Genetic Fallacy

The fallacy which judges the truth of a statement mainly or exclusively by its source. In the case of ad hominem, the source is a person; here the source is taken to be a theory, or a school of thought, or a political opinion—allowing the argument to be seen as typical and dismissed without further consideration. One common expression of this is the dismissal of any statement about inherited characteristics of people (other than diseases), in reaction to the gross abuse and misrepresentation of genetic sciences by the Nazis.G10

There is a good deal of overlap between the Genetic Fallacy and ad hominem. They are both guilty of what is probably the most common of all expressions of bad faith, and of all ways of destroying sensible discussion—the Mandy Rice-Davies riposte: “He would say that, wouldn’t he?” This is the long-standing guarantee that the two sides in an adversarial democratic system don’t have to listen to a word the other side is saying.G11

In general, it is advisable to keep your arguments to the matter in hand—ad rem—rather than being diverted to the source. On the other hand, it is a good idea to be aware of the source. Statements should arouse suspicion if they come from fantasists, historians with an axe to grind, fanatics of all kinds, totalitarian regimes, bureaucrats, or those whose analytical powers have been taken over by resentments or by dramatics (argumentum ad ludicrum). W.H. Auden advises caution with respect to those who wash too much.G12


Related entries:

Identity, Judgment.

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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was a cultural historian and economist, based in London, England. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a pioneer of post-growth economics, and a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, 'Lean Logic' and 'Surviving the Future', published posthumously in 2016. These in turn inspired the 2020 launches of both BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong's feature film about Fleming's perspective and legacy - 'The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation?' - and Sterling College's unique 'Surviving the Future: Conversations for Our Time' online courses. For more information on all of the above, including Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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