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Collecting "Is this a fallacy or not?" ruminationsEdit

When is this ever a fallacy?Edit

Is this ever actually a fallacy? If so, could we provide an example?

It seems to me that this is simply saying "If (some aspect of A) then B. If (some other aspect of A) then C."

I don't think this is a logical fallacy. It is really saying, I think, "If person holds A to be true, and not B, then C. If person holds B to be true, and not A, then not C". It is not clear whether the two conditionals negate each other by the article's example, but they are apparently contradictory. In itself, this is not a logical fallacy, but a rational one. For it supposes that what the person believes determines an objective truth not (apparently) contingent on the person. Another example is: "If you believe there is a green monster, the locals of the village saw the green monster. If, however, you don't believe in the green monster, the locals only imagined the green monster." Rintrah 08:12, 12 September 2006 (UTC)

Why is there a semi-colon after "But"? This is very strange syntax; it assumes "but" forms a clause of its own. Rintrah 08:00, 12 September 2006 (UTC)

The canonical example looks to me like it's satirical in intent. Unless there's evidence to the contrary, I think "Soggy" was making the same kind of point described in the "When it's not a fallacy" section - that both sides have merit - and doing so quite effectively. Is there any evidence that he seriously intended both sides of his statement to be taken at literal face value? It's only a fallacy if you do that, and I don't think that's the natural interpretation of the words. 16:45, 14 January 2007 (UTC)

The thing here is that the speech didn't exactly refer to two aspects or even two different meanings of "whiskey". It was talking about the connotations of the term, which are subjective and can't exactly be invoked in a logical argument. It could be considered an appeal to emotion. No matter whether you consider it to be good or bad, whiskey is still whiskey, so all the if-by-whiskey stuff was completely irrelevant. It fails to express any point of view whatsoever. Since both of the things he talked about were whiskey, he was essentially saying that a) he is against it and b) he is for it. How do you ban the "devil's brew" without banning the "oil of conversation"? You can't, since they are the same. They are both whiskey! This argument constitutes a contradiction and an appeal to emotion because a) it contradicts itself and b) it appeals to the audience's associations with the term "whiskey", trying to take care of both POVs. --WPholic [ talk ] 14:00, 21 April 2007 (UTC)
I think it is more of a rhetorical trick than an outright fallacy. It exploits the Golden Mean fallacy to make the speaker appear more reasonable than both sides, and presents the speaker's true position by inference. In this case it looks like he is arguing for legalisation of alcohol sales, but with regulation, but I have no knowledge of the context so couldn't say for sure. If this is true, then he is pretending to be an unbiased commentator but really arguing for one side of the debate. (talk) 15:52, 16 January 2013 (UTC)

The problem here is that "if by whisky" is a commentary on the problem of bifurcation when appealing to consequences, and therefore he clearly avoids calling whisky "completely good" or "completely bad". That A and B are opposites and yet he agrees with them both to appeal to the masses, is not a syllogisticly sound argument. His statemnts are not necessarily a fallacy. It also assumes that we know the intent of the author as trying to appeal to both sides. His intentions; noble or otherwise; do not make the statements an "ipso facto" fallacy. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:25, 29 June 2009 (UTC)

I think the "if-by-whisky" statement is actually a good thoughtful analysis...given that words have limited meaning, even his "no" has to be qualified. He just clarified his answer. I hope I formatted this reply correctly. 21:00, 7 September 2007 (UTC)

Not a fallacyEdit

As laid out here this isn't even an argument, let alone a fallacy. Why is this here? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:49, 22 August 2008 (UTC)

It's an informal "logical fallacy" in the same way other exceptionally bad fallacies are. There are plenty of well-known informal fallacies that barely qualify as arguments in the first place. For example, red herrings and ad hominem are both "fallacies," but they're fallacies for the reason that they don't push the debate in any direction, they avoid the debate entirely, or don't argue anything of consequence in the first place. I think if there is ground for its removal it is probably that "if-by-whiskey" is seemingly unused. I certainly have never heard of it before. --Strangejames (talk) 02:18, 28 October 2013 (UTC)

This sounds to me like it is pretty close to Bill Clinton's famous "That depends on what your definition of 'is' is" statement. While that got an enormous amount of flak from his opponents and some non-opponents, it is not a ridiculous statement to make in all cases, though it can certainly be a dodge. While I'm not sure it is a fallacy (though I think it might be in some cases), it is nevertheless a phenomenon that is worthy of being acknowledged and recorded. I, for one, will very likely keep this concept in my "conceptual/rhetorical 'bag of tricks' ". If it is deemed to not be a fallacy, so be it, but it should not be removed from Wikipedia for that reason. Rather, it should be reworded or moved to a more appropriate location. Having said that, I think that the spelling of this concept is inappropriate in its punctuation. Rather than writing it as the hyphenated If-by-whiskey, I think it should be written as either If by whiskey... or as "If by whiskey...", depending on whether it is considered the name of a particular kind of fallacy (or perhaps some other phenomenon--a paradox, for instance), thus the italics, or simply as a "kind" of fallacy/paradox, thus the quotes. In either case, the inclusion of the ellipsis provides the necessary indication that something of importance must follow. The hyphenation is unnecessary if either the italics or quotation marks are used. Mindfruit (talk) 14:08, 24 July 2014 (UTC)

It is a fallacy.Edit

People above question whether it is a fallacy. It certainly is, although the article doesn't explain why -- nor can it, unless someone locates a reliable source that does so. But it is a fallacy of contradiction: one cannot be both for and against something simultaneously. The specific nature of the fallacy here is that whiskey is only one thing, but is presented as if it were two different things by listing different sets of attributes for it. The argument is "if by whiskey you mean X, then I'm for it, but if by whiskey you mean Y, then I'm against it" ... but X = whiskey = Y ... they are all the same thing. Note that Bill Clinton's "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is" is not and example of this fallacy, because he was referring to two different things -- similar to how "life is good" could mean either right now or generally. -- Jibal (talk) 09:18, 11 June 2017 (UTC)

Alternate InterpretationEdit

I object strongly to the idea that the lawmaker's viewpoint in the Canonical Example is in any way invalid, and the existence of this article seems based on the popular perception that politicians intentionally use dishonest rhetoric in order to deceive people. Not knowing for certain the writer's intent, I cannot say with surety that this isn't the case, but I feel that needlessly assuming malice from the other party ("The Neo-Logician's Fallacy") has obscured a second interpretation that is worthy of consideration, and in my opinion rather likely.

The lawmaker has tried to present the issue of alcohol as being more than a simply black-and-white issue, presenting it in a way that shows it is a complex substance and tradition that cannot be considered wholly good or bad, at a time in history when alcohol was a *highly* polarizing issue. I hold that this is a remarkable display of intellectual integrity, and the existence of this "fallacy," (scare quotes invoked), is based on a misinterpretation of his intent and meaning.

At first glance, the closing line in which he uses strongly worded language to show passion for his "position" appears to be a contradiction, an absurdity, when he has a provided a paradoxical answer to a binary question. This is intentional, and only a reader of great literal-mindedness or suspicion (the two chief virtues of any debater, bless those champions of thought) would interpret this as a lack of self-awareness or deception on his part. The lawmaker does, in fact, have a position he fervently defends, which he has alluded to but not outright stated.

It is his refusal to simplify an issue and attach pro- or anti- epithets to it to buy support from voters, an issue that plagues the US even today with its bumper-sticker politics.

He is not trying to appeal to everyone, on the contrary, he has appealed to no-one who subscribes to this dichotomy of thinking by not taking either of the two extremes he has presented. The two highly contrasting paragraphs in which he at once praises and demonizes alcohol is intended to show the kind of emotionally guided thinking that dominated thought at the time, and which is endemic to human societies. "If-by-whiskey x then yes" and "If-by-whiskey y then no" are perfectly reasonable from a logical perspective, if one subscribes wholesale to either of these extreme viewpoints; the author uses grandiose language to make the reader self-conscious and lead them to the conclusion that x and y are equally unlikely, having arbitrarily assigned negative or positive traits to a thing in all possible contexts.

In conclusion, Sweat (what a terrible surname) is using a rhetorical device to demonstrate the absurdity of American political discourse, which he objects to on moral grounds. It appears that this has gone unrecognized and unappreciated by his audience. I think it is a very respectable sentiment, and I do not mind saying that I feel offended on his behalf for not having been given due consideration. Assuming, of course, that the knee-jerk reaction to his words are not the correct one, and I am not giving him far too much credit.

Allow me to digress from the point of this talk section. I say it is not the point because I wanted, primarily, to highlight an unfair representation, but it was a strong motivation because 'I am a human being.'

I despise informal fallacies and anyone who treats them as usable metrics of truth, because they attempt to assign the mathematical rigor of logic to language which is, as any linguist will tell you, an unreliable vessel for the transmission of information, at best. Ask the programmers trying to develop convincing chatbots just how difficult it is to parse human language. Numbers are every bit as transcendent, but after accepting some axioms they at least have coherent relationships that can be proven. Informal fallacies are a crude export of hard principles into the muddled world of human social behavior, where symbols have variable semantic meaning and extra-literal connotation beyond universally agreeable numbers. They who use them are applying logic beyond its scope of usefulness or even validity. Informal fallacies are not only inappropriate, but they are an unconscionable abuse of free thought, little more than fascist philosophy that is used to lawyer what is and is not possible, restricting intellectual possibilities according to the whims of the wielder based on a pretense of authority, a bible for the snide and secular to thump on. Like it or not, "argument from fallacy" seems to be the de facto standard within informal logic, and when someone makes an argument in debate, more often than not they're actually arguing.

Because I love Wikipedia, The Ideal, so much, it is terribly disheartening to see this horrible practice and its polemic culture given so much credibility by the editors and academics I thought I could rely upon to at least remain receptive to new information long enough for it to be fairly judged and analyzed as best as they are able. Worse than being incorrect, it is un-Wikipedian.

But, what do I know. I don't contribute anything. I'm just a series of digits. -- (talk) 02:32, 30 April 2016 (UTC)

Thanks for your thoughts. And even though you haven't chosen to create a username, your viewpoint is still valid and welcome. That's an interesting interpretation and certainly assumes good faith on the part of the speaker. Unfortunately, if that was his meaning, he never went on to clarify it, either at the time or later - so if he was attempting to argue for a middle position, he failed miserably. More to the point, at Wikipedia we can't publish original research, which your opinion here is. If you can find some reliable source - scholars, perhaps, or newspapers - to support your alternate interpretation, we could add it. In the meantime, even if the original speaker wasn't really double-talking, the phase has gone into the language as a prime example of double-talk, and that is what this article is about. --MelanieN (talk) 19:04, 30 April 2016 (UTC)
I hold that this is a remarkable display of intellectual integrity, and the existence of this "fallacy," (scare quotes invoked), is based on a misinterpretation of his intent and meaning. -- Yeah, well, you're wrong. (And I'm inclined to think that you may be trolling.) It's clear from the historical context that it was politically infeasible for him to take a public position for or against, so he took a humorously ambivalent stance.
using a rhetorical device to demonstrate the absurdity of American political discourse -- well, sure ... again, it was humorous. But that isn't inconsistent with him at the same time being evasive. Your rant is chock full of strawmen, false dichotomies, unwarranted assumptions, and wild generalizations. -- Jibal (talk) 09:24, 11 June 2017 (UTC)

More on this question…Edit

I strongly come down on the side of “this is not a fallacy”, but agree that a fallacy is present — it is just being used as a rhetorical device (as was argued by others).

Yes, in it the author is claiming that two contradictory things are true, which implies a relativist fallacy. But that fallacy only pertains when there is actually a contradiction. This forces us to recognize that “true” doesn’t always mean the same thing. Using the word to mean objectively factual, someone concluding an argument about, say, the color of the sea could rely on an instance of a relativist fallacy: “You say the sea is green, I say it’s gray, and we’re both right”. To correct the fallacy, the arguer should instead note that the sea only has one factual color, but that it is being perceived differentially. [All of this is discussed in the article on relativist fallacy; not my original thinking.]

But there are other meanings of the word “true”, including “sincere; not deceitful” and “being or reflecting the essential or genuine character of something”. The article on relativist fallacy explicitly notes that “determining whether someone has committed a relativist fallacy” requires thinking through ideas such as differential perception.

If we examine the original speech in good faith, it is clear that the author is using parallel structures of highly emotional cherry-picked examples to lead to divergent conclusions. That parallelism of argumentation and example, along with the his reinforcement in his opening and closing paragraphs are what signal that this is ironic. Don’t believe me? William Safire used the word "satiric" and said the speech "purports to answer" in his analysis. That’s what makes this a clever rhetorical usage of the fallacy.

Okay, more: the speech is triggering cognitive dissonance in its audience. They understand, due to the careful presentation, that these two highly persuasive arguments can’t both be “true” in a factual sense — but both resonate as “true” in that “sincere” and “genuine” sense. The resolution to the dissonance is that this prompts the audience to understand that one thing can be good or bad, depending on context, which the examples amply provided. The humor of this ironic “straddle” is what caught Safire’s attention and makes this an exemplar of psychologically astute reasoning, not merely an example of a fallacy.

Jibal states baldly: one cannot be both for and against something simultaneously. That misses the point, which the speech is intended to illuminate: the speakers isn't claiming simultaneity: the litany of examples clearly show that the "being for" and "being against" are very highly contextual. What makes the speech significant is that this technique can be used to point out the same dichotomy, that apparently incongruent beliefs are compatible if it is realized that they are held by people experience something from different contexts, or even by the same person experiencing different contexts (imagine a doctor lecturing an alcoholic patient about how dangerous their drinking is, only to go home and enjoy a glass of wine with dinner). This is what Safire was pointing to, if you want an appeal to a pretty darn good authority. A lesser authority is the speaker himself, who crafted the speech carefully and was cognizant of the dissonance it would create in the audience. — MrRedwood (talk) 02:58, 11 August 2017 (UTC)


The Bush statement doesn't appear to be following the definition of the fallacy because A. it does not state two sides of an either/or boolean arguement. It appears (to me) that he is framing one option in terms that few would openly debate - "an appeal to decency" fallacy, not an "if-by-whiskey" fallacy.

I don't know who wrote this page, but...Edit

It is excellent.

Which is it?Edit

on the subject of whether Mississippi should prohibit or legalize alcoholic beverages

Either the subject was whether to prohibit alcohol or not, if it weren't prohibited yet, or else was whether to legalize alcohol or not, if it had already been prohibited. The subject cannot have existed as stated, since that would require a preexisting state of both prohibition and legalization. Maybe the author likes to be lazy and not look up which it was, but don't pass the buck like this. -- 04:22, 10 October 2007 (UTC)


The only information related to the subject in a Google search is either this page or mirrors of this page. If nothing scholarly can be found, I'm going to request deletion. (talk) 11:02, 19 October 2009 (UTC)

After a decent amount of searching around, this "concept" only appears as ammunition for partisan rants, and even then, most of these rants refer circularly to this page. Unless someone comes up with something in, say, a day, it's time to request deletion. dlainhart (talk) 17:30, 23 October 2009 (UTC)
Really? Maybe things have been added since that time. Right now I see several third party, mainstream sources which contain specific mention and discussion of the topic at hand. They seem more than ample to establish notability. Please provide some additional rationale for why you disagree if you still do. Otherwise, I'll remove the template soon.
Locke9k (talk) 18:36, 14 November 2009 (UTC)
I removed the tag. The sources cited suggest that this phrase/speech passes the GNG. --Bigtimepeace | talk | contribs 05:27, 8 December 2009 (UTC)

Possible plagiarism?Edit

Wikipedia's text has the following exact same text with this web page here:

1952 speech by Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat, Jr., a young lawmaker from the U.S. state of Mississippi, on the subject of whether Mississippi should continue to prohibit (which it did until 1966) or finally legalize alcoholic beverages — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 04:25, 22 August 2017 (UTC)
Which copied from which? AnonMoos (talk) 20:45, 22 August 2017 (UTC)

Schroedinger's DouchbagEdit

This sounds like Schroedinger's douchbag.