Genetic fallacy

Genetic fallacy

The genetic fallacy is a fallacy of irrelevance where a conclusion is suggested based solely on something or someone's origin rather than its current meaning or context. This overlooks any difference to be found in the present situation, typically transferring the positive or negative esteem from the earlier context.

The fallacy therefore fails to assess the claim on its merit. The first criterion of a good argument is that the premises must have bearing on the truth or falsity of the claim in question.[1] Genetic accounts of an issue may be true, and they may help illuminate the reasons why the issue has assumed its present form, but they are irrelevant to its merits.[2]

According to the Oxford Companion to Philosophy, the term originates in Morris Raphael Cohen and Ernest Nagel's book Logic and Scientific Method.[3]



From Attacking Faulty Reasoning by T. Edward Damer, Third Edition p. 36:

"You're not going to wear a wedding ring, are you? Don't you know that the wedding ring originally symbolized ankle chains worn by women to prevent them from running away from their husbands? I would not have thought you would be a party to such a sexist practice." There may be reasons why people may not wish to wear wedding rings, but it would be logically inappropriate for a couple to reject the notion of exchanging wedding rings on the sole grounds of its sexist origins.

From With Good Reason: An Introduction to Informal Fallacies by S. Morris Engel, Fifth Edition, pg. 196:

America will never settle down; look at the rabble-rousers who founded it.

A commonly occurring example of this style of reasoning can be called the 'etymological fallacy'. This presents arguments based on the supposed real meaning of certain words, where that 'real' meaning is in fact what the word meant centuries ago, or what its root word (in Latin, Greek etc.) meant. A popular tactic, it is easily shown to be fallacious and misleading. Thus:

"Has he arrived yet?" "No, he came by car, not by boat!"

This is not the non-sequitur it appears. It reflects that fact that the first speaker simply accepts the contemporary meaning of 'arrive', whereas the second recalls the Latin origin: 'ripa' meaning 'shore' (c.f. also the words 'river' and 'Riviera'), whereby the English word 'arrive' contains within it the idea of disembarkation.

See also


  1. ^ Attacking Faulty Reasoning: A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments (Third Edition) by T. Edward Damer, chapter II, subsection "The Relevance Criterion" (pg. 12)
  2. ^ With Good Reason: An Introduction to Informal Fallacies (Fifth Edition) by S. Morris Engel, chapter V, subsection 1 (pg. 198)
  3. ^ Honderich, Ted, ed (1995). "Genetic fallacy". The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198661320. 

External links

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