When you’re a sure form of nerd who follows a sure form of weblog roll, you’re in all probability aware of Scott Alexander’s writings on the motte-and-bailey fallacy. It is a shut cousin of the traditional fallacy of equivocation, the place the identical phrase is used to imply various things throughout an argument. The fallacy of equivocation, in its most blatant kind, appears one thing like this:
Taxes are a headache. Tylenol eliminates complications. Due to this fact, Tylenol eliminates taxes.
Do you see the error? In fact you do. What we imply by “headache” once we use that time period to explain taxes will not be what we imply by the identical phrase once we discuss in regards to the results of painkillers, so clearly statements about painkillers don’t apply to taxes. The motte-and-bailey fallacy, as Scott Alexander describes it, is extra of a sneaky argumentative tactic than a logical fallacy – he additionally suggests the much less clunky time period “strategic equivocation” to explain it. In his phrases:
So the motte-and-bailey doctrine is while you make a daring, controversial assertion. Then when anyone challenges you, you retreat to an apparent, uncontroversial assertion, and say that was what you meant all alongside, so that you’re clearly proper and so they’re foolish for difficult you. Then when the argument is over you return to creating the daring, controversial assertion.
I’ve observed one thing like a motte-and-bailey taking place over the previous few years with the concept of tolerance. Tolerance, we’re informed, is a advantage, and to be publicly labeled as an illiberal particular person is to stroll round carrying a scarlet letter “I” for the remainder of your days. However what tolerance means, and what it requires, appears to be shifting. Initially, tolerance was meant in fairly a literal manner. To be tolerant of one thing was, effectively, simply that. It merely meant that you just tolerated it – you place up with it. You can dislike it, grumble about it, overtly disapprove of it, and keep away from it, however so long as you place up with it, you had fulfilled your obligation of tolerance.
Today, nonetheless, the aim publish has shifted. Tolerance is now not a name to easily tolerate one thing. It now means one thing extra like lively approval and affirmation. When you disapprove of X, or if don’t actively help and affirm X, you might be due to this fact, now, illiberal of X. However…that’s nonsense, proper? Certainly, everyone knows that it’s potential to disapprove of one thing however nonetheless tolerate it, proper? That’s the place the motte-and-bailey is available in. It appears quite common for individuals to demand “tolerance as optimistic acceptance” on the one hand, however later insist they’re solely after “tolerance as being tolerated” when even barely pressed.
Classical tolerance doesn’t imply approval, it doesn’t imply affirmation, it doesn’t imply acceptance – it simply means tolerating one thing. Wanting homosexual marriage to be made unlawful is illiberal of homosexual marriage. Making an attempt to cross a burka ban is equally illiberal. However you may disapprove homosexual marriage or burkas and nonetheless tolerate them.
I consider in classical tolerance. To insist in your proper to be tolerated, nonetheless you outline it, can also be to put an obligation on others. Traditional tolerance, the kind of factor tolerance initially meant, locations a justifiable obligation on others. It doesn’t require their approval. Certainly, I can clearly recall how these insisting on tolerance in a long time previous made it clear that approval was not required and even essentially desired. The perspective was, “It doesn’t matter for those who approve of me or not – your acceptance will not be what I’m after. Simply go away me free to dwell my life as I see match, and to pursue happiness as I want, and you may stew with disapproval about it to your hearts content material, for all I care.”
Tolerance as acceptance, nonetheless, is putting a a lot larger demand on individuals. It says “It’s not sufficient that you just go away me to dwell my life in peace. You have to additionally approve of how I dwell my life. I’ve a proper to require that your private ideas, feeling, and convictions be favorably disposed in direction of me – if they aren’t, you may have failed in your obligations to me.” That is an excessive amount of. Individuals don’t have a proper to stop you from dwelling as you want, however they do have a proper to be improper.
Kevin Corcoran is a Marine Corps veteran and a guide in healthcare economics and analytics and holds a Bachelor of Science in Economics from George Mason College.