The Evil of Special Pleading

It seems to me that the person who is able to root out the inborn human tendency toward special pleading is a huge step closer to being on the path to knowledge and wisdom.

It’s so naturally human, this fallacy. We have a cognitive distortion constantly assuring us that whatever we already believe or almost believe, especially if we want to believe it, should be presumed to be true in the face of any alternative accounts.

Thus, we submit the beliefs of others to a level of scrutiny that we would never think of applying to our own. And on an everyday level, this attitude makes a great deal of sense, as do so many of the common fallacies. We don’t have time to compare our convictions fairly with the claims presented by someone else who probably, let’s be honest, has no better justification for their beliefs than we have for ours. Unless the claims are especially compelling or urgent in the moment, we generally do well to hold our ground in the short term and to avoid being thrown too easily by the beliefs of others.

However, while there’s a practical argument for it in the short term, it is of course the path of sheer folly in the longer term, especially if a person is seriously trying to seek the truth. What could be clearer than the fact that we cannot easily grow closer to the truth if we are applying double standards everywhere?

And yet, it is so common, among the educated as well as the uneducated, on the right and the left alike. It is astonishing. Disappointing, certainly.

Their hypocrisy does not justify or negate our hypocrisy, even though “we” always assume it must. Their double standards, their special pleading, ought to inspire us to strive for something better, not to drag us down to their same level.

Once we decide that special pleading is contemptible wherever it appears and is never intellectually justifiable, and start watching out for it in ourselves, we’ll find it all too easy to notice, and not too difficult to avoid, if we choose.

Make that choice.

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