Argument by label

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About

Argument by label, or argumentum ad labelum, is a soldier argument in which a label is used to discredit something:

  • associate two things by using the same label for both, without any actual justification for doing so.
  • label something in a way that allows it to be dismissed

Forms

discrediting an activity

The arguer tries to condemn a particular action by associating it with a negative label. This can include:

  • labeling the action as "injustice" or some other term with negative connotations -- when in fact the term may not apply at all
  • labeling the action as being advocated by a particular party (person or group of people) -- a logical fallacy in that a disparaged group's advocacy of a particular action does not prove that the action is wrong; this is a form of association fallacy.

discrediting a group

The arguer tries to condemn a particular group by associating them with a widely-disparaged action or activity.

The logical fallacy is less obvious here, in that advocacy of a widely-disparaged action should certainly earn a party criticism for advocating it -- but:

  • If the party is offering a rational argument in support of the action, that argument should be countered (see Issuepedia:Arguing "address the substance") before assuming that the party is wrong (logically or ethically) to advocate it.
  • If the party has changed their mind and admitted their error, the only valid criticism of the party is that they made an error of judgement; they cannot be condemned for taking a position which they no longer take.

Fallacies

The fallacies which can be involved in argument by label are:

false equivalence

A label generally includes a number of implied attributes. An argument by label typically applies a label with a few matching attributes and then bases its conclusion on the presumption that all of the label's attributes are applicable. This is a false equivalence, a form ofovergeneralization.

false presumption of condemnation

A further rhetorical manipulation may be committed by speaking as if a particular action or party was widely condemned while in fact it is supported by most or all of the intended audience -- with the hope that implied peer pressure will cause the audience to negatively shift its perception of that party or action. This is presuming the conclusion, a form of circular argument.

Examples

  • "X is just political correctness run amok!", implying that those who argue for X don't actually have good reasons for doing so.
  • "X is socialism / communism [which is evil (implied)]!": this uses both a double false equivalence and false presumption of condemnation:
    • double false equivalence:
      • fact: X has some attributes in common with socialism or communism
        • however: X is not equivalent to converting to a socialist or communist form of government. (In most examples, X is nothing more than a minor policy proposal such as making the taxation curve more progressive.)
      • fact: socialism and communism were notoriously key components of a number of tyrannical governments during the 20th century
        • however: it was not socialism or communism per se which made those governments tyrannical
  • Carly Fiorina, when asked about accusations that the release of those anti-Planned Parenthood videos may be linked to the shooting in Colorado Springs, replied: "It is so typical of the left to begin demonizing the messenger because they don’t agree with your message. The vast majority of Americans agree. What Planned Parenthood is doing is wrong, and that is why the vast majority of Americans are prepared, not only to defund Planned Parenthood, but also to stop abortion for any reason at all after five months. So, what I would say to anyone who tries to link this terrible tragedy to anyone who opposes abortion, or opposes the sale of body parts, is this is typical left-wing tactics."
    • This combines several techniques:
      • argument by label: By labeling any criticism as a "typical left-wing attack", she avoids addressing the actual criticism.
      • straw-man: She implies that she is being demonized because the Left disagrees with her, when in fact she is being asked a specific question.
      • Acorn tossing: she interjects the irrelevant and untrue statements that a majority of Americans believe Planned Parenthood is immoral, want to defund Planned Parenthood, and want to make abortion after five months illegal for any reason. This makes it likely that there will be further discussion of those topics, allowing the original question to remain unanswered.
      • Big lie: The vast majority of Americans support Planned Parenthood and the right to abort an unwanted fetus, but Fiorina implies that the opposite is an accepted fact.