No Angel

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Also Known As: Guilty of Something

Description:

This fallacy occurs when it is inferred that a person deserves to suffer a specific harm because of unrelated (alleged) wrongdoing on their part or other (alleged) defects of character. This reasoning has this form:

 

Premise 1: Person A suffered harm H.

Premise 2: Person A (allegedly) has done wrongs unrelated to H or has some (alleged) defects of character.

Conclusion: Therefore, A’s suffering H is deserved (or at least acceptable).

 

This reasoning is flawed because it does not automatically follow that a harm done to a person is warranted because they have (allegedly) engaged in unrelated wrongdoing or have an (alleged) defect in character. The following example illustrates this reasoning:

 

Premise 1: Ted received a grade of F in his philosophy class.

Premise 2: Ted was dating the daughter of the professor and cheated on her, so he is no angel.

Conclusion: Therefore, Ted’s failing grade is deserved.

 

While Ted might have failed the class because of his poor work, it would be unreasonable to infer that his cheating on the professor’s daughter would warrant the failing grade.

The “no angel” name of the fallacy comes from the common practice of describing “miscreants” and “thugs” as being “no angel” when they are harmed or killed. Making a point of saying that a person is “no angel” can also be a case of demonizing that person.

A variant of this fallacy is the Guilty of Something fallacy. This is the reasoning that a person deserves a specific harm because they are (alleged) to be guilty of some unrelated misdeed. It has the following general form:

 

Premise 1: Person A suffered harm H.

Premise 2: Person A is (alleged) to be guilty of some wrongdoing.

Conclusion: Therefore, A’s suffering H is deserved (or at least acceptable).

 

Even if a person is guilty of some unrelated wrongdoing, it does not follow that they deserve to suffer a specific harm. While I am not a lawyer, most legal systems follow this principle. For example, a person on trial for embezzlement would not be sent to prison for embezzlement because they had committed an unrelated assault and battery. They could, of course, stand trial for the assault and battery. That said, this fallacy does strand on the boundary between “pure” logic and normative (moral, legal, religious, etc.) reasoning.

On some normative theories, inflicting a specific harm on a person who has engaged in unrelated wrongdoing might be warranted. On such a view, the harm need not be connected to the misdeed the person committed, the fact that they have done something wrong could warrant the harm. In the context of such a theory, the No Angel fallacy would not be a fallacy. This is because this normative theory warrants such harms. These theories are beyond the scope of this work, but without such a justification, the No Angel fallacy would be a fallacy.

Outside of such theories, this fallacy gains its psychological force from the tendency people possess to dislike people who are (alleged to be) wrongdoers. People often feel that even an unrelated harm is warranted because the person surely deserves some sort of consequences for their (alleged) misdeeds.

This fallacy can be committed in good and bad faith. In the bad faith version, the person committing the fallacy either knows that they are committing it or are demonizing the target (or both). In the good faith version, the person is both ignorant of the fallacy and sincerely believes that the person being harmed is a wrongdoer or otherwise morally defective.

 

Defense: The main defense against this fallacy is to remember that the justification for a specific harm needs to be related to that harm in a meaningful way. Even if someone is “no angel” it does not follow that an unrelated specific harm inflicted on them is thus justified by other wrongdoing. Since this fallacy also often involves Demonizing, it is worth considering whether that is also occurring.

As noted above, this reasoning can be non-fallacious in the context of certain normative theories. As such, this should also be considered. But such a theory cannot simply be assumed to be true to avoid the fallacy, reasons would be needed to accept it.

 

Examples#1

“Yes, it was unfortunate that a sixteen-year-old was killed by the police. But he had been arrested before and when he was shot, he was skipping school. We can all agree that he was no angel.”

 

Example #2

“Yes, it was unfortunate that a sixteen-year-old was killed by the police. But he had some connections with a white supremacist group and had thrown rocks at BLM protestors. We can all agree that he was no angel.”

 

Example #3

Professor Smith: “This student of mine says things that are borderline racist and sexist in class. He never quite crosses the line, but I know what he is doing.”

Professor Jones: “That must be rough on the other students.”

Professor Smith: “It is. But, like I said, he never violates the student code of conduct. I have seen some of his public Facebook posts and he seems like he might be in a racist group of some kind.”

Professor Jones: “Are you going to do anything?”

Professor Smith: “Yup. I’m going to fail him. He is close to an F anyway.”

Professor Jones: “That would be wrong.”

Professor Smith: “Look, that little sexist racist has done some bad things, so he deserves the F.”

 

Example #4

Professor Smith: “This student of mine says things that are very woke and radical in class. He never quite crosses the line, but I know what he is doing.”

Professor Jones: “That must be rough on the other students, that class being mostly for business majors.”

Professor Smith: “It is. But, like I said, he never violates the student code of conduct. I have seen some of his public Facebook posts and he seems like he might be in Antifa, BLM or some other radical group. He is always quoting Marx, so he is probably a Marxist.”

Professor Jones: “Are you going to do anything?”

Professor Smith: “Yup. I’m going to fail him. He is close to an F anyway.”

Professor Jones: “That would be wrong.”

Professor Smith: “Look, that little woke warrior has probably burned a business or something, so he deserves the F.”

Originally appeared on A Philosopher’s Blog Read More

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