The "it doesn't hurt anyone" fallacy

In response to the article “Arizona Criminalizes Certain Abortions” one (notably, me) might have the following train of thought:
[li] There is something sick about doing a brute force search through all possible babies and aborting the ones you don’t like. Sperm/egg selection and IVF is a more reasonable option if you want to do artificial selection.[/li][li] BUT, is there any evidence that people are really aborting babies because they don’t like their characteristics? Maybe there are a few outlier cases but that’s probably it. Or maybe not, it’s probably widespread in China. But this is Arizona, not China.[/li][li] Well, what does it matter. This is just a conservative approach in case this becomes a popular trend. In the meantime, it doesn’t hurt anyone. [/li][/ul]
Fairly convincing, no? But wait, have I done a brute force search through all possible scenarios in which this law could hurt someone? No, I haven’t. And it seems exceedingly likely that there is some scenario in which it could hurt someone, rendering the argument trivially false. Therefore, I should have reasoned “In the meantime, it probably doesn’t hurt very many people.”

Unfortunately this opens the statement up to a smorgasbord of attacks, notably that we must now compare the costs of the law against its benefits, which promises to be unwieldy.

Now that I’ve likely made your blood boil (and remember, this is GQ), my question is simply, does the “it doesn’t hurt anyone” fallacy have a name, or fall into the category of any existing fallacies?


It’s not exactly what you’re looking for, but I am reminded of the “Law of Unintended Consequences”—which one could invoke in asking “How do you know it doesn’t hurt anyone?”

I’m not sure it’s one of the defined fallacies. It’s just an unproven statement, not a false conclusion based on some preceding argument.

If you forced me to pick one, maybe Fallacy of Accident or Sweeping Generalization, because it ignores exceptions?

I think this is probably as good as you’ll get, because “it doesn’t hurt anybody” isn’t a fallacy. It’s a valid argument; it’s just one that in this case (and probably most) isn’t properly supported.

Fallacies are arguments that flawed regardless of whether they’re supported.

This sounds more like a rhetorical device instead of a fallacy. In some cases, it doesn’t hurt anyone.

I don’t think saying “It doesn’t hurt anyone” is a logical fallacy per se. It might be said as part of a fallacy (for example, a straw man fallacy might conclude with “See? It doesn’t hurt anyone”), but it’s simply a statement of fact. We don’t need to analyze it for its logic, only for its truthfulness.

In some cases, it could be true. A law that says “Breaking mirrors shall be punished by seven years of bad luck.” would clearly not hurt anyone - the sentence can’t be carried out.

In this case, I would argue that “It doesn’t hurt anyone” is clearly false. If someone really wants a boy and is willing to do selective abortions to get one, then the law clearly does hurt that person. It will especially hurt them if they get put in jail for 7 years after breaking the law. And if someone chooses an abortion, then they’ve clearly hurt the fetus. In extreme cases like China, the disparity between male and female ratios is going to hurt a great many people in one way or another.

There’s no way to avoid some kind of cost:benefit analysis in this particular issue. Someone is going to get hurt one way or the other.