False Equivalency



The argument simultaneously condemns and excuses both sides in a dispute by claiming that both sides are (equally) guilty of inappropriate behavior or bad reasoning. While the argument appears to be treating both sides equally, it is generally used to condemn an opponent or to excuse ones own position.




"Nearly all members of the scientific community agree that climate change is real; but there are also those who believe that climate change is a hoax. So there are supporters and critics on both sides of the debate."


"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence - on many sides; on many sides." - Donald Trump (Aug. 12, 2017, in response to violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville held earlier that day.)



Where the equivalency is being claimed in order to excuse one side (in particular), then this can be similar to the Tu Quoque fallacy. However, the Tu Quoque fallacy occurs specifically when the behavior or reasoning of one side (even if it did occur) is irrelevant to the condemnation of the other side. In the case of False Equivalency, both sides are being condemned, so the behavior of both sides is relevant. Where the equivalency is asserted simply because the two sides are opposed to each other, this can be seen as similar to the False Compromise fallacy, specifically the fallacy of Splitting the Difference. However, the error in False Equivalency is in using the real (and relevant) guilt of one side to condemn the other side, even though the other side is not in fact guilty of the same inappropriate behavior or bad reasoning - or at least not guilty to the same degree. Hence, I think False Equivalency is best categorized as a fallacy of misrepresentation.

In the example given above, Trump implied that the violence in Charlottesville was equally the fault of demonstrators and counter-demonstrators. In fact, of the 19 people who were injured, and the one person who was killed, all were counter-demonstrators. It was the demonstrators who initiated the violence and inflicted the damage. Moreover, it was the demonstrators who were promoting racism, hatred, and bigotry. The counter-demonstrators were protesting this view. Protesting bigotry does not make one a bigot. In the climate change example, it somehow gets overlooked that the climate change deniers may have strong opinions, but no good evidence in support of their opinion; while, those who agree that climate change is real have more than just strong opinions, they also have a preponderance of actual data on their side.


Source: The term "false equivalence" or "false equivalency" has been in common usage since roughly 2016, although some earlier occurrences of the term can be found.


WELCOME                     EXPLANATION OF PRINCIPLES                                     TABLE OF FALLACIES                        EXERCISES                     INDEX