The genetic fallacy is a logical fallacy in which someone accepts a claim as true or false solely on the basis of its origin.
There are a number of different types of genetic fallacies, and they occur particularly often in the political arena, as well as in discussions on various controversial issues. It’s a common debate tactic to direct the focus on the source of an argument instead of attacking the argument itself.
As mentioned above, the genetic fallacy occurs when someone judges a claim simply based on its origin, rather than looking at the actual merits of the claim. In other words, a claim is accepted or rejected on the basis of from whom or where it came from.
For example, dismissing an argument as invalid solely because the person behind it comes from a not-so-prestigious school would be a genetic fallacy.
The logical forms of this type of argument are:
- Person A made a claim X.
- Person A is a bad source.
- Therefore, X is false.
- Person A made a claim x.
- Person A is a good source.
- Therefore, claim X must be true.
Generally, we should separate argument sources from the content of the argument; even if the source is deemed to be bad or good, it doesn’t mean that the argument itself is necessarily bad or good. Any claim should be evaluated by looking at its own merits (or demerits) unless the history of the claim is somehow related to its present-day value. As such, this line of reasoning becomes fallacious when the source or history of the claim is irrelevant to its truth value.
The genetic fallacy is also known as the fallacy of origins and the fallacy of virtue.
- “I can’t believe anything my doctor says about my health issues, he is overweight himself!”
- “Richard Dawkins, a brilliant evolutionary biologist, said that God doesn’t exist. Therefore, God does not exist.”
- “You shouldn’t buy a Volkswagen, it must be a terrible car since it was created by the Nazis.”
- “You think we should get more women into science? You only say that because you are a woman yourself, so it must be false.”
- “We can safely dismiss any opinion from person X on economic inequality since he is a millionaire himself.”
- “You shouldn’t believe anything the media says, it’s all fake news.”
There are a number of different types of genetic fallacies, the most common ones being the appeal to false authority and ad hominem.
In most situations where the genetic fallacy is committed, it is an instance of one of its more specific sub-fallacies.
- Ad hominem, short for argumentum ad hominem, is a logical fallacy in which someone criticizes the source of the argument in an attempt to refute their claim, instead of addressing the argument itself.
- Appeal to false authority occurs when the words of poor or irrelevant authorities are used as evidence for a certain claim. In other words, the authority figure being referred is not a real expert, or their expertise is not really relevant to the field of study the argument is concerned with.