The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Fallacy: Guilt By Association

Also Known as: Bad Company Fallacy, Company that You Keep Fallacy

Description of Guilt By Association

Guilt by Association is a fallacy in which a person rejects a claim simply because it is pointed out that people she dislikes accept the claim. This sort of "reasoning" has the following form:

  1. It is pointed out that people person A does not like accept claim P.
  2. Therefore P is false

It is clear that sort of "reasoning" is fallacious. For example the following is obviously a case of poor "reasoning": "You think that 1+1=2. But, Adolf Hitler, Charles Manson, Joseph Stalin, and Ted Bundy all believed that 1+1=2. So, you shouldn't believe it."

The fallacy draws its power from the fact that people do not like to be associated with people they dislike. Hence, if it is shown that a person shares a belief with people he dislikes he might be influenced into rejecting that belief. In such cases the person will be rejecting the claim based on how he thinks or feels about the people who hold it and because he does not want to be associated with such people.

Of course, the fact that someone does not want to be associated with people she dislikes does not justify the rejection of any claim. For example, most wicked and terrible people accept that the earth revolves around the sun and that lead is heavier than helium. No sane person would reject these claims simply because this would put them in the company of people they dislike (or even hate).

Examples of Guilt By Association

  1. Will and Kiteena are arguing over socialism. Kiteena is a pacifist and hates violence and violent people.

    Kiteena: "I think that the United States should continue to adopt socialist programs. For example, I think that the government should take control of vital industries."
    Will: "So, you are for state ownership of industry."
    Kiteena: "Certainly. It is a great idea and will help make the world a less violent place."
    Will: "Well, you know Stalin also endorsed state ownership on industry. At last count he wiped out millions of his own people. Pol Pot of Cambodia was also for state ownership of industry. He also killed millions of his own people. The leadership of China is for state owned industry. They killed their own people in that square. So, are you still for state ownership of industry?"
    Kiteena: "Oh, no! I don't want to be associated with those butchers!"

  2. Jen and Sandy are discussing the topic of welfare. Jen is fairly conservative politically but she has been an active opponent of racism. Sandy is extremely liberal politically.

    Jen: "I was reading over some private studies of welfare and I think it would be better to have people work for their welfare. For example, people could pick up trash, put up signs, and maybe even do skilled labor that they are qualified for. This would probably make people feel better about themselves and it would get more out of our tax money."
    Sandy: "I see. So, you want to have the poor people out on the streets picking up trash for their checks? Well, you know that is exactly the position David Count endorses."
    Jen: "Who is he?"
    Sandy: "I'm surprised you don't know him, seeing how alike you two are. He was a Grand Mooky Wizard for the Aryan Pure White League and is well known for his hatred of blacks and other minorities. With your views, you'd fit right in to his little racist club."
    Jen: "So, I should reject my view just because I share it with some racist?"
    Sandy: "Of course."

  3. Libard and Ferris are discussing who they are going to vote for as the next department chair in the philosophy department. Libard is a radical feminist and she despises Wayne and Bill, who are two sexist professors in the department.

    Ferris: "So, who are you going to vote for?"
    Libard: "Well, I was thinking about voting for Jane, since she is a woman and there has never been a woman chair here. But, I think that Steve will do an excellent job. He has a lot of clout in the university and he is a decent person."
    Ferris: "You know, Wayne and Bill are supporting him. They really like the idea of having Steve as the new chair. I never thought I'd see you and those two pigs on the same side."
    Libard: "Well, maybe it is time that we have a woman as chair."

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