Tu Quoque Fallacy | Examples & Definition

Reasoning updated on  January 26, 2024 4 min read

The tu quoque fallacy occurs when someone responds to criticism by accusing the other party of inconsistency or hypocrisy. This tactic diverts attention from the original issue to an opponent’s supposed failure to follow their own principles.

Tu quoque is a form of ad hominem fallacy, meaning that it shifts focus away from the argument to the person presenting it.

Tu quoque fallacy example
A teacher advises a student to spend more time studying and less time on social media to improve their grades. The student replies, “But you post on social media during class hours!” Here, the student’s response shifts the focus from how their social media habits might be affecting their grades to focus on the irrelevant topic of the teacher’s social media usage.


Tu quoque fallacy examples

Examples of the tu quoque fallacy can often be found in contexts such as media and politics. The fallacy is generally used intentionally to deflect criticism by attacking the critic’s behavior or past actions, rather than addressing the argument.

Tu quoque fallacy example in media
A journalist criticizes a popular singer for traveling in private jets, pointing out the environmental impact of this mode of travel. The singer responds by accusing the journalist of also having an above-average carbon footprint.

In this example of the tu quoque fallacy, the singer avoids responding directly to criticism by shifting focus to the supposed hypocrisy of the critic. Even if the accusation is true of the journalist, as well as the singer, it is being mentioned strictly to change the subject.

In political discourse, the tu quoque fallacy is often used to draw scrutiny to public figures’ past inconsistencies.

Although examining a person’s track record is often legitimate, politicians often use tu quoque arguments to distract from current questions or criticisms about their own policies, beliefs, or behaviors.

Tu quoque fallacy example in politics
In a debate, a political candidate is criticized by their opponent for supporting a controversial new tax increase that will affect the middle class. They respond by pointing out that their opponent has supported many tax increases in the past.

Although the actions of both politicians merit scrutiny, the speaker uses a tu quoque criticism of their opponent specifically to avoid answering for their own choices. If they believe that their position is defensible, they should be able to explain their decision to vote for middle-class tax increases instead of simply changing the subject.

Why do people commit the tu quoque fallacy?

Tu quoque fallacies are meant to divert attention from the actual argument, so this tactic is particularly useful when an individual lacks a strong counter-argument or wants to avoid discussing an uncomfortable topic.

By shifting focus to the critic’s own credibility, a tu quoque argument can provoke anger and frustration, undermining the critic’s overall effectiveness as a debater.

When it’s not committed intentionally as a rhetorical defensive strategy, the tu quoque fallacy is often the result of a reflexive emotional outburst. An example is the retort “You started it!” which is often used by children to deflect blame by highlighting the accuser’s similar or preceding misconduct.

Despite being fallacious, a tu quoque argument may appeal to an audience’s sense of fairness. It may seem that by highlighting the critic’s faults, the person committing the tu quoque has merely placed the two parties on equal footing and held them to the same standard.

How should you respond to a tu quoque fallacy?

To respond to a tu quoque fallacy, it’s important to first correctly identify the fallacy. Make sure that an accusation has the following qualities:

  • Irrelevance to the argument: The retort lacks direct relevance and shifts attention away from the topic at hand.
  • Accusation of hypocrisy: The response shifts focus to the opponent’s supposed hypocrisy or inconsistency.
  • Avoidance of logical counter-argument: The accusation takes the place of a reasoned, productive response to a question or criticism.

When responding to a tu quoque fallacy, consider the following strategies to ensure that the conversation remains constructive:

  • Acknowledge valid criticisms: Recognize valid points, and acknowledge mistakes or flaws when appropriate to maintain credibility.
  • Separate the person from the argument: Emphasize that the argument’s soundness doesn’t depend on the behavior of the speaker.
  • Avoid counter-fallacies: Remain logically consistent, and avoid the temptation to counter one ad hominem with another.
  • Refocus on the original argument: Pivot back to the topic at hand without spending excessive time on the tu quoque accusation.

Do you want to know more about common mistakes, commonly confused words, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


Idioms

Parts of speech

Fallacies

Diamond in the rough

Irregular verb

Slippery slope fallacy

Idioms

Gerund

Sunk cost fallacy

Piece of cake

Infinitive phrase

Red herring fallacy

Better late than never

Infinitive

Appeal to authority fallacy

Salt of the earth

Adverb

Circular reasoning fallacy


Frequently asked questions about tu quoque fallacy

What’s the correct pronunciation of tu quoque?

The logical fallacytu quoque” is pronounced /ˈtuː ˈkwoʊkwiː/ (too-kwoh-kwee).

Other accepted pronunciations include the following:

  • /ˈtyuː ˈkwoʊkwiː/ (tyoo-kwoh-kwee)
  • /ˈtuː ˈkoʊkwiː/ (too-koh-kwee)

What’s the difference between the tu quoque fallacy and the ad hominem fallacy?

The tu quoque fallacy is a specific kind of ad hominem fallacy.

  • Ad hominem fallacies criticize a person for something irrelevant to the topic at hand.
  • Tu quoque fallacies specifically criticize the person posing a question, criticism, or argument with an accusation of hypocrisy.

Both belong to the category of fallacies of relevance, also known as red herring fallacies.

What’s the difference between tu quoque fallacies and whataboutism?

The tu quoque fallacy and whataboutism sometimes overlap, but they have distinct characteristics.

  • Tu quoque is a form of ad hominem argument that counters criticism by pointing out hypocrisy in the critic’s behavior. It effectively says, “You do the same thing you’re criticizing me for.”
  • Whataboutism is a broader tactic that involves responding to an accusation by deflecting to a different issue or making a counter-accusation. It shifts focus by essentially saying, “What about this other thing?”

Both are typically considered informal logical fallacies or specious approaches to argumentation.

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Magedah Shabo

Magedah is an author, editor, and educator who has empowered thousands of students to become better writers.

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