Logical Fallacy 14: Special Pleading

Special Pleading is a fallacy where you support your argument with arbitrary exceptions that apply only to you or a group that you have a special interest in. Basically it's creating a Double Standard. This fallacy can be hard to recognize.

This is Part 14 in a series about Logical Fallacies.  Please comment or email if there’s a particular fallacy you want me to tackle, or if you have success with refuting an argument using a good technique you can share.

Special pleading makes an excuse for why someone's situation is the exception to the rule. But there's nothing to back up the ad hoc reasoning.


Harold Camping's rapture prediction is a good example. When the rapture didn't happen, Camping eventually said that it did, but that there were special circumstances, namely that it was a spiritual rapture instead of a physical one.

Another one that is more direct: "I believe that all drunk drivers should lose their license. But even though I was legally intoxicated I shouldn't be punished because I was fine and I can hold my liquor better than others."

Another form of Special Pleading is the assertion that you don't have the qualifications to comprehend the person's point of view. For example, "As an atheist, you can't understand God because you're on the outside looking in."

How to Refute Special Pleading:

The first thing you can do is tell the person that they are using a double standard with nothing to back it up. The only other thing I can think of is restate the facts that negate the spurious claim.

Another way to go is to give a similar example to what the person is saying, and get them to admit that in that case things would have to go the normal way. Then say that the case they've brought up is basically the same and should be treated the same.

If you have successfully refuted this logical fallacy, please share how you did it!



  1. My answer is..."You're Full of Crap! Double-Standards Suck and So Do You, Scumbag!"

    How's that, Neece? =)

  2. “As an atheist, you can’t understand God because you’re on the outside looking in.”

    I see what you did there.

  3. I have been getting this one a lot lately. :P

  4. Does this mean I need to believe in unicorns to understand unicorns?

  5. Of course, Andrew. How else can you appreciate them?
    Which explains why fiction and movies are so unpopular! :P

  6. Sophie LagacéJune 2, 2011 at 8:01 AM

    Hey, you're always looking for resources on logic and critical thinking. Have you seen "Straight and Crooked Thinking" by Robert Henry Thouless? There is a free PDF version (scroll down towards the end of the article): http://neglectedbooks.com/?p=336

  7. Very cool, Sophie, thanks so much! :D :D :D

  8. The special pleading fallacy is used a lot. I notice it is very often invoked by those advocating conspiracies. They will list reasons why they believe their conspiracy exists, but when shown that others use the same reasons they claim that those reasons don't count for that situation.

    For example, you will often hear the claim that global warming is a conspiracy by scientists to get grant money so they can study a nonexistent phenomena. AIDS denialists say the exact same thing, that scientists are lying about the existence of AIDS so they can get grant money to study a nonexistent phenomena. I've never heard a good reason as to why the exact same claim can be considered valid in one area, but not another.

  9. Thanks Gerald, this logical fallacy is very common, I think.

  10. "Another form of Special Pleading is the assertion that you don't have the qualifications to comprehend the person's point of view."

    And this is fallacy? So someone who has literally no qualification in physics can understand arguments presented to him by physicist regarding quantum loop theory? of course not!