Hijacking

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Also Known As: False Agreement, Hijacked Argument, Hijacked Claim, Hijacked Principle

Description:

Hijacking is a bad faith technique in which someone pretends to agree with something, such as an argument, to use it as a rhetorical tool against those targeted by the hijacking.  This method differs from False Allegiance in that while there is a claim of agreement, there is not a claim of allegiance. To illustrate, a person might pretend to be a Republican to use the False Allegiance method. To Hijack, they might pretend to agree with a Republican argument to use it against Republicans in bad faith.

Claims, principles, and arguments are common targets for Hijacking. In terms of fallacious reasoning, the usual pattern is that the hijacker selects a claim, principle, or argument that the target accepts. The hijacker pretends to agree with what they have hijacked it and then asserts that it entails or implies that a claim is true. The goal is often to persuade the target that they should agree with the claim, but this method can, like most fallacies, also be used to troll the target.

The fallacy can be presented in this general form:

 

Premise 1: A accepts P.

Premise 2: B pretends to accept P.

Premise 3: B claims that P entails/implies Q.

Conclusion: Q is true.

 

In this form, A is the target of the fallacy and P is a claim, argument, principle, etc. that they agree with. For example, A might be vaccine choice advocates and P might be the view that the principle of autonomy gives people the moral right to refuse to be vaccinated even during a pandemic. B is the person using the fallacy; they pretend to accept P. For example, B might be a pro-choice liberal who pretends to agree that the principle of autonomy applies to vaccine mandates. This deceit is not a fallacy of reasoning but is an act of bad faith.

B then claims that P entails or implies Q. For example, B might claim that the principle of autonomy entails that people should have the right to an abortion. If P does not entail or imply Q, then they would either be engaged in another deceit or making a logical error about entailment or implication. But even if P does entail or imply Q, this reasoning would still be fallacious.

While it might seem odd, this fallacy’s logical error hinges on Premise 1, that A accepts P. Even if P does entail/imply Q, it does not follow that Q is true just because A accepts P. A silly math example shows this:

 

Premise 1: A accepts that 2+2=5.

Premise 2: B pretends to accept that 2+2=5

Premise 3: B claims that 2+2=5 entails that (2+2) +(2+2) =10.

Conclusion: It is true that (2+2) +(2+2) =10.

 

Laid bare like this, it is clear why the reasoning is flawed. But when people engage in Hijacking, their goal is often persuasion rather than proof. In such cases, the hope is that A’s acceptance of P will persuade them, via a professed false agreement, to accept Q. In the example given earlier, the goal would be to persuade pro-choice (about abortion) liberals to agree with the pro-choice stance on vaccination.  The example can be “reversed” to involve a vaccine choice person Hijacking the principle of autonomy to use against those who are pro-choice about abortion. It is fallacious either way.

While hijackers are often recognized for their bad faith pretense, Hijacking can be an effective persuasive tool. After all, a person might be psychologically inclined to agree with those who profess to agree with them or who appear to be trying to establish common ground. Good faith efforts to highlight agreement or common ground would not be Hijacking, although they might be mistaken as such. Hijacking can also be used as a rhetorical tool with a different target audience.

A common use of Hijacking is to hijack a principle, apply it to something those who accept this principle disagree with, and then fallaciously conclude that the target does not really agree with their professed principle. This tactic thus uses bad faith to accuse the target of bad faith. It can be presented as having this general form:

 

Premise 1: A accepts P.

Premise 2: B pretends to accept P.

Premise 3: B claims that P entails/implies Q.

Premise 4: (B asserts that) A rejects Q.

Conclusion: (B asserts that) A rejects P.

 

Since this is Hijacking, B acts in bad faith when they pretend to accept P. B might also act in bad faith by pretending to believe that P entails/implies Q, but they might believe this (and might be right). B can also lie about A rejecting Q, perhaps by constructing a Straw Man. But acting in bad faith is not what makes this reasoning fallacious. The error is to infer that A rejects P because A (is claimed to) reject Q. This does not follow.

This form of Hijacking is usually not aimed at trying to persuade A to accept Q. Rather, it is most often used to make a bad faith criticism of A built on their (alleged) rejection of P.

As an example, feminists generally accept that women should be treated fairly. A person who dislikes trans people might pretend to agree with this and then assert that fair treatment of women entails/implies that trans women should be banned from competing as women in sports. It could then be claimed that feminists reject this and hence it would then be asserted that they do not really believe in fair treatment for women.

While this conclusion does not follow, it can have considerably psychological force and rhetorical value, especially in the minds of people who already dislike the target. Hijacking can also have the illusion of logical force. This is because it can resemble good reasoning, such as the technique of parity of reasoning. What follows is a somewhat detailed discussion of  two methods of reasoning that Hijackers might attempt to mimic.

 

Parity of Reasoning

Parity of reasoning can be seen as a special type of argument by analogy. The idea is that if two arguments have the same reasoning, then if one is good (or bad) then the other is also good (or bad).

The structure of the reasoning looks like this:

 

Premise 1: Argument A is good (or bad) reasoning.

Premise 2: Argument B has the same reasoning as A.

Conclusion: B is good (or bad) reasoning.

 

One philosophically famous example of this is Gaunilo’s criticism of St. Anselm’s ontological argument. Put very crudely, the ontological argument contends that God must exist because He is perfect. Grossly oversimplified, Gaunilo argued that if saying something is perfect proves it exists, then you could prove the existence of a perfect island (or a perfect anything) with the same reasoning. Gaunilo considered this absurd and concluded, by parity of reasoning, that St. Anselm’s argument was also absurd.

In the case of deductive arguments, the parity of reasoning is identity of reasoning. This is because if two deductive arguments have the same form and one is valid, then the other must also be valid. Likewise for an invalid deductive argument. A sound argument, which is a valid argument with all true premises, does not work the same way. This is because while all sound arguments are valid, not all valid arguments are sound.  As such, one argument could be sound while another argument with the same form might only be valid. Here is what this reasoning looks like:

 

Premise 1: Argument A is valid (or invalid)

Premise 2: Argument B has the same logical structure as A.

Conclusion: B is valid (or invalid).

 

In the case of inductive arguments, parity of reasoning is more complicated. This is because two inductive arguments can have identical logical structures while one is strong and the other is weak, or even a fallacy. For example, a strong inductive generalization will have the same basic logical form as a Hasty Generalization or Biased Generalization. See these fallacies for a more detailed discussion of this.

When applying a parity of reasoning argument to two inductive arguments, you will usually need to compare more than their logical structure to show that they have adequately similar reasoning.

Parity of reasoning does apply perfectly to structural inductive fallacies; these are inductive fallacies that are always bad reasoning because of their logical structure. So, any argument with that structure will also be a fallacious argument.  Now, as to why Hijacking can look like parity of reasoning.

A parity of reasoning style Hijacking can be presented as having this structure:

 

Premise 1: A accepts argument P as good.

Premise 2: B pretends to accept P.

Premise 3: B claims that P has parity of reasoning with Q.

Conclusion: Q is a good argument.

 

While there would be the question of whether P and Q do have a parity of reasoning, this would still be a fallacy for the reasons given earlier. That is, even if P and Q have parity of reasoning, A’s view that P is a good argument does not prove that Q is a good argument. In addition to gaining the illusion of logical force from parity of reasoning, Hijacking can also misuse the good logic of entailment and implication.

 

Entailment & Implication

While there is dispute over how the terms should be used, I will take a somewhat practical approach to entailment and implication. In the case of what could be called strict logical entailment, then if A entails B, then B follows from A with certainty (or necessity). For example, one can think of the premises of a valid deductive argument as entailing the conclusion. As another example, one can think of being a triangle as entailing that something has three sides.

While philosophers do also use “implication” the same way as I have just used “entailment” it also enjoys a broader usage that could be seen as an inductive inference. On this informal view, if A implies B, then B follows from A with a reasonably degree of likelihood. In general, this form of reasoning would be good logic:

 

Premise 1: P entails/implies Q,

Premise 2: P is true.

Conclusion: Q is true.

 

For example, this would be solid logic:

 

Premise 1: Being a triangle entails having three sides.

Premise 2: T is a triangle.

Conclusion: T has three sides.

 

As noted above, Hijacking misuses this sort of reasoning and instead makes uses of bad logic like this:

 

Premise 1: A accepts P

Premise 2: P entails/implies Q

Conclusion: Q is true.

 

The problem is, as explained earlier, that it does not follow that Q is true because A accepts P and P entails/implies Q.  But this bad logic can be modified to be (possibly) good reasoning:

 

Premise 1: Person A accepts P.

Premise 2: P entails/implies Q.

Conclusion: A should accept Q.

 

One very noticeable difference between this reasoning and Hijacking is that there is no deception; no one is pretending to accept P in bad faith. From a logical standpoint, the essential difference lies in the conclusion: the claim is not that Q is true, but that A should accept Q based on their acceptance of P and that P entails/implies Q. This method is a good faith way of arguing that a person should accept something that is entailed/implied by something else they accept.

If P does entail/imply Q, then it seems reasonable that A should logically accept Q if they accept P. This does, of course, depend on the strength of the entailment/implication and there can certainly be cases where this can be debated. For example, whether the principle of autonomy entails/implies a right to choose to get an abortion or entails/implies a right to choose to not get vaccinated during a pandemic can be rationally debated in good faith. Because of this, someone could engage in Hijacking while also making a (possibly) good argument. After all, arguing in bad faith is not the same thing as making a bad argument. The form would look like this:

 

Premise 1: Person A accepts P.

Premise 2: Person B pretends to accept P.

Premise 3: P entails/implies Q.

Conclusion: A should accept Q.

 

While Premise 2 is an act of bad faith, it can be seen as irrelevant to the logic of the argument. This is because Premises 1 and 3 do the logical work and Premise 2 is there to function as a bad faith persuasive device. If the target accepts the conclusion because of Premise 2, then they would be a victim of bad faith persuasion and engaged in poor reasoning.

To illustrate, imagine a vaccine choice person who is anti-abortion. They might pretend to accept the pro-choice (abortion) view of autonomy and assert that it implies that vaccine choice should also be a right. If the pro-choice (abortion) view plausibly implies the vaccine choice view, then it would be reasonable for a pro-choice person to also accept a right to vaccine choice. The vaccine choice person would still be engaged in a bad faith argumentation, and they would, of course, not accept their own argument as support for their view. This does not show that their conclusion is wrong or that the argument is flawed; this is because acting bad faith does not entail that a person’s claim is false or that their argument must be bad. See the Bad Faith Fallacy and the Fallacy Fallacy.

 

Defense: Being a matter of intention, bad faith can sometimes be difficult to discern. After all, a person can make untrue claims or bad arguments in good faith but appear to be arguing in bad faith. A person can also use the truth and good arguments in bad faith. Fortunately, Hijacking attempts are sometimes easy to detect. This is because the hijacker is pretending to agree with something, and this pretense can often be exposed by even a cursory investigation of the Hijacker.

As would be suspected, one thing to look for are inconsistencies between the Hijacker’s professed agreements and their other claims and actions. For example, imagine a politician who professes to agree that fairness to women and equality for women must be a matter of law and use this notion to argue for banning trans women from competing against women in sports. When criticized by liberals, this politician accuses them of being the ones who are against fairness and says they do not care about women.

But a look at the politician’s voting record shows they have voted against all other bills aimed at fair treatment for women and have consistently expressed a disdain for equality. It would be reasonable to infer that they are hijacking the notion of fairness in bad faith.

In other cases, it can be difficult to tell. For example, some random vaccine choice person you see in a video waving an “Our bodies! Our choice!” sign might be consistently pro-choice about abortion, vaccines, and perhaps other things as well. Or they might be cynically Hijacking pro-choice (abortion) language to “own the libs.”

When making judgments about bad faith due to inconsistency, be sure to avoid falling into the trap of the Ad Hominem Tu Quoque. You should also keep in mind that people are often ignorant of what their professed principles, values, and beliefs entail/imply. And, of course, there can be rational disagreements about what something entails or implies. Fortunately, sorting out the truth of claims and the quality of reasoning does not require knowing a person’s intent. But this leads to the subject of why discerning bad faith Hijacking matters.

While exposing bad faith does not disprove the Hijacker’s claim, it does show that they do not believe in their own argument. After all, a Hijacker (by definition) is pretending to accept something and making use of this pretense as a rhetorical device. If they believed, they would not be pretending and could advance a good faith argument. As such, while exposing bad faith of this sort does not prove the Hijacker is wrong, it would prove that they think they are wrong in that they do not accept their own professed argument.

In some cases, the Hijacker’s argument can be turned against them. For example, if an anti-abortion but pro-vaccine choice person Hijacks the notion of autonomy to support their pro-vaccine choice view, then it would be reasonable to argue that they should become pro-choice (abortion) if they are pro vaccine choice. The same would apply if a pro-choice (abortion) person hijacked the autonomy argument of a vaccine choice person.

While sorting out bad faith can be challenging, defending against the bad logic of the fallacy is easy; the specific defects of the various forms are given in the description above. Look for those and you should easily avoid being taken in by this bad faith technique.

 

Example #1

Protestor: “Our Bodies! Our Choice! No vaccine mandates!”

Bystander: “Hey, didn’t I see you at the pro-life rally last week?”

Protestor: “Yeah, so?”

Bystander: “Are you pro-choice now?”

Protestor: “Yes. Pro-choice for vaccines.”

Bystander: “So, still opposed to abortions?”

Protestor: “Our Bodies! Our Choice! No vaccine mandates!”

 

Example #2

Protestor: “Life is sacred! Choose life! Vaccine mandates now!”

Bystander: “Hey, didn’t I see you at the pro-choice rally last week?”

Protestor: “Yeah, so?”

Bystander: “Are you pro-life now?”

Protestor: “Yes. Pro-life for vaccines.”

Bystander: “So, still pro-choice about abortions?”

Protestor: “Life is sacred! Choose life! Vaccine mandates now!”

Originally appeared on A Philosopher’s Blog Read More

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