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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Putting Toothpaste Back into the Tube

 

Sometimes, I speak in generalities—statements or principles having general rather than specific validity. For instance, I may state that on average males (boys and men) retain more upper body strength than female (girls and women).

 

This description refers to a normative value—that which establishes, relates to, or is derived from a standard or norm, especially of behavior. However, generalizations of this sort may be countered by exceptions to the rule (norm)—irregular occurrences.

 

As an example, person X may attempt to refute my claim by introducing women Y – female powerlifters who take performance-enhancing drugs (e.g., anabolic steroids) – as the presented exceptions to the rule may be more physically fit than the average male.

 

One problem with this form of argumentation is that it represents the exception that proves the existence of the rule. Describing this phenomenon, one source states:

 

Two original meanings of the phrase are usually cited. The first, preferred by [Henry Watson] Fowler, is that the presence of an exception applying to a specific case establishes (“proves”) that a general rule exists. A more explicit phrasing might be “the exception that proves the existence of the rule”. Most contemporary uses of the phrase emerge from this origin, although often in a way which is closer to the idea that all rules have their exceptions.

 

Person X’s attempt to challenge my stance by presenting information about women Y is the exception that proves the existence of the rule, because in order to dispute my claim which relates to males in general, person X needs to use specific exceptions to the norm. Specificity of this sort proves the existence of the rule, though doesn’t truly challenge the normative claim.

 

Now, suppose that when encountering my argument, person X provides the aforementioned exception that proves the existence of the rule. Still, this individual then bolsters the contention by committing a logical fallacy.

 

Imagine that in addition to the original retort, person X responds, “Besides women Y who negate your argument, females are intelligent, passionate, caring, better listeners, can bear the pain of childbirth while males cannot, and women live longer than men!” Is this a rational assertion?

 

Regarding logic and reason, the logically fallacy known as “overwhelming exception” addresses person X’s response. According to one source:

 

Description: A generalization that is technically accurate, but has one or more qualifications which eliminate so many cases that the resulting argument is significantly weaker than the arguer implies. In many cases, the listed exceptions are given in place of evidence or support for the claim, not in addition to evidence or support for the claim.

 

Logical Form:

 

Claim A is made.

 

Numerous exceptions to claim A are made.

 

Therefore, claim A is true.

 

Person X’s proposition is irrational, because a logical fallacy was used in conjunction with flawed argumentation related to an exception that proved the normative rule in the first place. Although these sorts of disagreements are common, arguments of this sort aren’t necessarily helpful.

 

Given understanding about rational versus irrational argumentation, suppose I make a general statement related to toothpaste and toothpaste tubes. I state, “Typically, you can’t put toothpaste back into the tube once it’s already been removed.” Consider that my proposal is a metaphor related to politics.

 

I suggest that once people who were accused of “insurrection” for having protested or rioted during the Jan 6th event – regarding disbelief in the validity and reliability of the United States (U.S.) political election system – a standard was established whereby contesting future presidential elections will likely be prohibited, thus infringing upon the First Amendment.

 

Hearing my proposal, person X retorts, “That’s absurd, because you can put toothpaste back into a tube by cutting the tube, putting toothpaste back inside, and then resealing it. As well, you can use a syringe to reinsert toothpaste into a tube!”

 

Once I identify person X’s response as a non sequitur, the individual then continues, “The First Amendment isn’t under attack, because people have protested since Jan 6th and haven’t been arrested. Besides, if Trump wins and people protest the results of the 2024 U.S. presidential election, it’s fine to protest him, because he’s a criminal and a fascist!”

 

The first part of person X’s reply (i.e., subsequent protests not ending in apprehension) is an example of exceptions which prove the existence of the rule. The second portion of the response commits the logical fallacy related to overwhelming exception.

 

Understanding how these flawed argument tactics work, one can avoid self-disturbing from use of irrational beliefs when speaking with the person X’s of the world. If you’d like to know more about how this is accomplished, I’m here to help.

 

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

 

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

 

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

 

 

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW


 

References:

 

Hollings, D. (2023, December 20). Bezmenov’s razor. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/bezmenov-s-razor

Hollings, D. (n.d.). Blog – Categories: Disputation. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/blog/categories/disputation

Hollings, D. (2022, March 15). Disclaimer. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/disclaimer

Hollings, D. (2023, September 8). Fair use. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/fair-use

Hollings, D. (2023, October 12). Get better. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/get-better

Hollings, D. (n.d.). Hollings Therapy, LLC [Official website]. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/

Hollings, D. (2023, May 18). Irrational beliefs. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/irrational-beliefs

Hollings, D. (2023, September 19). Life coaching. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/life-coaching

Hollings, D. (2023, January 8). Logic and reason. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/logic-and-reason

Hollings, D. (2022, October 16). Non sequitur. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/non-sequitur

Hollings, D. (2022, November 1). Self-disturbance. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from https://www.hollingstherapy.com/post/self-disturbance

Logically Fallacious. (n.d.). Overwhelming exception. Retrieved from https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/cgi-bin/uy/webpages.cgi?/logicalfallacies/Overwhelming-Exception

Sajjad JW. (2024, March 10). Man struggling to refill a toothpaste tube with its original [...] [Image]. Playground. Retrieved from https://playground.com/post/man-struggling-to-refill-a-toothpaste-tube-with-its-original-cltlw8i6k00ors6011qt1slvr

Wikipedia. (n.d.). Donald Trump. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Trump

Wikipedia. (n.d.). Exception that proves the rule. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exception_that_proves_the_rule

Wikipedia. (n.d.). January 6 United States Capitol attack. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/January_6_United_States_Capitol_attack

Wikipedia. (n.d.). H. W. Fowler. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Watson_Fowler

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