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The genetic fallacy is a fallacy of irrelevance where a conclusion is suggested based solely on something or someone's origin rather than its current meaning or context. This overlooks any difference to be found in the present situation, typically transferring the positive or negative esteem from the earlier context.

The fallacy therefore fails to assess the claim on its merit. The first criterion of a good argument is that the premises must have bearing on the truth or falsity of the claim in question.[1] Genetic accounts of an issue may be true, and they may help illuminate the reasons why the issue has assumed its present form, but they are irrelevant to its merits. [2]

According to the Oxford Companion to Philosophy, the term originates in Morris Cohen and Ernest Nagel's book Logic and Scientific Method.

Examples

From Attacking Faulty Reasoning by T. Edward Damer, Third Edition p. 36:

"You're not going to wear a wedding ring, are you? Don't you know that the wedding ring originally symbolized ankle chains worn by women to prevent them from running away from their husbands? I would not have thought you would be a party to such a sexist practice." There may be reasons why people may not wish to wear wedding rings, but it would be logically inappropriate for a couple to reject the notion of exchanging wedding rings on the sole grounds of its alleged sexist origins.

From With Good Reason: An Introduction to Informal Fallacies by S. Morris Engel, Fifth Edition, pg. 196:

America will never settle down; look at the rabble-rousers who founded it.

A lengthier and more controversial example of the genetic fallacy can be found in The Future of An Illusion, a book by Sigmund Freud in which an attempt is made to discredit the veracity of religion by contemplating its possible psychological origins (including that of wish-fulfillment and the Oedipus Complex). Whether this book is a manifestation of the genetic fallacy or a reasonable criticism of religious beliefs is still disputed among scholars today.

Notes

  1. ^ Attacking Faulty Reasoning: A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments (Third Edition) by T. Edward Damer, chapter II, subsection "The Relevance Criterion" (pg. 12)
  2. ^ With Good Reason: An Introduction to Informal Fallacies (Fifth Edition) by S. Morris Engel, chapter V, subsection 1 (pg. 198)

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