Special Pleading

An argument which, though strictly true, presents its case slanted by leaving out relevant information or by giving undue emphasis to one part of the story. For some (estate agents, barristers), slanted arguments go with the job; and all arguments with persuasive content have special pleading within them somewhere, so we tend to be alert to the risk and to make allowances. In other cases, unless there is someone around to put the other side, the potential to mislead is powerful.S91

Most arguments can be understood as statements arising from a particular context. Taking the fifth form on a hill walk would be a bad thing from the point of view of health and safety, insurance, cost, wear-and-tear on the mountain paths, and time away from studying; it would be a good thing from the point of view of cardiovascular fitness, fun, friendships, knowledge of geography, learning how to cook bacon and eggs in the rain, getting away from television, and having something to talk about. Emphasis on any of those arguments would be a case of special pleading.

So, what would we do without it? Would every enthusiasm get bogged down in impartial balance and indecisiveness? Perhaps a more tolerant name for this fallacy is “advocacy”. Lean Logic is an advocate for lean thinking, TEQs (Tradable Energy Quotas), ritual, carnival, anarchism and many other things, claiming that these are support systems for freedom of thought. But they are all expressions of particular contexts, and introduce bias. That does not make them wrong, but it makes them forms of special pleading.

Advocacy provides a service: it makes a case: it is the energy- and data-source for argument, an expression of the ethic of incrementalism, guided in conversation and in practice by serial correction of error. Without advocacy, no errors would be corrected; no case would be made. There would be no impertinence. It would be night. There would be nothing to do, except . . .

. . . the sable Throne behold
Of Night primaeval, and of Chaos old!
Before her, Fancy’s gilded clouds decay,
And all its varying rain-bows die away.

Alexander Pope, The Dunciad, 1742.S92


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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