From RationalWiki
Jump to: navigation, search
Part of the series on
Logic and rhetoric
Icon logic.svg
Key articles
General logic
Bad logic
If when you say whiskey you mean the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster […] then certainly I am against it. But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes, […] then certainly I am for it.
—The speech that it was named for[1]

The if-by-whiskey or if-by-whiskey fallacy is a debating tactic often found in politics, and a subset of the relativist fallacy.[2] It is named after a famous speech by Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat, Jr., a Mississippi lawmaker, who was arguing both for and against the legalization of alcohol. It could be considered a form of the balance fallacy, or at least related, and often uses loaded language and doublespeak.


The if-by-whiskey is generally structured in a very verbose way, and basically acts like a fill-in-the-blank:

If by [noun], you mean [negative descriptors of noun], then of course [statement of lack of support/belief]. If, however, by [noun], you mean [positive descriptors of noun], then [statement of support/belief].

Despite the length, it very rarely contains any real content.[2]

Where "If-by-whiskey" is not fallacious[edit]

One important note: "If-by-whiskey" is only fallacious if it is used to disguise a (lack of) position; one of the things that made the speech from which the fallacy takes its name not quite an example of "If-by-whiskey" is that it was intended to both summarize both sides of the issue, and, in effect, say "please don't ask me to take sides on the whiskey issue; both sides have a point, but they're also both wildly exaggerating". The reason the fallacy is named after the above speech is that the speech forthrightly and directly implies what is usually carefully concealed in a "If-by-whiskey" argument or speech.

Further, clearly setting the terms of debate is not fallacious; for example, differentiating between illegally made "moonshine"Wikipedia's W.svg and legally made-and-sold, reputable brands of alcoholic beverage labelled as "whiskey" is probably a valid distinction, assuming that in context the word "whiskey" is ambiguous between the two.

And yes, we're aware of the irony that this section could be called an "if-by-whiskey" argument. The actually fallacy is in the taking of contradictory positions or avoidance thereof, not in the structure of the argument.