Suppose an opinionator—intellectual, journalist, television news reader, academic, celebrity, blogger, etc.—were to issue the following prototypical statement:
I think we can all agree that the notorious ax murderer Joe Blogs, who used his last words to state that killing is wrong, is a hypocrite. Therefore, hacking people to pieces with dull axes is okay.
We would be right to wrest from the grip of this man the bottle of which he is obviously too fond. But what if he said this instead?
The Catholic Church acknowledged covering up the crimes of a bunch of misordained molesting male priests who were ‘oriented’ mainly towards post-pubescent young males, therefore we are right to ignore what the Church says about fornication, birth control, self abuse, divorce, and abortion.
This time our man would be rewarded with at least sage nods from his audience, if not a plaque acknowledging his journalistic boldness. He would even be bought drinks when, indeed, he should be cut off, because he is engaging in the same fallacy as before.
A murderer preaching against murder does not make murder right; other men rape, abuse, or fornicate and preaching against these acts does not make these actions allowable, even if you really want to do them.
Because the very pro-abortion former executive director of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association Scott Richard Swirling has pleaded guilty to negotiating on-line to have sex with a man’s 12-year-old daughter, it means that those associated NFPRHA (pronounced nif-pur-Ha!) can’t be trusted in what they say about abortions on demand for pre-teen females.
This one is more difficult because it’s not clear if there is any hypocrisy. But if there were, then we cannot judge the morality of abortions from the actions of its prominent supporters, naughty as they are. Instead we say it is wrong because it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being whose life is “inconvenient”.
If your doctor who is a smoker says smoking is bad for you it is not necessarily true that smoking is good for you. Though smoking does give one a rich, resonant voice (evidence: most radio and screen actors of old). Your author does not smoke. Though if he did, it would (a) be none of your damn business, and (b) no proof that smoking is good for you.
If a celebrity, say Michael Moore, rails against private ownership of firearms yet surrounds himself with firearm-carrying private citizens (and might even himself occasionally sport one), this does not necessarily mean private ownership of firearms is sound. Though guns are obviously the only way to frighten off obtrusive revenooers and other varmints.
If a prominent personage, say Joe “Wakka Wakka” Biden, preaches that sacrifice is good yet gives annually to charity a sum smaller than the amount he spends on hair plugs and tooth whitening, this does not necessarily mean giving to charity is unwise. Because “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, even as President of the Senate, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”
Besides our intellectual elite, kindergartners are also especially fond of this fallacy:
“You’re a poopy head!” shouted Tot One.
“You shouldn’t call people names! You’re a poopier head!” retorted Tot Two.
Tot Two is entirely right that one should not call people wounding, scurrilous names; though in calling Tot Two a poopy head Tot One has given some evidence that he (Tot One) is in fact himself a poopy head, because poopy heads use this kind of language. However, this is not proof that Tot Two is not a poopy head, too. Tot Two will instead have to produce independent evidence that he did not steal the cookies out of Tot One’s lunch box.
1Consisting so far of just this present one and this old one.