Look Who's Talking (Tu Quoque) Fallacy: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 Definition of Hypocrisy
  • 0:58 The Look Who's Talking Fallacy
  • 3:11 ''Tu Quoque'' as Argumentation
  • 4:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Nowaczyk

Jason has a masters of education in educational psychology and a BA in history and a BA in philosophy. He's taught high school and middle school

In this lesson, we'll discuss why claiming someone is a hypocrite is not a valid reason to conclude that his or her claims are false. A short quiz will follow the lesson to check your understanding.

Definition of Hypocrisy

If there's one thing everyone seems to have an opinion on, it's how to go about losing weight or what things we should be doing to be more healthy. However, we don't treat everyone's advice equally. Think about it. Would you rather take the advice of a registered dietician or the advice of friends who don't seem to take their own advice and who partake in some of the unhealthy eating habits many of us do?

We call this latter example hypocrisy, or the moral pretense of someone that doesn't match up with their own actions. It follows then, that a hypocrite is someone who does the very thing the hypocrite speaks out against. However, despite a person not following his or her own advice, the advice may, in fact, be just as valid as that of a registered dietician. When we appeal to hypocrisy as a reason not to do something, we are committing a fallacy of logic.

The Look Who's Talking Fallacy

An appeal to hypocrisy is also known as the look who's talking fallacy, or the tu quoque fallacy in Latin. In this fallacy, Person 2 concludes Person 1's claim is false because it's not consistent with something else Person 1 had said in the past or what Person 1 says is not consistent with what Person 1 does.

The formal outline of this fallacy takes the following form:

Person 1 makes some claim X.

Person 2 decides either:
  • Person 1's past claims are inconsistent with the truth of claim X or
  • Person 1's actions are inconsistent with the truth of claim X

Therefore, claim X is false.

In other words, the fact a person makes inconsistent claims that seem to conflict with something the person said in the past or does something that seems to conflict with the person's current stance does not make any one particular claim the person made any less true or false. For example, let's look at the following conversation:

Person 1: 'You shouldn't smoke. It's bad for your health. I wish I'd never started.'

Person 2: 'Didn't you always offer me cigarettes in the past?'

Person 2 here is committing the tu quoque fallacy because Person 2 is concluding the claim 'you shouldn't smoke' is false because it's inconsistent with Person 1's past actions. Person 1 telling Person 2 to stop smoking when Person 1 often offered cigarettes to Person 2 makes Person 1 a hypocrite, but it does not change the factual nature of the claim that 'smoking is bad for you.'

The look who's talking fallacy is also most evident in situations of hypocrisy when a person's actions are inconsistent with the person's claims. For example:

Politician 1: 'We should pass laws that help protect the environment!'

Voter 1: 'Don't you receive campaign contributions from companies that pollute the most?'

While this politician is guilty of being a hypocrite, his claim that we should pass laws to help protect the environment is still perfectly valid.

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