Special pleading is a form of spurious argumentation where a position in a dispute introduces favorable details or excludes unfavorable details by alleging a need to apply additional considerations without proper criticism of these considerations themselves. Essentially, this involves someone attempting to cite something as an exemption to a generally accepted rule, principle, etc. without justifying the exemption.
A more difficult case is when a possible criticism is made relatively immune to investigation. This immunity may take the forms of:
- claiming that vocabulary is owned by a distinct community with sole rights to assess meaning and application
- Example: Many blacks themselves now use the word nigger without meaning insult (although it's a more affectionate term of Nigga), so other people should not be stigmatized for using it.
- unexplained claims of exemption from principles commonly thought relevant to the subject matter
- Example: I'm not relying on faith in small probabilities here. These are slot machines, not roulette wheels. They are different.
- claims to data that are inherently unverifiable, perhaps because too remote or impossible to define clearly
- Example: Cocaine use should be legal. Like all drugs, it does have some adverse health effects, but cocaine is different from other drugs. Many have benefited from the effects of cocaine.
- assertion that the opponent lacks the qualifications necessary to comprehend a point of view
- Example: I know you think that quantum mechanics does not always make sense. There are things about quantum mechanics that you don't have the education to understand. (Although in this case, the likeliness of this being true is statistically very high, as only a very small percentage of people studied quantum mechanics. But without proving this, and proving that sole intelligence without the education does not suffice, it’s still just an assertion.)
- assertion that literally nobody has the qualifications necessary to comprehend a point of view
- Example: I know the idea that ball lightning is caused by ghosts makes no sense to you, but that's only because you're human. Humans cannot understand supernatural phenomena.
In the classic distinction among material, psychological, and logical fallacies, special pleading most likely falls within the category of psychological fallacy, as it would seem to relate to "lip service", rationalization, and diversion (abandonment of discussion). Special pleading also often resembles the "appeal to" logical fallacies.
In philosophy, it is assumed that wherever a distinction is claimed, a relevant basis for the distinction should exist and be substantiated. Special pleading is a subversion of this assumption.
- This division is found in introductory texts such as Fallacy: The Counterfeit of Argument, W. Ward Fearnside, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1959. Template:OCLC
- Special pleading at the Fallacy Files
- Special pleading at the Nizkor Project
- The One-Sidedness Fallacy by Peter Suber.