Critical Thinking: Fallacies from Relevance IV


Fallacies from Relevance

A fallacy from relevance occurs when the response to a conclusion or an argument is not relevant to the conclusion or argument. These are fallacies that ignore the point at hand and attempt to derail the argument by bringing irrelevancies into the arena of the debate. In this post, I will discuss additional common types of fallacies from relevance, the faulty appeal to force and the Argumentum Ad Hominem Tu Quoque.

Argumentum ad Baculum or Argumentum Baculinum (appeal to force)

I will make you agree with my point by force or coercion.  An example of this from politics might be, “Any research organization who does not publicly support the use of human embryonic stem cells in government funded research will lose all funding beginning next quarter.”

In marriage, the stereotypical form of this argument is the coercion of married sexual dynamics.  “Don’t touch me again until you clean out the gutters.”

While we may force our opponent to agree with our point, they are not conceding that our argument is valid.  What makes this type of argument fallacious is that you are not changing the opinion of your opponent.  In fact, you may well be proving his point if your opponent argues that you are acting in an illogical and haphazard or violent manner.

Argumentum Ad Hominem Tu Quoque (“You’re one, too!”)

Meaning literally, “at the person, you too”, this argument could be called the “hypocrisy” argument.  It is a variant of the Ad Hominem fallacy in which a person’s claim is perceived as false because either the claim is not consistent with something else a person has said or what a person says is inconsistent with his or her own actions.

Referring back to the laws of thought, given any pair of inconsistent claims, though both can be false, only one might be true. Therefore, the fact that someone makes inconsistent claims does not automatically make any particular claim false by definition.  And the fact that a person’s claims are not consistent with his actions might indicate that the person is simply a hypocrite, but this does not prove his claims are false.
If a smoker were to claim that smoking can be harmful to one’s health, or if an alcoholic were to claim that consuming too much alcohol can have negative effects on various aspects of one’s life — their claims are not definitively false simply because they choose to ignore their own claims.  In fact, in these specific cases, personal first-hand practical experience may validate the stated claims.

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Recognizing truth is an essential survival tool for the mind, and ultimately, for the soul. Scripture makes it clear that just as God has three aspects in our heavenly Father, His son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit that we have three aspects.  We are physical, spiritual, and intellectual.  Feeding our intellect is the equivalent of feeding our souls.

Furthermore, teaching our children the ability to recognize fallacies of this type, giving them the intellectual skill to deconstruct these types of arguments, will ensure that the arguments they, themselves, will one day make are at least valid and thoughtfully arrived upon. It will also assist them to investigate more deeply into the conclusions espoused by those in the world whose motives might not come from love and might not have been very carefully arrived at or well researched.


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