Tu quoque (/ /,; Latin Tū quoque, for "you also") is a discussion technique that intends to discredit the opponent's argument by attacking the opponent's own personal behavior and actions as being inconsistent with their argument, therefore accusing hypocrisy. This specious reasoning is a special type of ad hominem attack. "Whataboutism" is one particularly well known instance of this technique. The Oxford English Dictionary cites John Cooke's 1614 stage play The Cittie Gallant as the earliest use of the term in the English language.
Form and explanation
- Person A claims that statement X is true.
- Person B asserts that A's actions or past claims are inconsistent with the truth of claim X.
- Therefore, X is false.
As a specific example, consider the following scenario where Person A and Person B just left a store.
- Person A: "You took that item without paying for it. What you did is morally wrong!"
- Here, X is the statement: "Stealing from a store is morally wrong." Person A is asserting that statement X is true.
- Person B: "So what. I remember when you once did the same thing. You didn't think it was wrong and neither is this."
- Person B claims that Person A is a hypocrite because Person A once committed this same action.
- Person B has argued that because Person A is a hypocrite, he does not have a right to pass sentences on others before judging himself.
Other artificial examples
The example above was worded in a way to make it amenable to the template given above. However, in colloquial language, the tu quoque technique more often makes an appearance in more subtle and less explicit ways, such as in the following example in which Person B is driving a car with Person A as a passenger:
- Person A: "Stop running so many stop signs."
- Person B: "You run them all the time!"
Although neither Person A nor Person B explicitly state what X is, because of the colloquial nature of the conversation, it is nevertheless understood that statement X is something like: "Running stop signs is wrong" or some other statement that is similar in spirit.
Person A and/or Person B are also allowed to be groups of individuals (e.g. organizations, such as corporations, governments, or political parties) rather than individual people.[note 1] For example, Persons A and B might be governments such as those of the United States and the former Soviet Union, which is the situation that led to the term "whataboutism" with the "And you are lynching Negroes" argument.
The tu quoque technique can also appear outside of conversations. For example, it is possible for someone who supports a certain Politician B, who recently did something wrong, to justify not changing their support to another politician by reasoning with themselves:
- "Yes, Politician B did do this-or-that immoral thing, but then again so do other politicians. So what's the big deal?"
In this example, Person B was "Politician B" while Person A was "other politicians."
In the trial of Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, the controversial lawyer Jacques Vergès tried to present what was defined as a Tu Quoque Defence—i.e., that during the Algerian War, French officers such as General Jacques Massu had committed war crimes similar to those with which Barbie was being charged, and therefore the French state had no moral right to try Barbie. This defence was rejected by the court, which convicted Barbie.
- This usage of the word "person" is similar to its usage in law, where the term "person" means "legal person" rather than "natural person" (where the latter refers only to living human beings). Every natural person is a legal person but there are legal persons, such as corporations or political parties, that are not natural persons. An organization might release an official statement that uses the tu quoque fallacy, in which case they would be "Person B" in this article.
- "tu quoque, n." Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 2012. Retrieved 24 April 2016.
- "Fallacy: Ad Hominem Tu Quoque". Nizkor project. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
- Cohen, William (2002). "The Algerian War, the French State and Official Memory". Réflexions Historiques. 28 (2): 219-239 [p. 230]. JSTOR 41299235.
- Agassi, Joseph (2008). "Rationality and the tu quoque argument". Inquiry. 16 (1–4): 395–406. doi:10.1080/00201747308601691.
- van Eemeren, Frans H.; Houtlosser, Peter (2003). "More about Fallacies as Derailments of Strategic Maneuvering: The Case of Tu Quoque". University of Windsor.
- Govier, Trudy (1980). "Worries About Tu Quoque as a Fallacy". Informal Logic. 3 (3): 2–4.
- Shapiro, Irving David (January 2011). "Fallacies of Logic: Argumentation Cons" (PDF). Etc. 64 (1): 75–86.
- Marcus, Kenneth L. (2012). "Accusation in a Mirror". Loyola University Chicago Law Journal. 43 (2): 357–93. SSRN 2020327.
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