Tu quoque, mon

Bob Marley's alleged quote: "Who are you to judge the life I live? I know I'm not perfect and I don't live to be, but before you start pointing fingers, make sure your hands are clean."

Facebook is an amazing source of inspiration. Some of my outer circle friends (i.e. those with whom I share less intellectual alignment – see my previous post on the boundary layer of IQ) provide a regular stream of content that makes me jump, wince, or generally want to carve out time to write a post about. Of course, I would not tell them, lest I lose them as facebook friends and my source of inspiration dries up.

The first wince-inducing content I came across recently was posted by an Australian friend of mine, in relation to this dreadful Yahoo! article about a man bashing two alpacas to death. Now, had I actually met one, I’m sure I’d love alpacas as much as my Aussie friend, and I am not insensitive to animal suffering. What bothered me was the logic of the facebook comment that my friend posted along with the article:

That’s not enough. He should get a life sentence. I can’t stand people who are cruel to animals. I would gladly go to jail for killing a person whom I saw harm or kill an animal.

While the length of an appropriate jail sentence for this type of crime is a matter of appreciation and debate, the second half of the statement is a gem. The irony of being both unable to stand people who are cruel to animals and willing to kill such people (who, after all, are also part of the animal kingdom) apparently flew well over the head of my friend. This would be an easily-forgivable logical mistake upon responding to outrage-inducing news; however it is also too common, and used in pro-death penalties debate (in the form of “intentional killing of someone is so horrible it should be met with the death penalty”). I’ve become jaded from having had to refute this argument so often; but it being applied to animal cruelty was novel enough a situation for me to blog about it.

Bob Marley's alleged quote: "Who are you to judge the life I live? I know I'm not perfect and I don't live to be, but before you start pointing fingers, make sure your hands are clean."
Does weed induce logical fallacies?

The second facebook post that triggered this blog entry comes from another Australian friend (is there a trend here?). The picture on the right shows a quote attributed (rightly or not, that’s not the point) to reggae legend Bob Marley. This was accompanied by a “So true!!!” comment from the aforementioned friend.

Is it “so true” and worthy of three exclamation points?

Or has the concept of the tu quoque (“you, too”) logical fallacy not reached down under? Indeed, regardless of whether there is something worthy of judgement in Nesta Robert “Bob” Marley‘s life, or in anyone’s life for that matter, it is an unnecessary condition for the judge to be perfect himself to pass judgement – a judgement is sound (or unsound) regardless of who issues it, and evaluating its soundness in light of its author is a bad case of argumentum ad hominem.

This concept has a famous precedent in the New Testament – the parable of the mote and the beam (emphasis mine) attributed to Jesus:

Judge not, that ye be not judged.
For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

— Matthew 7:1-5

What Bob Marley, Saint Matthew and apparently Jesus himself fail to acknowledge is that it is logically sound to pass judgement even when one is of an equal or lower moral standing than whoever is being judged. Not acknowledging one’s own moral failure (i.e. taking a “high horse” attitude) when passing judgement is akin to hypocrisy (what Saint Matthew’s parable really aims to denounce), but the judgement itself can be passed regardless of the judge’s own situation. A criminal, for example, can recognize, judge and condemn another criminal’s behavior; it does not take a perfectly law-abiding citizen to do so (which is probably best for our judicial system, as perfectly law-abiding citizens are in short supply). At worst, the judge is being hypocritical if he does not also recognize his/her own moral turpitude, but that’s an entirely separate object of discussion than the validity of the judgement.

Lastly, the famous metaphor of the all-black pot calling out the kettle for having a bit of soot is equally ambiguous. The pot is not wrong in pointing out the kettle’s soot, and the fact that the pot is sootier is irrelevant to the accuracy of the observation it makes. Of course, what the fable really aims to point out (and which is often missed) is that criticizing someone opens up the judge to criticism of its own – something we ought to be prepared for when we pass judgement, but certainly not something that should prevent us from passing judgement – lest we end up in a society where nobody ever speaks up in fear of being exposed in turn.

Stay tuned for more Australian fallacies!

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