Tu quoque (Latin for “you too”) is a common type of logical fallacy, meaning a flaw in reasoning that weakens an argument or a trick of thought used as a debate tactic. It occurs when someone’s argument is discredited solely based on the allegation that their past actions or words are not consistent with their views.
It is also known as “ad hominem tu quoque” since it’s considered to be one of the different types of ad hominem arguments.
In this article, we’ll explain in detail how this erroneous line of reasoning works, as well as examine a variety of examples.
👉 Tu quoque is a fallacy in which someone asserts that their opponent’s argument must be invalid because it is inconsistent with their past words and actions.
In other words, one points out that the opponent has acted in the same manner themselves and fallaciously uses the (alleged) hypocrisy as evidence to refute their argument.
This reasoning is fallacious because it dismisses the argument solely on grounds of personal shortcomings; it doesn’t disprove the logic of an argument, even though it may show the arguer’s hypocrisy. In fact, such arguments often don’t address the substance of the opposing claim at all, even though they appear as relevant counterarguments.
As such, its logical form is as follows:
- Person 1 makes argument X.
- Person 2 points out that X is also true about 1.
- Therefore, X is false.
🚭 For Example
Kate: “ Smoking is unhealthy for you, you really should quit.”
Maria: “You have been smoking for 10 years yourself, so there goes your argument.”
Here, Maria commits the fallacy since she uses hypocrisy to refute Kate’s claim, but in reality, however, it doesn’t disprove or even address the actual claim Kate was making. It is irrelevant to the truth value of her point if she has smoked herself or not.
As Scott F. Aikin explained in his paper Tu Quoque Arguments and the Significance of Hypocrisy:
The hypocrisy of the arguer is not necessarily evidence of the falsity of what she argues. However, one may feel a gut feeling there is something right about tu quoque arguments in that the acceptability of the view proposed is challenged.
This fallacy is also known as the “appeal to hypocrisy”, the “you too” fallacy, and “pot calling the kettle black” fallacy. Also, it’s an informal fallacy and, more specifically, falls into their subcategory of relevance fallacies.
Tu quoque is pronounced as “tyoo-kwoh-kwee”.
It typically functions as a noun in the English language, although it may also be used to modify other nouns (for example, “tu quoque argument”).
Use of Tu Quoque Fallacy
Similarly to red herring arguments, appeals to hypocrisy are used as a distraction so that one may avoid having to deal with a certain issue or question. It’s quite common to hear “but what about X, look at what they did”- type of allegations in various discussions with both adults and children.
Furthermore, it tends to include a strong emotional appeal and thus can be effective in influencing people’s opinions and judgments. Such a strategy is often employed in the political arena: During the debate, a candidate shifts the focus to their opponent’s “poor” character while seemingly refuting their argument by pointing out that they are being a hypocrite.
To help you better understand this fallacy, here are a few examples from various situations.
🏛 Example in Politics
Politician 1: “My opponent has almost always failed to deliver his election promises, and everyone should remember that.”
Politician 2: “You didn’t deliver your promise to increase the tax rate for rich people, which was at the center of your election campaign.”
Answering criticism with criticism, like in this example, doesn’t directly address the issue at hand, even though it may seem to do so. It simply shifts the focus to the opponent’s character or actions, which are generally irrelevant to the logic of their argument.
🏡 Example at Home
Parent: “You have to clean your room, it’s too messy.”
Child: “But your room is messy too, so why should I listen to you?”
This is a textbook example. In discussions between a parent and a child there are different factors that affect the relevance of a claim, such as a parent’s authority and dissimilar needs due to the age difference.
🏫 Example in School
Hannah: “I think that global warming is the most important issue of our time and everyone should acknowledge that.”
Mark: “But you drive an SUV, therefore you can’t actually believe that.”
The fact that Hannah drives an SUV doesn’t invalidate her argument or necessarily mean that she doesn’t believe in what she says.
However, note that if Hannah’s claim was that driving an SUV is harmful to the climate and therefore unethical, it would be a very unthoughtful argument from her – even if a tu quoque wouldn’t disprove it.