fact that, while we like to believe that we can discern someone’s motivations, we rarely even understand our own motives moreover the motives of someone else (which is why we have therapists). Relying on perceived motivations as a means of rejecting or accepting an idea is rarely wise.

Some people use this fallacy to manipulate others into making the decision they want. By appearing “good,” especially by appealing to a common religious or political belief, they insinuate that they, as a “Christian,” could never do something bad and that they, then, are the right person to vote for or that their positions are the right ones. Arguments from motives often become appeals to religion.


“Bin Laden wanted us out of Afghanistan, so we have to keep up the fight!”

“She's a good Christian woman; how could you accuse her of doing something like that?”

“That website recommended ACME's widget over Megacorp's widget. But the website also displays ACME advertising on their site, so they were probably biased in their review.”

“The referee comes from the same place as (a sports team), so his refereeing was obviously biased towards them.”

“My opponent argues on and on in favor of allowing that mall to be built in the center of town. What he won't tell you is that his daughter and her friends plan to shop there once it's open.”

“Politicians often argue that certain bills should be passed even if there is solid evidence that they will not be effective, because the bill is intended to alleviate poverty or help the environment, etc.”

“How can you object to their proposal? After all, they're for the environment.”

“You atheists are rejecting my evidence because you want to sin.”

“Those scientists are only promoting global warming because they want more funding.”

“You don't want to have a professional apologist on your show because you're scared of the truth.”

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