extended analogy

It turns out the fallacy has a name!

Hi Mr. Marcus,

You have no idea how delighted I was to read your essay “In Defense of Referencing Hitler”! For many years I’ve been infuriated by people misunderstanding my attacks on their underlying principles as “comparing” two things, and many times it has come up in the same scenario you describe: citing an extreme counterexample to a general principle assumed by the other person. You will be happy to learn (if you didn’t already know) that this fallacy actually has a name and is listed on the Infidels.org Web site as the fallacy of the Extended Analogy.” I have no idea where they got this arcane name, though. I’ve been trying to think of a better name but haven’t thought of one. Anyway, here’s their explanation, which I think is right on the mark:

The Extended Analogy:

The fallacy of the Extended Analogy often occurs when some suggested general rule is being argued over. The fallacy is to assume that mentioning two different situations, in an argument about a general rule, constitutes a claim that those situations are analogous to each other.

Here’s real example from an online debate about anti-cryptography legislation:

“I believe it is always wrong to oppose the law by breaking it.”

“Such a position is odious: it implies that you would not have supported Martin Luther King.”

“Are you saying that cryptography legislation is as important as the struggle for Black liberation? How dare you!

What’s really frustrating is that even after you explain this to the person, about eight times out of then they still don’t understand what you’re talking about. The problem is that most people simply don’t understand logic, which is to say that they don’t understand the very structure of thinking, of making statements and supporting those statements with arguments. They don’t see that when they make a statement like “X is a good policy because the majority supported it,” their statement is resting on the very broad, hidden premise “All policies supported by the majority are good,” which opens them up to up to a slew of “extreme” — and totally valid — counterexamples.

BTW, one of my favorite counterexamples to this statement comes from Murray Rothbard: “So if 80 percent of a population voted to kill the other 20 percent, that would be morally right?” Of course, this is only likely to prompt the other person to say, “Oh, come on, you can’t compare killing with Proposition 13! [or whatever the topic is]. One classmate of of mine in college used to say, “False comparison, dude,” as if he were brilliantly detecting an obscure fallacy on my part.

Another dumb reaction I often get when offering extreme counterexamples is, “You’re using an overly extreme example.” And I say: “Exactly! The fact that your general principle covers such an extreme example proves just how extreme and misguided your principle is. That’s why I chose Stalin as my example. What better way to disprove your statement?” They don’t even realize that the extremeness of my example is their problem, not mine. A caller on Harry Browne’s radio show pulled this move on him, and although he knew the guy was wrong, he was groping for how to explain it. I e-mailed the show and Harry read my explanation on the air, to my relief.

Finally, one more reason I am glad you addressed this subject is that a couple of months ago during an e-mail exchange with several coworkers, one of them “invoked” Godwin’s Rule after I used one of Stalin’s policies as a counterexample to something he proposed. Of course, everyone had a good laugh at my expense, as if this guy had destroyed my counterexample. At least ow, if someone commits the Extended Analogy or invokes Godwin’s Rule again, I can retort by sending a link to your essay!

BTW, aside from the Extended Analogy” entry on Infidels.org and your essay, I’ve never seen any other acknowledgement of this fallacy, and I’ve even looked in dozens of logic and fallacy books. I find this incredible. Do you know of anyone else that has discovered this fallacy independently? There must be some logic professors out there somewhere who know about it. If we can come up with a better name for it, I’d like to post an explanation of it on my blog.



So which part do you find objectionable?

The voluntary or the exchange?


If you think there’s a difference between voluntary exchange and free market then connotation is holding your mind hostage.


If anecdotal evidence counts for anything (and it certainly has to count for something) then American students are in the hands of some very scary “educators”*:

Mr. Marcus,

I just finished reading your article about referencing Hitler on LRC. Thanks for sticking up for this valid tactic.

I had something similar[…] happen to me when I was in college a few years ago. The philosophy department decided to have a debate about reparations for slavery, and being the only student on my campus actually willing to speak out against such nonsense, the department chair asked me to take the anti-reparations side and to find a friend who would join me.

During the debate my friend made a point to the effect that reparations and the idea of collective guilt are based on a kind of thinking (i.e. thinking of people as part of groups and not as individuals) that debases individuals and allows for such things as slavery and racism to exist. At this point, the professor who was supposed to be moderating the debate blew up at him, claiming that he was saying reparations were as bad as slavery and that we were being ridiculous. Rather than stop and question the logic behind their thinking, most people would rather just blow you off and call you names.

Some people just don’t get it, do they?

This story astonished me, so I wrote back:

That’s amazing. The professor said that? Was he a phil prof?

I majored in philosophy and as bad as one or two of the professors were, I have a hard time imagining them doing something so blatantly fallacious.

No, it turns out that the moderator was an African American Studies professor.

Now, I’m sure it would have been considered offensive to suggest before the debate that he might not make the most impartial referee. What about after the debate? Is it offensive for me to suggest that in retrospect, he wasn’t the fairest choice?

* btw, I hadn’t realized that the term “teacher” now needed a PC euphemism.


Here are my favorite of the two shortest emails I got in response to LRC3.

The first one deserves its very own page, but I’m combining best and worst in this one post.

  1. Good essay on LRC. I liked your analysis. Here is mine.

    On the right hand side of the brain most people are instinctively collectivists. I would say about 90%. On the left hand side only about 10% are capable of logical analysis such as that which you discussed. Therefore about 1% of the people are anarchists or libertarians. Call it Ferguson’s Law.

    Dave Ferguson

    [Retired professor emeritus (economics) teaching part-time at the University of Arizona.]

  2. AND,,,,,HOW did you get “in-office”?,,,,,,,,
    It is quite evident that YOU do_not know what you are talking about!!!!

I did not change that second one to red. That’s the color of the original email message.

I do understand that ALL CAPS can make for a good quick-and-dirty emphasis … but why emphasize AND? Also, I’ve been warned about messages that use multiple exclamation points, but what do I do with so many commas? And why are there scare quotes around “in-office”? (And why the hyphen?) Most puzzling of all, I think, is the underscore in do_not

OK, enough with the syntax. What do you make of the semantics? I can’t do more than guess, but it seems to me this person assumes that only elected officials are allowed to speak with authority. In other words, the unapologetic confidence of my prose presumed an authority not sanctioned by the collective.

Similarly, someone else asked, “What objective criteria do you use for determining what is a ‘good parallel’, a ‘bad parallel’, or an ‘absurd parallel’? Or do we have to assume your (subjective) criteria on authority?”

How tiring. The implication that verbal logic yields only subjectively valid conclusions is an argument that undoes itself, since any aparent validity to the subjectivity argument must itself be merely subjective. Therefore no one can talk about anything with any confidence.

It’s just, like, how you feel, you know?

(Notice also the implicit tie-in to questions of authority: universally valid logic makes natural authority potentially available to anyone with a brain and some discipline; the subjectivists must therefore either banish all authority, or fall back on the coercive variety. Even when they claim the former path, they tend to follow the latter.)

in reference to defending Batman Begins

In his LRC article, “Libertarian Themes in Batman Begins, economist Robert Murphy mentions my review of the film, and my thoughts on economic depressions and criminal conspiracies.

I’m glad I’m not the only one who sees the Austrian connection.

Now if only I could find a Misesian to endorse my take on the Batcave…


Several times in my life, I’ve found people seemingly agreeing with me when I don’t at all agree with them.

This is probably a typical experience for people who attempt to introduce principled arguments rather than “taking sides”.

So I shouldn’t be surprised if anyone takes my latest LRC article as support for inane Hitler comparisons.

Mr. Marcus:

I am an educator who read your article in Defense of Referencing Hitler. I engaged an MSN member on the topic of education. A recent statement called for the destruction of government schools.

To me, that call is offensive and aligned with Hitler on a smaller, but none the less, equally significant scale. That comparison is justified because the poster wrote;

“government schools must be destroyed.”

Schools are people. Teachers, students, parents, support staff, an elected school board and administration. Schools are not buildings. They are ideas of thought. First and foremost, they are the people involved with that thought.

“government schooled children are like potted greenhouse plants.”

“Government schooled children are caged animals in a zoo.”

“Government schooled children are herded about like sheep to the sound of Pavlov’s dogs. They are all the same size, generally uniform in race, and economic and class.

Government schooled children are like diseases. Parents, protect your children from these diseases by removing your children immediately from government schools and consider home schooling.”

Calling for the the destruction of a specific targeted group of people in order to justify and advance an agenda is exactly what Hitler did. The only difference is he mislead a nation. In a largely ignorant and uneducated society, one might be able to gather enough support to lead a cause. Not at this time, in this nation, and comparison with Hitler serves as a reminder of that. Great horrendous endings began as small rants that few took seriously.

Children who attend public schools were dehumanized as plants, animals and disease. Exactly what did Hitler did to the Jews in order to rally German hatred of them to the degree that their destruction was seen as a disagreable but necessary action. Mein Kampf contains some of the same language about Jewish people as written about government schools above.

I stand by my conviction and assessment. Comparison with Hitler can be relevant, even though extreme.

I’ve decided to reply here, rather than in email:

government schooled children are like potted greenhouse plants […] are caged animals in a zoo […] are herded about like sheep to the sound of Pavlov’s dogs. […] Parents, protect your children from these diseases […]

I would agree with you that the dehumanization of the victims has disturbing parallels to Hitler’s modus operandi, but I don’t think you’d agree with me that these government-schooled children count as victims. Rather, it seems you are comparing a modern call for the end of coercion to one of history’s most infamous calls for its increase.

government schools must be destroyed.

Schools are people. Teachers, students, parents, support staff, an elected school board and administration. Schools are not buildings. They are ideas of thought. First and foremost, they are the people involved with that thought.

And if your opponent were advocating the literal destruction of people — as opposed to the the roles they play under a system of involuntary funding and compulsory attendance — I’d be far more inclined to endorse your comparison. As it is, I think you have things backwards.