Logical Fallacies — Special Pleading
Posted by Troy Loy
Special Pleading, or ‘covering one’s ass,’ is a form of argumentation skeptics routinely encounter, and is the making of excuses, often called ‘reasons’ by those prone to use them, also known as the ad hoc (or ‘in this case only’) hypothesis, and post-hoc reasoning. This is most often takes the form of arguments that try to ‘explain’ special reasons or invoke a presumed special case for a claim despite any logic or evidence against it. It attempts to dismiss a question, argument, explanation, or lack of evidence as somehow and uniquely not applying to the claim to be salvaged from the jaws of death. All such special reasons offered with no justification themselves.
- I took the paranormal challenge, but I couldn’t pass it because I was overwhelmed by the doubt of the skeptics present, which scrambled my powers…
- I failed the test because the stars weren’t right…
- The spirits weren’t favorable to my winning the challenge…
- I was unable to pass the preliminary test because the guy conducting it was a magician who cheated to make me fail by using sleight of hand…
- I couldn’t get a ‘hit’ on my remote viewing test because the target images in the envelope didn’t have a single, distinct, easily visualized (read: easily guessed…) feature for me to to focus my powers on…(remote viewing is myopic?)
This fallacy is prevalent in parapsychology with the so-called Experimenter Effect, often dubbed by cross parapsychologists the Wiseman Effect (after psychologist Richard Wiseman… Wow! I wish I was notorious enough to believers to have a logical fallacy named after me!) where skeptical disbelief, even accusations of repressed skeptical disbelief in those who sincerely hold themselves to believe, is said to produce an effect that literally in and of its magical self cancels psi-ability in a laboratory demonstration.
How can the proponents of psi lose? After all, if you get a positive effect-size, it’s due to a psychic effect, and if you don’t it’s still due to a psychic effect! Really… how do you test that by itself to know if there’s anything really going on? –You can’t
…so, stealing from myself, there’s this one from one of my older posts…
- There really are pixies playing in my garden, but you can’t see them because they’re shy and don’t want you to see them, magically invisible to both optical and infrared light, and can’t be made visible by sprinkling stuff on them because they’re also intangible at will, and oh, did I also mention that you can’t hear them because they’re supernaturally silent whenever they feel like it?
Special pleading can be and often is carried to ridiculous lengths in gross disregard of the rule of thumb known as Occam’s razor, in which smaller leaps of logic are considered preferable to great ones, and in which “elements should not be multiplied unnecessarily,”
…or more to the point, beyond the plausible ability of the available evidence to support them.
Any argument using this fallacy is thus rendered both unfalsifiable and unprovable. Any valid idea in science should be framed in testable form, or it is not science. It does no good to say, “you can’t judge my claim because of special reasons X, Y, and Z,” or to provide any other arbitrary excuses that something won’t work, or can’t be tested.
Science is messy, and there are times when a theory must be refined so that it better conforms to the data, but this is not the use of post hoc reasoning: the amendments made to a set of ideas in science are those hypotheses that can in principle be tested independently of the theory, and are those factors which are known to separately exist and have been observed or otherwise justified in some fashion.
It’s bad form to have to come up with not only untestable, but irrelevant reasons to prop up an idea that not only fails the test of observation, the test of explanation, and the test of prediction, especially when it has no proverbial leg to stand on as with any seriously flawed idea.
(Last Update 2014/04/13)
About Troy LoyI seek to learn through this site and others how to better my ability as a person and my skill at using my reason and understanding to best effect. I do fractal artwork as a hobby, and I'm working to develop it to professional levels, though I've a bit to go till I reach that degree of skill! This is a crazy world we're in, but maybe I can do a little, if only that, to make it a bit more sane than it otherwise would be.
Posted on Saturday, 11:16, February 20, 2010, in Logic & Philosophy and tagged Ad Hoc Hypothesis, Logic, Logical Fallacies, Logical Fallacy, Observer-expectancy effect, Occam's Razor, Philosophy, Richard Wiseman, Skepticism, Special Pleading, Wiseman Effect. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.