The Nirvana Fallacy and Tu Quoque

Fallacies are of a somewhat dear and special nature for me; I find it intriguing how easy it can be for someone to base their decisions or reject/accept ideas for reasons which can be shown to be illogical.  Even more interesting is watching how people, after being shown that their ideas are not logical, become even more entrenched in their view.  It’s crazy, at least in my opinion, to hold on to a position that requires all sorts of rationalizing and double think to make it seem as if it were true.

Logical fallacies are patterns of thought which are wrong; the specific pattern usually has a name for it.  For instance, the correlation does not equal causation fallacy is called post hoc ergo propter hoc.  So if I cling to the idea that washing my car causes rainy weather, I would be committing this logical fallacy.

One of the lesser-known fallacies is the Nirvana fallacy.  The Nirvana fallacy is committed when you attempt to discredit an entire field of thought because of some issue about a particular aspect of that field of thought, such as a knowledge gap or a known risk; the committer of such a fallacy will then use this particular shortcoming as proof that his field of thought is superior without actually providing evidence.

For instance, vaccination is a very powerful medical tool which can render people immune to disease such as polio, whooping cough, rubella, etc.  However, some people can be allergic to some of the preservatives in the vaccines, so they can’t have them.  Someone committing the Nirvana fallacy would try to argue that because some people can be allergic to vaccines, all vaccines are dangerous and should not be taken; and of course, they’re going to give you an “alternative” to vaccination (which are usually bogus treatments).

The Nirvana fallacy can be pretty persuasive because it usually does involve an actual shortcoming of the field we want to demonize, such as vaccination.  By harping over and over again on a tiny shortcoming, a person could realistically sway an audience who isn’t thinking in terms of the big picture (such as all of the benefits of vaccinating).  In other words, they don’t have a clear perspective of the risk-benefit ratio.

So arguing small points is really not very useful, such as arguing that people should stop buying their kids the occasional happy meal because some other kids got fat.  It doesn’t make sense.  Utilizing reductio ad absurdum, I could argue that we should ban cars because some people get into accidents.

Another lesser known fallacy is tu quoque, or “you as well”.  This fallacy is pretty much the lemming fallacy with fewer lemmings.  The person committing this fallacy will try to justify their own actions by arguing that their opponent does the same thing (usually not true).  This quickly delves into an is/ought fallacy; just because something is a certain way doesn’t mean that it ought to be that way.  So pointing and saying “But you do it too!!!” has no merit at all.  The validity of an action lies only with the action itself and nothing more.



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