Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Wrong is Right (Red Herrings, Part 25)

The 25th and final installment of Red Herrings (a subset of Fallacies) ends with the red herring known as “two wrongs make a right.” There’s actually one more red herring in the Wikipedia list, previously covered in my series on cognitive biases: the Texas sharpshooter fallacy. Next week, something completely different. Or maybe not.

Two Wrongs Make a Right

Given the reality that no side is completely innocent of all wrongdoing, the “two wrongs make a right” argument crops up with surprising frequency. When Side A is accused of some misdeed, the response all too often becomes “Side B is even worse!” But the sins of Side B, no matter how true or how severe, don’t excuse Side A.

The fundamental test of any red herring fallacy is that the truth or falsehood of the counterclaim is irrelevant to the merit of the primary claim. Whether a different group is as bad or worse changes nothing. Two wrongs, as we all know (or should know), don’t make a right.

But that doesn’t stop people from trying.

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