The Motte + Bailey Fallacy

December 24, 2021

Have you ever encountered someone who makes an outrageous claim, but when challenged, subtly retreats from their original argument into a new position that is more agreeable, but fundamentally different?

I have. Here’s one –

“Men as a gender are politically, legally, financially and socially advantaged”, which when challenged all too often retreats to a very agreeable and similar position of, “well, men make the laws!”

I agree with that. But this is not the original assertion.

Because yes, the laws are (mostly) written *by* men, but that doesn’t mean they are written *for* men. In fact most gendered legislation is designed for women.

Thankfully, this underhanded ability to subtly retreat to a more agreeable, mundane and defendable position, rather than conceeding or defending one’s initial assertion has a name – The Motte and Bailey Fallacy.

It is actually the opposite of The Strawman Fallacy, where you deliberately misinterpret your opposition’s argument as a means of defeating it, and instead you misinterpret your own as a way of making it more agreeable and easily defensible.

We see this when people yammer on about capitalism too, controversially calling for it to be ‘eradicated as the centre of all evil on earth’, and then when challenged, this argument often switches and dilutes itself to one more mundane, akin to ‘capitalism has some unfair outcomes’.

Which it certainly does.

But again that was not the original point being made.

These are two separate forms of the same argument, one weak and one strong, and using a Motte and Bailey approach a person can swap between them, using one to advance the other.

It’s annoying.

But now you have a name for it.

The Motte and Bailey Fallacy, have you seen it too?

Images by – josipa-juras of Unsplash


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