• Jamal
    9.2k
    My observation here then is that this is less a fallacy than a strategy in getting a desired outcome.Hanover

    Nice example. My observation is that in a debate, if the strong claim—the claim that (A) wants to prevail—fails, then retreating to a more defensible position is a tactic still to make the strong claim prevail. I think it’s fair to call this a fallacy.

    In a court of law, everything is sophistry anyway, therefore there are no fallacies.
  • TonesInDeepFreeze
    2.3k
    You point out to Group C, the neutral jury, that A doesn't seek the truth (i.e. justice), but just seeks a preferred outcome regardless of the facts and is therefore not to be trusted.Hanover

    That's an interesting example. And excellent for illustrating M&B.

    This is getting away from the purpose of your example, but I want to show another angle on it too:

    Suppose, after reducing and reducing, she does finally support a reduced argument M that is still sufficient for her case. Then, as a juror, I might also reason this way:

    Yes, she resorts to M&B, so her trustworthiness is in doubt. However, no matter her trustworthiness, she did finally support M, and that, more than her trustworthiness, is what finally counts. (Also, it's pretty much a given that the defense team also is not so much interested in the truth unless the truth happens to support their defense, so that, while the defense team presumably wouldn't lie, it probably wouldn't refrain from specious arguments if they helped and it could get away with them.)

    where a Group A refuses to admit their stronger claim has failed and that their position is admittedly objectively weaker, there isn't the proper repercussion where a controlling Group C meaningfully condemns them. Instead, Group A just grows stronger, each member proud of their group's shameless advocacy of a desired outcome.Hanover

    That is well said. It is a vitally important point. In all kinds of "discourse" [scare quotes because it is more like noise and not coherent discourse], especially in politics and public affairs, people get away with massive amounts of dishonest argumentation all the time. It is heartbreaking.

    less a fallacy than a strategy in getting a desired outcomeHanover

    They're separate. There's the fallacy and there is the motivation for deploying the fallacy.
  • fdrake
    5.9k
    Nice example. My observation is that in a debate, if the strong claim—the claim that (A) wants to prevail—fails, then retreating to a more defensible position is a tactic still to make the strong claim prevail. I think it’s fair to call this a fallacy.Jamal

    They're separate. There's the fallacy and there is the motivation for deploying the fallacy.TonesInDeepFreeze

    What is it like to employ a motte and bailey fallacy. I think it feels like this.

    1 ) I believe X.
    2 ) Another person tries to show X implies Y.
    3 ) I believe Y is bad.
    4 ) I now defend not(X implies Y)
    5 ) The other person tells me that I am defending Y by defending not(X implies Y).
    6 ) I believe Y is bad.
    7 ) I now defend not( not(X implies Y) implies Y)
    8 ) The other person now tells me that defending not( not(X implies Y) implies Y) implies Y.
    9 ) I believe Y is bad.
    10 ) I defend not ( (not( not(X implies Y) implies Y) implies Y) implies Y)
    And so on.

    I don't think anyone ever gets to stage 7. So in its real form it goes like:

    1 ) I believe X.
    2 ) Another person tries to show X implies Y.
    3 ) I believe Y is bad.
    4 ) I now defend not(X implies Y)
    5 ) The other person tells me that I am defending Y by defending not(X implies Y).
    6 ) I still believe Y is bad.
    7 ) I now defend not( not(X implies Y) implies Y)
    8 ) The other person now tells me I believe Y.

    I don't believe any of this depends upon any of the contained statements being true. As in X, Y, X implies Y, and the perverse negations like not(X implies Y). I also don't trust that it's rightly construed as just a fallacy of inference. Why? It seems also to be about assigning inconsistent meanings to positions. Rather than just about defending a precisely articulated position incorrectly. In that regard I think cognitive dissonance plays a key role in that dynamic. And as a corollary, trying to point the fallacy out will appear as castigation.
  • TonesInDeepFreeze
    2.3k


    I don't think I've ever seen that.

    Anyway, that starts as a reductio ad absurdum (or modus tollens, whatever) argument against a bailey X, which is common, but not the only form of argument against X.

    I also don't trust that it's rightly construed as just a fallacy of inferencefdrake

    I don't think t it is a fallacy of inference, in a strict sense. It's a form of dishonest argumentation.

    trying to point the fallacy out will appear as castigation.fdrake

    What can one do then? Not flagging it is letting the other party get away with dishonest argumentation. I see that a lot: Person A commits M&B and person B just keeps rebutting each successive M, but it's never made explicit that the person A is trying to pull a fast one on us. I wish journalists and such were more explicit:

    Jake Blitzer Anderson: Senator Sneakyspeak, your bill mandates that everyone with chronic indigestion will be forced, without due process, to move to the Aleutian Islands, but that's unconstitutional.

    Senator Sneakyspeak: No, I'm just saying that those people can get better medical care there.

    Jake Blitzer Anderson: But medical care in the Aleutian Islands is no better than in the rest of the country.

    Senator Sneakyspeak: No, I mean they have nutritionists there to help with chronic indigestion.

    Jake Blitzer Anderson: Okay, that's all the time we have. Tomorrow we'll interview Governor Doublecross about his election promise to turn litter on city sidewalks into freshly minted doubloons.

    That's not the way it should go. Jake Blitzer Anderson should say, "No, Senator, don't switch what we're talking about. Your bill would move everyone with chronic indigestion to the Aleutian Islands. You have to defend THAT, not some weaker idea."
  • fdrake
    5.9k
    What can one do then? Not flagging it is letting the other party get away with dishonest argumentation.TonesInDeepFreeze

    Depends on the context? Sometimes someone really won't know what they're doing. And sometimes it'll be a case of misunderstanding your interlocutor.

    So a mereological nihilist and a compositionalist walk into a bar. The bartender says: "Do you want a drink?"
    The nihilist knows it wasn't said to both of them.
    The compositionalist knows it wasn't said to either.
    The bartender goes to another customer.
    The compositionalist says: "They must have missed us"
    The nihilist says: "They couldn't have!"

    Something like that, eh?
  • TonesInDeepFreeze
    2.3k
    Depends on the context?fdrake

    Of course. I'm not claiming to talk about every possible context. This is at the level of some generality that we would understand not to be completely universal.
  • Hanover
    12k
    In a court of law, everything is sophistry anyway, therefore there are no fallacies.Jamal

    In a court of law, there is a clear winner and loser, unlike in a debate or in an academic context. A fallacy in this courtroom pragmatic context is measured therefore on the result of the jury, not on an academic measure of whose arguments were most sound.

    Where I disagree though is in the suggestion that there is no correlation between the two (i.e. (1) logic and reason and (2) juror decisions), as if jurors don't recognize the sounder of the arguments and rule accordingly.

    As in my example, my counter to A's arguments was to show empirical counter evidence and then to call them on their logical error of shifting their arguments to meet the contradictory evidence.

    This isn't to suggest that logic and reason alway prevail in the jury room, but it is to question the notion that logic and reason aren't part of the process. I do think an important part of B's argument was to point out the fallacy to the jury you've identified in this thread. Had B failed to do that, it would have been poor advocacy on B's behalf.
  • TonesInDeepFreeze
    2.3k
    as if jurors don't recognize the sounder of the argumentsHanover

    Do you find that jurors can usually be counted on to reason logically? I don't know about the courtroom, but I find that in everyday life, people are very often extremely irrational when discussing matters of public controversy. I'm curious what you find in the courtroom.

    it would have been poor advocacy on B's behalf.Hanover

    No doubt about that. But the flip side of that: If a lawyer sees that he or she could get an advantage by using sophistry (not falsehoods, but rather fallacious reasoning that would trick the jurors), should the lawyer do it on behalf of the client? If the lawyer doesn't and even though it is the best chance for the lawyer's client, then isn't the lawyer failing to provide the most effective advocacy? I've always been curious how lawyers and the "art of the law" view this.

    The old cliche is "The facts and the law". But it should be "The facts, the logic and the law".
  • Jamal
    9.2k
    No objections. So what you’re saying is, in the legal example it’s not a fallacy so much as a strategy to win, but at the same time, logic remains relevant to this? Seems reasonable.

    Looking at the example again, I don’t think motte-and-bailey models it well. With M&B, (A)’s unsafe claim is the one she wants to prevail but is forced to retreat from. In your example, this is “The collision damaged me terribly,” which she doesn’t retreat from. The tactical retreats occur when trying to make a case for this proposition, and the successive retreats do not function to allow the previously defeated evidential claims to prevail; they function as successively weaker evidence for the proposition that “The collision damaged me terribly”, deployed in transparent sophistry.

    So yes, I guess I’m agreeing that it’s not fallacious.

    However, fallacy and strategy are not mutually exclusive. It’s just that in this case, we see the latter and not the former. Maybe.
  • Jamal
    9.2k
    7 ) I now defend not( not(X implies Y) implies Y)fdrake

    I don't think anyone ever gets to stage 7.fdrake

    Pretty sure I’ve been there a few times.

    I also don't trust that it's rightly construed as just a fallacy of inference.fdrake

    Certainly. In terms of form, content, and context, M&B is maybe fallacious in its context, because of the way the argument is “assigning inconsistent meanings to positions”: (A) might argue validly for the motte position, but since that’s not the position they take themselves to be arguing for (or, if they are being devious, the one they want to prevail), there’s a mismatch between argument and context.

    Or from the dialogical perspective, it’s a violation of dialogue rules.
  • TonesInDeepFreeze
    2.3k
    The legal example is M&B. She reduces her claims successively:

    Now she has a herniated spinal disk.

    to

    Now she has symptoms.

    to

    Now the symptoms are different.

    /

    Anyway, with informal fallacies, I like to take them in greatest generality while still within an essential characteristic. I don't think it's about checking for adherence to particular varying definitions of them, but rather to their basic structure. Some people might says that strawman is claiming an opponent said something he didn't say, while other people might say that strawman also extends to attacking only incidental elements of an argument that are weak. Both the strict and the less strict definitions share the essential feature of knocking down an easy target while not confronting the main force of the opponent's argument.

    M&B, "moving goal posts", and "no true Scotsman" may have distinctions among them, but they're all of a shared genus.
  • Jamal
    9.2k
    I realized that until today I’ve been using the phrase “strong claim” to describe the bold, unsafe claim, i.e., the bailey, when in fact the bailey is weak, in that it’s hard to defend. What a fool I’ve been.
  • TonesInDeepFreeze
    2.3k
    It's like the material conditional. The weaker the antecedent, the stronger the conditional, and the stronger the antecedent, the weaker the conditional.
  • unenlightened
    8.7k
    It looks to me, my lords, as if the motte is the ideal place from which to attack the bailey. If that is your target, join your enemy up there, and together attack the wretched bailey full of peasants and swine, that is causing all the strife.

    Or is it the motte itself that is your real target, and you are attacking that, by way of first taking the bailey? In that case the dissimulation is on your own side.
  • Hanover
    12k
    It looks to me, my lords, as if the motte is the ideal place from which to attack the bailey.unenlightened

    The Mottians and Bailiians are on the same team, so that's why they don't attack one another, but I suspect a surprise attack from the motte would devastate the bailey.

    By the same token, if the motte were defeated, but the bailey still stood, I do agree with you, it's survival would only be momentary. Whatever it was that destroyed the motte would crush the bailey.

    Or is it the motte itself that is your real target, and you are attacking that, by way of first taking the bailey? In that case the dissimulation is on your own side.unenlightened

    The fallacy is in suggesting you've destroyed the motte by destroying the bailey.
  • Hanover
    12k
    M&B, "moving goal posts", and "no true Scotsman" may have distinctions among them, but they're all of a shared genus.TonesInDeepFreeze

    And it's also a confirmation bias issue, assuming it's being submitted in good faith. In the legal context, it has the used car salesman feel, where, no matter the objection, they've got a response because their goal is talk your money out of your pocket.

    But assuming good faith, where I sincerely believe what I'm arguing, if I am conclusion based, meaning I insist upon reaching the same conclusion regardless of the evidence, that points to a confirmation bias.

    And that is where the MB issue is most frustrating, especially when charlatans encounter the gullible because some are sincere while others disingenuous.

    "The election was stolen" was "proven" by successively weaker and weaker claims (from the voting machines being hacked, to the ballot boxes being stuffed, to just saying that maybe someone accessed a drop box). Tucker Carlson, for example, said it but didn't believe it, so he was disingenuous, but many sincerely did believe it, meaning theysuffered from from extreme confirmation bias.
  • frank
    14.5k
    meaning theysuffered from from extreme confirmation bias.Hanover

    An example was on the coronavirus thread where the bailey was "people don't need to take the vaccine" and the motte was "drug companies are making a profit off of it."

    If you're strongly inclined to connect those dots, you'll be persuaded. Otherwise it makes no sense.
  • TonesInDeepFreeze
    2.3k
    In the public discourse, it is mentioned that the quality of the public discourse is deplorable. But it's interesting to me that you don't see mentions of the need to specifically highlight the actual informal fallacies that are ubiquitous. I don't see people talking about a need to better educate people in the logic of discussion and disagreements.
  • Darkneos
    689
    I think it's an accurate fallacy and reflects a lot of the arguments you hear in the modern world today.

    A lot of the time some blatantly wrong and monstrous arguments are couched in "concern for the children" (famous motte line but it's an obvious mask) when really it's more just using that as a siege engine for the real hate and bigotry they're trying to push.

    It's the same line trotted out when blacks fought for civil rights, or gay men, and now trans people. The motte is always the concern for children, because who would really argue against the safety of minors. But the real point is the bailey, the wild position. But they can't do that so they always retreat to the motte.

    "free speech" is the famous motte when it came to misgendering trans people or using pronouns, or making violent threats to others.

    In modern discourse you will rarely see bigots sincerely peddle their true argument (the bailey) because it's not only wrong and clearly fallacious, but often times monstrous. The problem however is trying to expose the bailey instead of fighting on the motte, because the motte is the shadow, it's never really about that.
  • Jamal
    9.2k
    In modern discourse you will rarely see bigots sincerely peddle their true argument (the bailey) because it's not only wrong and clearly fallacious, but often times monstrous. The problem however is trying to expose the bailey instead of fighting on the motte, because the motte is the shadow, it's never really about that.Darkneos

    Yes indeed. I think we see this from white supremacists, motte-and-bailey not so much as a fallacy but as a long-term strategy.

    @fdrake talked about it here:

    https://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/3976/the-cooption-of-internet-political-discourse-by-the-right/p1
  • L'éléphant
    1.4k
    I actually overheard two people talking about same-sex marriage. One was a senior associate about 70 years of age, man, the other one was about 60 years old woman. He was trying to explain to the woman how he felt about same-sex marriage as he grew up in the conventional family and married conventionally, so his feelings and views about same-sex marriage were somewhat uncomfortable and same sex marrying each other is new to him. Mind you that he never said anything else but what he felt or what background he's coming from. As soon as the man walked away, the woman called him a bigot and homophobic.

    So, those who aren't used to a lifestyle couldn't even express their own feelings without being called a bigot and homophobic. The woman, btw, is active on social media and she gets all her "own" opinions from her social media friends. They don't have tolerance towards feelings that express a different attitude.

    I'm sure the man needed some adjustment to his new environment -- I'd give him some time. But I wouldn't call him homophobic or bigot. (I know how he is professionally).

    Just an example of motte-and-bailey true-to-life experience.

    So, the woman's calling the other a bigot and homophobic represents the motte, and the man's expression of his discomfort about same sex marriage represents the bailey.
  • Darkneos
    689
    Not exactly. He's not advancing a wild argument that is indefensible but more like he grew up knowing one thing and seeing another needs to adjust. Spending 70 years of your life knowing one thing and then having to change course is hard but he's not making any wild claims.

    The woman just sounds narrow minded.
  • Number2018
    550

    1 ) I believe X.
    2 ) Another person tries to show X implies Y.
    3 ) I believe Y is bad.
    4 ) I now defend not(X implies Y)
    5 ) The other person tells me that I am defending Y by defending not(X implies Y).
    6 ) I still believe Y is bad.
    7 ) I now defend not( not(X implies Y) implies Y)
    8 ) The other person now tells me I believe Y.

    I don't believe any of this depends upon any of the contained statements being true. As in X, Y, X implies Y, and the perverse negations like not(X implies Y). I also don't trust that it's rightly construed as just a fallacy of inference. Why? It seems also to be about assigning inconsistent meanings to positions. Rather than just about defending a precisely articulated position incorrectly. In that regard I think cognitive dissonance plays a key role in that dynamic. And as a corollary, trying to point the fallacy out will appear as castigation.
    fdrake

    Thank you for your post, the logical analyses, and the broad conclusions. As you rightly noted, there are no consistently articulated meanings of defended positions, so there is not just a fallacy of inference. However, I can't entirely agree with your point that cognitive dissonance primarily animates the debate's dynamic. Nicholas Shackel qualified 'the motte-and-bailey debate' as a fallacy. Following Habermas, he brought Foucault's "arbitrary redefinition" and confusion of "elementary but inherently equivocal terms such as 'truth' and 'power'" as the principal example of the motte position. But, from the other side, he also attributed the Foucauldian methodology to our postmodern conditions. So, his argumentation could be more consistent. The systematic and widespread confounding of different types of rationality, formal rationality, and value-rationality reveals a sweeping collective tendency. For Foucault, there are certain discursive regularities that govern what can be legitimately said. The unconscious structuring of discourse sets the character and boundaries of the debate and disposes the fluidity and inconsistency of its subjective positions.
  • TonesInDeepFreeze
    2.3k
    I am still curious what examples of steps (5) through (8) there are. I've never seen it.
  • jgill
    3.6k
    Mind you that he never said anything else but what he felt or what background he's coming from. As soon as the man walked away, the woman called him a bigot and homophobic.L'éléphant

    I had a similar experience on another forum. I made a comment about how wonderfully women had progressed in a certain sport, given an opportunity to do so by Title IX. I am 86, so fair game for age discrimination. Two women replied, calling me misogynistic and demeaning, and referring to me as "puffing on a corncob pipe through withered lips" and avoiding the civil and women's rights movements in the 1960s. To which I replied I was on campus and had demonstrated against George Wallace as he stood in the doorway to the admissions office at the U of Alabama, denying entrance to a black man, and that, actually, I had joined the women's lib movement during that decade.

    Age discrimination is thriving.
  • L'éléphant
    1.4k
    He's not advancing a wild argument that is indefensible but more like he grew up knowing one thing and seeing another needs to adjust. Spending 70 years of your life knowing one thing and then having to change course is hard but he's not making any wild claims.Darkneos
    I agree. Nonetheless, those narrow-minded people, like you said, would make it like he was advancing an argument.

    Two women replied, calling me misogynistic and demeaning, and referring to me as "puffing on a corncob pipe through withered lips" and avoiding the civil and women's rights movements in the 1960s. To which I replied I was on campus and had demonstrated against George Wallace as he stood in the doorway to the admissions office at the U of Alabama, denying entrance to a black man, and that, actually, I had joined the women's lib movement during that decade.jgill

    Corncob pipe?

    images?q=tbn:ANd9GcRjj3PW5EwfberyTpHtY0u6AHRQz7UdTRl1ZQ&usqp=CAU

    What did they expect you to smoke? A smoking dragon?

    Just remember, no good deed goes unpunished. Your age included. They were calling you misogynistic and demeaning without knowing you fully well. Did you show them your curriculum vitae? I would keep it with me just in case -- list the campus incident with George Wallace demonstration and the date it happened.
  • jgill
    3.6k
    Corncob pipe?L'éléphant

    macarthur.jpg

    I'm not complaining. If this guy can puff away, so could I !

    George Wallace demonstration and the date it happened.L'éléphant

    1963. There was turmoil all around, with the Klan playing the crowds. At one point there was an explosion, which someone said was one of the confederate canons at the ROTC building going off. One of the civil rights demonstrators yelled, "I hope they hit the bastard this time!" (meaning Wallace).

    Edit: That's how I remember the incident, although the Klan perhaps was there before that day and not on the day he stood in the doorway. And the crowds may have been smaller on that day. The canon going off does stick in my mind, however.
  • L'éléphant
    1.4k

    Smoking dragon pipe:

    kuritelnaja-trubka--770x511.jpg

    1963. There was turmoil all around, with the Klan playing the crowds. At one point there was an explosion, which someone said was one of the confederate canons at the ROTC building going off. One of the civil rights demonstrators yelled, "I hope they hit the bastard this time!" (meaning Wallace).jgill
    Wow. I had no idea. Thanks.
  • PhilosophyRunner
    302
    My observation is that in a debate, if the strong claim—the claim that (A) wants to prevail—fails, then retreating to a more defensible position is a tactic still to make the strong claim prevail. I think it’s fair to call this a fallacy.Jamal

    I agree with you on your analysis of what you call the motte and bailey fallacy. I would like to extend your analogy of the motte and bailey to describe something I have noticed in recent years when it comes to debate.

    Recently I have noticed a lot of people debating and arguing about technical points, that they could not care less about, as a proxy for what they would actually like to argue.

    If I may use this thread's analogy, Frank lives in a land that he has grown up in, let's call it Frankia. He believes this is his land and should be run by his rules and values. He builds a motte and bailey to defend this land run by his values.

    Someone comes along and proclaims that Frank's values are immoral and this needs changing, let's call this attacker John. He attacks the bailey, and after a brief battle the bailey falls. However the bailey was simply a means to an end for Frank - the end being that Frankia be run my Frank's values. Frank retreats to the motte and still proclaims Frankia to be run by him.

    You see even if the motte falls one day, Frank will fall back to a ditch, or fight an asymmetric war from the underbrush, because the motte and the bailey and even the ditch are not the point. The point is that Frank thinks Frankia should be run by his values, not John's.

    This is what I have experienced in discussion and debated in the last few years from many sides with many different viewpoint - there are many Franks out there. Frank argues about the bailey and the motte and maybe even the ditch and underbrush. But even if they all fall, he will keep believing Frankia belongs to him and should be run by his values.

    In effect people take what they consider to be brute facts about certain value positions, and then argue various technicalities. But no matter of technical arguments are going to make them change their mind over what they see as brute facts (this is from their perspective).
  • god must be atheist
    5.1k
    This was worth checking in for a second.

    The motte-and-bailey (mnb) argument or fallacy AS PRESENTED IN THE EXAMPLE is a special case not of simply moving the goalposts, in my opinion, but a combination of moving the goalposts with the aid of Aristotle's equivocation. The argument is defended / attacked by using the same word (women) for two different concepts. Hence the argument's origin. This could be any fallacy, which in turn can be applied to mnb. Mnb steps in when a third fallacy is introduced, that is an AD HOMINEM fallacy: "you are a cretin for not seeing my point."

    In this sense, mnb is a useful naming of the unmasking of an argument that uses a combination of two fallacies. I think the original clash could be started with any fallacy or even with the truth. Mnb steps in and tries to finish the argument and win via a side-step and a solid argument that defends the side-step. The side-step can only be achieved if there is another fallacy involved.

    Thus, a fallacy or a truth in a claim can be defended by sidestepping the claim by employing a fallacy.

    I would put it this way: A motte-and-bailey fallacy has the following structure: Claim (of truth or of fallacy) when attacked by counter-arguments, can be motted by employing a fallacy at the same time which is in the service of side-stepping the issue to create a situation in which a solid argument defends the side-stepped issue, instead of the original claim.

    In contrast, the NON-FALLACY or non-mnb argument that is valid I would put in this way:
    Claim of the truth can be strengthened, when attacked by a counter-argument, by a valid argument.
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