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What Is a Genetic Fallacy?

G. Wiesen
G. Wiesen

A genetic fallacy is a type of logical fallacy in which the origin or source of a particular argument or claim is used to support or discredit the argument. This type of fallacy is typically committed when someone uses the source of an argument or statement as a way to discredit or support an idea without further evidence or purpose. While the source of a statement or argument can certainly have an impact on the relevancy or reliability of a claim, it typically should not be the sole grounds for dismissal or acceptance. A genetic fallacy is often committed during an appeal to authority, in which someone tries to support an argument by instead building up the originator of the argument.

Essentially a fallacy of irrelevancy, a genetic fallacy can be committed in a number of different ways, either to support or discredit a statement or argument. This type of fallacy is often committed by children who use the argument of “My parents told me…” to support any claim they make. In this type of argument, the child arguing the point believes in anything his or her parents say, which is sufficient evidence for the child. For someone else hearing the argument, however, this may not be enough and a genetic fallacy has likely been committed.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

It is important for anyone attempting to analyze the logic of an argument to remember that the origin or source of a claim can be relevant. Someone looking at a US legal opinion rendered by a Supreme Court justice should be aware of the importance of the person giving that opinion. In this situation, however, someone can easily make a genetic fallacy by simply claiming the opinion to be valid due to its source. Even when the source of an argument or statement is important, other information should be used to support the argument and avoid a genetic fallacy on either side of the issue.

An appeal to authority often utilizes a genetic fallacy as well, and so avoiding the one mistake can help prevent the other. When someone makes an appeal to authority, he or she supports the person who made a claim, rather than the claim itself. This type of argument or appeal is flawed, however, since anyone can lie or be factually inaccurate, regardless of experience or education. Further evidence should be used to strengthen any argument beyond a simple appeal to authority, which can then help someone avoid a genetic fallacy and build a stronger argument.

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