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Encyclopedia > Special pleading

Special pleading is a form of spurious argumentation where a position in a dispute introduces favorable details or excludes unfavorable details by alleging a need to apply additional considerations without proper criticism of these considerations themselves.

The lack of criticism may be a simple overlook (e.g., a reference to common sense) or an application of double standard. Look up Common sense in Wiktionary, the free dictionary For the American independence advocacy pamphlet by Thomas Paine, see Common Sense (pamphlet) For the American hip-hop artist, see Common One meaning of the term common sense (or as an adjective, commonsense) on a strict construction of the term, is... The introduction to this article provides insufficient context for those unfamiliar with the subject matter. ...

A more difficult case is when a possible criticism is made relatively immune to investigation. This immunity may take the forms of:

  • reference to vocabulary that is owned by a distinct community with sole rights to assess meaning and application
  • unexplained claims of exemption from principles commonly thought relevant to the subject matter
Example: I'm not relying on faith in small probabilities here. These are slot machines, not roulette wheels. They are different.
  • claims to data that are inherently unverifiable, perhaps because too remote or impossible to define clearly
Example: Cocaine use should be legal. It does have some adverse health effects, but many have benefited from its effects.
  • assertion that the opponent lacks the qualifications necessary to comprehend a point of view
Example: I know you think that I should be giving my money to the poor, but you've never been rich before. There are things about wealth that you don't understand.
  • assertion that literally nobody has the qualifications necessary to comprehend a point of view
Example: I know the idea that ball lightning is caused by ghosts makes no sense to you, but that's only because you're human. Humans cannot understand supernatural phenomena.

In the classic distinction among material, psychological, and logical fallacies,[1] special pleading most likely falls within the category of psychological fallacy, as it would seem to relate to "lip service", rationalization, and diversion (abandonment of discussion). This article is about the drug Cocaine. ... Ball Lightning Ball lightning is a natural phenomenon, or debatably, a pseudoscientific theory. ... The term Fallacy denotes any mistaken statement used in an argument. ... The Historical fallacy, also called the psychological fallacy, is a logical fallacy originally noticed by philosopher John Dewey. ... In dialectic, the term logical fallacy properly refers to a formal fallacy: a flaw in the structure of a deductive argument which renders the argument invalid. ...

In philosophy it is assumed that where a distinction is claimed a relevant basis for the distinction should exist and be substantiated. Special pleading is a subversion of this assumption.


  • Sure, my client may have stolen, but he is poor, therefore it is excusable.
  • You may disagree with my tax plan, but I've taken many more economics classes than you so you should give me the benefit of the doubt.


  1.   This division is found in introductory texts such as Fallacy: The Counterfeit of Argument, W. Ward Fearnside, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1959.

External links

  • Web sites offering definitions of "special pleading": [2], [3], [4]
  • The One-Sidedness Fallacy by Peter Suber.

  Results from FactBites:
Pleading - LoveToKnow 1911 (4478 words)
In the earliest historical period, that of the legis actiones, the pleadings were verbal, and made in court by the parties themselves, the proceedings imitating as far as possible the natural 1 In Scots and ecclesiastical law the word " plea " is used as to the statements of both parties to a cause.
When the pleadings had reached a stage at which the parties were in flat contradiction on matters of fact, they concluded by joinder of issue, upon which the record was made up and the action was ripe for trial.
There are also special pleas of justification to indictments for defamatory libel under the Libel Act 1843; and to indictments for non-repair of highways and bridges the accused may plead that the liability to repair falls upon another person.
FRCP - Rule 9 (LII 2007 ed.) (241 words)
In pleading the performance or occurrence of conditions precedent, it is sufficient to aver generally that all conditions precedent have been performed or have occurred.
In pleading an official document or official act it is sufficient to aver that the document was issued or the act done in compliance with law.
In pleading a judgment or decision of a domestic or foreign court, judicial or quasi-judicial tribunal, or of a board or officer, it is sufficient to aver the judgment or decision without setting forth matter showing jurisdiction to render it.
  More results at FactBites »



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