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Special pleading (also known as stacking the deck, ignoring the counterevidence, slanting, and one-sided assessment) is a form of spurious argument where a position in a dispute introduces favourable details or excludes unfavourable details by alleging a need to apply additional considerations without proper criticism of these considerations. Essentially, this involves someone attempting to cite something as an exemption to a generally accepted rule, principle, etc. without justifying the exemption.
A more difficult case is when a possible criticism is made relatively immune to investigation. This immunity may take the forms of:
- unexplained claims of exemption from principles commonly thought relevant to the subject matter
- Example: I'm not relying on faith in small probabilities here. These are slot machines, not roulette wheels. They are different.
- claims to data that are inherently unverifiable, perhaps because too remote or impossible to define clearly
- Example: Cocaine use should be legal. Like all drugs, it does have some adverse health effects, but cocaine is different from other drugs. Many have benefited from the effects of cocaine.
- appeals to "common knowledge" that bypass supporting data
- Example: Everyone knows you can catch a common cold from exposure to a chill.
- assertion that the opponent lacks the qualifications necessary to comprehend a point of view
- Example: I know you think that quantum mechanics does not always make sense. There are things about quantum mechanics that you don't have the education to understand.
- assertion that nobody has the qualifications necessary to comprehend a point of view
- Example: I know the idea that ball lightning is caused by ghosts makes no sense to you, but that's only because you're human. Humans cannot understand paranormal phenomena.
In the classic distinction among informal (material), psychological, and formal (logical) fallacies, special pleading most likely falls within the category of psychological fallacy, as it would seem to relate to "lip service", rationalization and diversion (abandonment of discussion). Special pleading also often resembles the "appeal to" logical fallacies.
In medieval philosophy, it was not assumed that wherever a distinction is claimed, a relevant basis for the distinction should exist and be substantiated. Special pleading subverts an assumption of existential import.
See also 
- "stacking the deck". Retrieved 6 October 2012.
- Damer, T. Edward (2008). Attacking Faulty Reasoning: A Practical Guide to Fallacy-free Arguments (6 ed.). Cengage Learning. pp. 122–124. ISBN 978-0-495-09506-4.
- This division is found in introductory texts such as Fallacy: The Counterfeit of Argument, W. Ward Fearnside, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1959. OCLC 710677
- Special pleading at the Fallacy Files
- Special pleading at the Nizkor Project
- The One-Sidedness Fallacy by Peter Suber.