Logically Delicious is part of a continuing series within Thinking About Thinking. I’m hunting Bad Takes in The Wild, and exposing the logical fallacies that fester within.
THE FALLACY: Association Fallacy (Also known as: Bad company argument, guilt by association, honor by association).
The association fallacy consists of pointing out some superficial similarity between two people or positions and drawing broad conclusions based on that link. This can be used to imply either guilt or praise without actually evaluating the merits of the associated person or their argument.
“Hitler was a vegetarian! Vegetarians are bad people!”
Debates in the historical record about Hitler’s vegetarianism aside, there are of course many, many more vegetarians who did NOT oversee wars of conquest and genocide.
On the flip side, we have honor by association – “This person can’t be racist, they have black friends!”
In order to evaluate claims like this, one must look at the words and actions of the person themselves, not the company they keep.
WHY IT’S WRONG
Association fallacies seek to outsource judgment on the merits of an argument by pointing out that some aspect of the argument is shared by a universally agreed upon bad (or good) actor. This removes the agency of the person making the argument and assumes their association is sufficient to credit or dismiss their point.
WHAT IT IS NOT:
Association is not a fallacy when used to argue against generalizations. To return to the above Hitler-and-vegetarianism argument, using Hitler to argue that vegetarians are inherently nefarious would be an association fallacy, but using Hitler to discredit the notion that vegetarians are inherently virtuous is not a fallacious argument.
HOW TO CONFRONT THE FALLACY
Point out that you are not the person you’re being associated with, drill down into the nuanced differences between your argument and theirs, and redirect the conversation to the merits of the argument itself, rather than accepting association as a legitimate way to credit (or discredit) a point.
Until next time … keep thinking!