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Genetic Fallacy Essay, Research Paper

Final Exam:

3) Critically assess the use of the charge that someone has committed the genetic fallacy. Select some representative example and use that as your foil.

A fallacy is, very generally, an error in reasoning. This differs from a factual error, which is simply being wrong about the facts. To be more specific, a fallacy is an argument in which the premises given for the conclusion do not provide the needed degree of support. A Genetic Fallacy is a line of reasoning in which a perceived defect in the origin of a claim or thing is taken to be evidence that discredits the claim or thing itself. It is also a line of reasoning in which the origin of a claim or thing is taken to be evidence for the claim or thing. For example, Bill claims that 1+1=2. However, my parents brought me up to believe that 1+1=112, so Bill must be wrong. Another example of the Genetic Fallacy is, I was brought up to believe in God, and my parents told me God exists, so He must.

First, when applied to ideas, the genetic fallacy is the mistaken belief that the origin of an idea has some bearing on the truth of falsity of it. Those origins can tell us why something is believed, or where that belief comes from, but those facts cannot always be used to determine the truth or belief. This alludes to the previous comment of, I was brought up to believe in God, and my parents told me God exists, so therefore He must exist. If we believe something because it was taught to us when we were children, we know why we believe it, but we do not know if what we believe is true or false.

The Genetic Fallacy is the most general fallacy of irrelevancy involving the origins or history of an idea. It is untrue to either support or condemn an idea based on its past, rather than on its present, unless its past in some way affects its present value. For instance, the origin of evidence can be quite relevant to its evaluation, especially in historical investigations. The origin of testimony, whether it is first hand, hearsay, or rumor, carries weight in evaluating it. In contrast, the value of many scientific ideas can be objectively evaluated by established techniques, so that the origin or history of the idea is irrelevant to its value. For example, say my parents claimed to have met God during a dream of a man floating above water. While this fact is psychologically interesting, it is evidence for, nor against the hypothesis that God exists. So, the Genetic Fallacy is committed whenever an idea is evaluated based upon irrelevant history. To offer my parent’s dream as evidence either for or against the existence of God hypothesis would be to commit the Genetic Fallacy.

On the other hand, there are some cases in which the origin of a claim is relevant to the truth or falsity of the claim. For example, a claim that comes from a reliable expert is likely to be true (provided it is in his/her area of expertise). But then again, good ideas come out of Ivy League schools, but so do bad ideas. So what does this say about the origin of ideas? Perhaps, ideas are true or false for reasons, not origins.

Therefore, the Genetic Fallacy is one that is committed more frequently than you would think. It may be as simple as believing that what you were taught to be red is really green, and green really red, and as complex as one’s religious beliefs. One can only hope to be cautious about rejecting or accepting ideas because of their origins.


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