Idiosyncratic Fallacies

P.D. Magnus collects fallacies, but not just any fallacies. He collects idiosyncratic fallacies, or “one-offs”. He explains:

Rather than regurgitating all of the usual ones that one can find elaborated in critical thinking textbooks, I collect fallacies which an author names for just one occasion. These one-offs don’t appear on the usual lists. Authors usually do this to condemn some specific target, one who has committed not some generic error in reasoning but the specific if newly-named fallacy of such-and-so.

He also notes that some so-called fallacies, “climb beyond fame into infamy, like the naturalistic fallacy which may not be a fallacy at all.”

Here are a few examples from the list of one-off fallacies he has found:

  • fallacy ex homine (alternately, fallacy ab homuncule): The opposite of ad hominem. A sense of decorum stops anyone from making accusations of some particular dark motive, such as racism, while charges of other dark motives are still hurled around. The result is that the unspeakable dark motive gets a free pass. (John Holbo, March 25, 2010)
  • fallacies of functional localization: Because an animal can perform a distinct function, it is supposed there is a distinct place in the animal’s body where that function is carried out. (Bill Wimsatt in a public lecture on generative entrenchment, 1998)
  • the linguist’s fallacy: A scholar’s error in “imputing his own sophisticated attitudes to the speakers he is studying.” (Max Black in Linguistic Relativity: the Views of Benjamin Lee Whorf, 1956)
  • the fallacy of selective emphasis: After abstracting from raw experience, the resultant abstraction is treated as primary and more real than the experience from which it was abstracted. (John Dewey in Experience and Nature)
  • the Wittgenstein fallacy: Inferring “that the profession of philosophy as currently practiced is somehow flawed, because a modern day Wittgenstein would not receive recognition or employment.” (Jason Stanley, 2007)

The rest are here. Reports of your related discoveries welcome.

Remedios Varo, “Sign of the Painter”

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6 years ago

Apparently criticising others’ arguments by coining fallacy names for their fallacies was all the rage in Oxford in the ’30s. Collingwood’s Essay on Philosophical Method is riddled with them.

6 years ago

The mereological fallacy is the “fallacy” of applying person- or organism-level psychological predicates to subpersonal parts (e.g. saying that brains think or feel). This isn’t strictly a one-off, but you only see it mentioned in Wittgenstein-inflected philosophy of psychology. Mention it anywhere else, and you’re likely to hear, “You mean the fallacy of composition? Or division?”