|Part of the series on|
Special pleading is a formal logical fallacy where a participant demands special considerations for a particular premise of theirs. Usually this is because in order for their argument to work, they need to provide some way to get out of a logical inconsistency - in a lot of cases, this will be the fact that their argument contradicts past arguments or actions. Therefore, they introduce a "special case" or an exception to their rules.
While this is acceptable in genuine special cases, it becomes a formal fallacy when a person doesn't adequately justify why the case is special.
A person accepts a certain set of criteria for judging something, and applies this in a way appearing consistent and completely exhaustive. Said person finds themself somehow restricted by their own criteria, and declares their own case "special" without any real justification and exclude themself from their own criteria to make their case.
This is a fallacy because they are claiming that they are exempt from certain principles or standards yet they provide no good reason for their exemption. A real exception would either be easily justifiable or apparent in the conditions they make in the first place. Such as "these standards apply to x, y, and z because of a, b and c" and people can then agree with this and the reasonings. Simply demanding that an exception be made isn't good enough.
- In the Thomistic cosmological argument for the existence of God, everything requires a cause. However, proponents of the argument then create a special case where God doesn't need a cause, but they can't say why in any particularly rigorous fashion.
- The seemingly hypocritical nature of some politicians regarding drug use or sexual misdemeanors. Specifically, the typical position is that alcohol and tobacco are OK, everything else is not OK, regardless of any scientific evidence about the relative harm of each drug.
- That gay people can't marry each other, just because. While gay people are different to straight people - by virtue of being gay - this isn't sufficient reasoning to count them as an exception to people who don't believe in the rhetorical statement "marriage is between one MAN and one WOMAN".
- Biblical morality takes massive amounts of special pleading from Biblical literalists who insist that morality can only come from the Bible. They are very happy to follow some rules (shunning gay men) but not others (selling their daughters into slavery, stoning disobedient children, eschewing shellfish) - even though the Bible, which they claim can be the only source of their moral decision making is quite silent on what parts of it you can happily ignore.
- Some conspiracy theorists believe that all conspiracies are bogus except their favorite one.
- In the newly passed Virginia personhood law, which grants the zygote the rights of an adult, item 7 states that "nothing in this section shall be interpreted as affecting lawful assisted conception". In in vitro fertilization, though, several oocytes are removed from a woman's ovary, bathed in semen and fertilized, let to develop into blastocysts, then selecting the ones that look "healthiest" to implant in the woman's womb. The several blastocysts left over are then treated as medical waste.
- Steve Jobs exercised special pleading when he, quoting Picasso, claimed that "good artists copy, great artists steal" and that Apple had "always been shameless about stealing great ideas," implying that no one else could steal patented ideas, but he could.
- Mitt Romney campaigned vehemently against Obamacare, but when reminded (repeatedly) that it was modeled after legislation he himself signed as governor of Massachusetts, he explained that that was totally different because of something to do with States' Rights.
The key to this being a fallacy is that there is no adequate reason for treating the situation differently. Since a different situation is, by definition, different, there is always some distinction to be made; the issue is whether this difference is sufficient. Obviously, the person making the argument thinks that it is sufficient, and stating that it is not will simply be dismissed as not recognizing the fact that this situation is totally different.
 See also
- Exception that proves the rule
- Straw man argument
- Fear of radiation
- Fear mongering
| Articles about logical fallacies|
|Affirming the consequent||Denying the antecedent||
|Fallacious argument styles|