I’m having a debate – admittedly with a woefully ignorant lout, and I’m trying to think of the logical fallacy he’s committing by one of his statements, as I’m sure it must be one.
His argument essentially takes the form of “A is not as bad as B or C, therefore A is OK.”
Where A is bad, but B and C are much worse. I want to say something like “Appeal to a lesser evil,” but that’s not a recognized fallacy. His whole argument is a straw man anyway because this rebuttal has been constructed as an oversimplification of a larger point I was making of which this was merely one component that’s irrelevant on its own, but I’m sure that this in and of itself must be its own fallacy, isn’t it? Does it have a name?
Whether or not it’s a Fallacy depends on your point of view, however. Real Relativists might accept it, at elast whenever they feel like it. Objectivist (which has nothing to do with Ayn Rand) or Strict Teleological moral philosophers would find that logic nigh-ncomprehensible.
Objectivist more or less says “there is right and wrong, but its application can vary in specific circumstances.” Strict Teleological would say “there is right and wrong, and thing is either right all the time or wrong all the time.”
I had considered that, too, but the context in which it is used doesn’t explicitly exclude other options, he merely singled them out for rebuttal (the part that makes his entire rebuttal a straw man.)
In this particular instance, there is no doubt that A, B and C are always wrong all of the time. (Think theft (A) vs. rape and murder (B & C)) The argument he is trying to make is one of degrees, with the one on the lesser end of the scale justified as a result of there being items on the other end. This is itself irrelevant because the point being argued has nothing to do with degrees of wrong, but rather the wrongness of A in and of itself.
I might be the purely pragmatic error of thinking the rules of the real world must be logical: A is forbidden, but allowed activities B and C are worse, so either A should be allowed or A, B, and C should all be forbidden. The error is that the world doesn’t work that way. This isn’t a logical error, however.
I could see this as being the case if we were talking about issues whose morality or legality differed from one nation to another. However, in this case, all issues here are wrong everywhere – there are no allowed activities in this argument that are perceived to be worse than another, outlawed activity. They’re all outlawed, therefore universally accepted as wrong.
This book, about cognitive dissonance, describes the same thing with regards to the Watergate break-in. It’s an absolutely fascinating and almost hilarious passage (if it weren’t so disturbing)! If you go to the link, and then use the “search inside the book” function, and look up “Liddy” (as in G. Gordon Liddy), and go to page 35, you’ll see a description of exactly the same thing you are talking about. I can’t remember if the book actually gives a name for it, but at least in this section of the book, they simply describe it as ‘self-justification.’ Check out the passage, as I think you’ll get a kick out of describing it to your friend.
Is there a name for the fallacy of “You can’t deal with small problems until all large problems are solved?”
For example, Congressman So-and-So introduces a bill exempting drivers of empty school buses from having to stop at railroad crossings. The constituents back in the Congressman’s home district are outraged - after all, what with global warming, skyrocketing energy prices, the sub-prime mortgage crisis, and the Iraq War, the Congressman has much bigger things on his plate that school buses and railroad crossings, and clearly the Congressman is an inept boob for focusing on such a small matter.
Unfortunately I don’t have an Amazon account, and apparently they don’t let you search inside books without one.
I think at some level he must accept that it’s wrong, especially since every law in every land says it is. However, he’s trying to justify his position as being “not all that wrong” to the point that it should be considered acceptable behaviour in light of the fact that A) there is a lot worse out there (comparative morality works as well as any), B) What he is doing is hardly a drop in the bucket (argument of the beard), and C) A lot of people do it (bandwagon argument).
Yes, he’s full of logical fallacies – I made a point of indicating them all (childish, I know), which is why I wanted to know if this one was a fallacy, too, since I already called him on the second and third.
As a method of persuasion, I have heard this referred to as the “door in the face method”: you get someone to agree to something they wouldn’t ordinarily approve of by preceding it with an outrageously objectionable request.
I saw it in action once on the street in downtown L.A.: a panhandler approached me and said “Excuse me, can you spare one or two million dollars?”
“No!” I said.
“Well then, can you spare a few bucks to help a family get something to eat?”
(I told him I didn’t have any money on me, which was true, and offered him the fast food I was holding. He turned it down.)
Yes!.. This type of argument is used all the time:
“You shouldn’t smoke in public because second-hand smoke is harmful to others”. Response: “What about the smog and pollution caused by trucks and buses and industry? It must be worse than my smoking”
So I can’t do anything about public smoking until I solve all other pollution problems first :dubious: