So, what does special pleading mean? Special pleading is a logical fallacy – that is, a flaw in reasoning that weakens an argument or a trick of thought used as a debate tactic – in which someone applies a certain set of criteria to other people and circumstances while exempting themselves from the same criteria. It is often committed in a situation where a person is emotionally attached to a position and feels the need to defend it, and, as a result, their reasoning is driven by emotions rather than logic.
Special pleading belongs to the category of informal fallacies. Informal fallacies refer to errors wherein the evidence, or premises, of the argument do not warrant a probable truth of the conclusion.
Special pleading occurs when someone dismisses a specific case as an exception to a rule without adequate reasons. It is typically committed when one needs to justify either their own claim or a position that has some sort of significance to them. The arguer attempts to exempt themselves from the same standards that they expect to be applied to others. This can also be described as having double standards.
One example of a special pleading would be:
- “Teacher, I agree that cheating on an exam should be punished, but please consider my situation: I just made a stupid mistake!”
Here, a wrong-doing student admits to a rule and fallaciously tries to get out of trouble by requesting for his or her case to treated differently, without providing good reasons to do so.
This line of arguing is considered a fallacy specifically because it doesn’t – despite of trying – justify why a particular case should be considered “special”. Naturally, if the case in question matches the same criteria that has made other instances be treated in a certain way, then we should expect a reasonable, fact-based explanation for why it is an exception.
As mentioned above, people often fall victim to this fallacy when, in an attempt to defend a position that is emotionally charged for them, they replace logic with emotional thinking. Moreover, using “double standards” is a common tactic in situations where one finds their own case to be hurt by the relevant standards.
Here are several examples of special pleadings.
- “Yes officer, I know I was going little bit above the speed limit, but I am in a rush!”
- “Religions are based on ignorance and irrationality and enforce a set of useless rules and practices – except my religion.”
- “Even though most conspiracy theories are complete bogus, I believe this one must be true. After all, it’s backed by some smart and credible people. “
- “Mr. Boss, I understand there are more qualified employees in this company, but the promotion would be really good for me and my family.”
- “Sure, breaking the school rules should be punished, but she is my daughter. I know she didn’t mean to do it.”