Special pleading involves the application of a double standard. Although the normal rules of evidence and argument are applied to other cases, the fallacy of special pleading stipulates that some are exceptions, to be judged differently. It normally occurs when a speaker demands less strict treatment for the cause which he espouses than he seeks to apply elsewhere.
Our attempt to engage in conversation was totally spoiled by all the chattering that other people were doing.
(Look who's talking.)
Special pleading is a source of error. If different standards are to be applied to certain cases, we need rather more evidence to justify this than the fact that we would like better treatment. The same standards which would throw out someone else’s claim will also throw out our own. If we were to receive special treatment, how could we justify withholding it from others? Argument proceeds by general rules, and exceptions must be justified.
While it is not normally right to invade someone's privacy, it is all right for us, as journalists, to do so because we serve a public need.
(Even though we make private money.)
Special pleading is sometimes described as ‘benefit of clergy’, because of the right which the medieval Church established to have clerical offenders tried in church courts even for civil crimes. This right, which was called ‘benefit of clergy’, is really what the special pleader seeks – the right to be tried in a different court.
Capitalism has always left areas of poverty and hardship, and mis-allocated resources. Socialism, on the other hand, has never been properly tried.
(Can you spot the special pleading? We are invited to compare capitalism in practice, as applied, with theoretical socialism. This is sometimes called 'real' socialism, to conceal the fact that it is the opposite of real. Of course, if we look at capitalist countries for the record of capitalism, then we should look at socialist countries for the record of socialism. Theory with theory, or practice with practice.)
Special pleading is normally resorted to by those whose case would not fare well in the general courts. Faced with a clash between their ideas and the evidence, scientists change their ideas. The special pleaders, like social scientists, prefer to change the evidence and show why normal judgements cannot be made in their particular case. Very often it is the supreme importance of the cause which is called upon to justify the special standards.
Normally I would object to spitting at public figures, but the threat of global warming is so awful…
(As is the threat of fluoridation, Sunday trading and canine nudity. It depends on how strongly you feel about it.)
On a personal level, we are all apt to be more tolerant of ourselves than we are of others. For behaviour we would uni-versally condemn from others, we invent excuses to forgive it in ourselves. Our queue-jumping is excused by urgency, but not that of anyone else. Our impulse buying is justified by need; others who do it are spendthrift. The same standards which excuse ourselves also excuse our team, our group, our town and our country.
When using special pleading in support of your own side, take care that you always supply some specious justification to account for the exception from the general rule. It is never just because it is your side which is involved; always there are special circumstances of public interest.
With any other boy I'd be the first to admit that burning down the school was wrong, but Michael is very highly strung, as talented people tend to be…
(Talented people get away with arson, it seems, as well as murder.)