If-by-whiskey

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If when you say whiskey you mean the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster […] then certainly I am against it. But, if when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes, […] then certainly I am for it.
—The speech that it was named for[1]

The if-by-whiskey or if-by-whiskey fallacy is a debating tactic often found in politics, and a subset of the relativist fallacy.[2] It is named after a famous speech by Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat, Jr., a Mississippi lawmaker, who was arguing both for and against the legalization of alcohol. It could be considered a form of the balance fallacy, or at least related, and often uses loaded language and doublespeak.

Format[edit]

The if-by-whiskey is generally structured in a very verbose way, and basically acts like a fill-in-the-blank:

If by [noun], you mean [negative descriptors of noun], then of course [statement of lack of support/belief]. If, however, by [noun], you mean [positive descriptors of noun], then [statement of support/belief].

Despite the length, it very rarely contains any real content.[2]

Where "If-by-whiskey" is not fallacious[edit]

One important note: "If-by-whiskey" is only fallacious if it is used to disguise a (lack of) position; one of the things that made the speech from which the fallacy takes its name not quite an example of "If-by-whiskey" is that it was intended to both summarize both sides of the issue, and, in effect, say "please don't ask me to take sides on the whiskey issue; both sides have a point, but they're also both wildly exaggerating". The reason the fallacy is named after the above speech is that the speech forthrightly and directly implies what is usually carefully concealed in a "If-by-whiskey" argument or speech.

Further, clearly setting the terms of debate is not fallacious; for example, differentiating between illegally made "moonshine"Wikipedia's W.svg and legally made-and-sold, reputable brands of alcoholic beverage labelled as "whiskey" is probably a valid distinction, assuming that in context the word "whiskey" is ambiguous between the two.

And yes, we're aware of the irony that this section could be called an "if-by-whiskey" argument. The actually fallacy is in the taking of contradictory positions or avoidance thereof, not in the structure of the argument.

Examples[edit]

References[edit]