Tu Quoque

Tu Quoque July 12, 2009

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matt 7:1-5).

In one of Christ most quoted statements (quoted, but also very much misunderstood), Christ warns people of excessive judging: the measure by which they judge others will become the foundation for how they are to be judged. This does not say we are not to critically look at others and suggest things for their benefit, but it does tell us that if one’s objective is merely to find a way to criticize the other with a sense of smug superiority because of it, they would best be quiet. Love corrects through grace, seeking to heal the one who is in error; egoism accuses without it, and seeks to destroy the one who is in error. Love understands that you can only help the other according to what it is you have to give, egoism thinks you have everything to give, and nothing you need in return.

But, isn’t what Christ is suggesting here (and in many other places – let him who is without sin throw the first stone) a kind of tu quoque fallacy?  The way people argue and respond to one another with tu quoque when someone shows them they are just as guilty as the one they are criticizing, this would appear to be the case. They go around looking for people to criticize (and they must be the first to do so, before someone criticizes them and offers them no way out of their sin and they must answer for it instead of someone else answering for it), and they only want a response to the criticism itself, an affirmation that they have beaten their opponent with whatever fact they have revealed. They never want any examination of their own failings. They will say “tu quoque” if someone does; and then, with this false sense of rationalism (it really isn’t), they will then say, “Well, that proves me right, because their only response is a fallacy.” They are so blind they do not understand what is going on either in Christ’s words, or when people point out how their own criticism affects themselves.

To be a fallacy, a logical argument has to be attempted to be made. While some people might try to make an argument that “what I do is ok” because “you do it also,” that, obviously, would be fallacious and what this fallacy is about. Just because a critic does the thing they criticize someone else about does not make it right. If that is what people mean by saying “and you do it too,” then they really have not defended themselves, and they have not proven what they have done is fine. And they have indeed fallen for this fallacy.

However, how often is that really the intent when people point out the log in the eye of the critic? Rarely do I see people say, “See, you do it too, therefore it’s alright.” What I see is something else – people point out “You do it too. Are you sure it really is the problem you claim it is?” That is, they are wanting the critic to examine what they have done and approved in the past, because, for themselves, they usually have found a way out for the criticism they are offering to others – and if so, then they should (in all honesty and openness) give the one they criticize the same benefit of the doubt they are giving to themselves. Indeed, many people point out “You do it too, but you also have not had problems about it until now,” to indicate that the question is whether or not it is a real or artificially created problem. That has to be examined, and to say “that’s a tu quoque” is to misread the reply.

But there is also another reason one might say, “And you do it too.” It might not be a defense of oneself; instead, it could be opening up the fact that it is a real problem, a social problem, and one which needs to be worked out together, not individually. It is more “Yes, I’m sorry, it’s wrong, and I’m not the only one who has trouble here. You do too. Can we help each other out? Why do we have to go around condemning so as to destroy one another, when we could help each other out?” That is, what they are saying is not an argument, but a plea. But the critic, who wants to only condemn, and not build up, will only see the words of the other in the light of their own methodology: the destructive methodology of Promethean egoism. And that is the problem.

This leads us back to Christ. It is also why his response is not fallacious. He isn’t making an argument for the sake of criticism, seeking for a purely rationalistic presentation of facts. He is looking at real, fallen persons, people who all need help. As long as one keeps looking around for people to fight, as long as one goes around looking for people they can feel superior too, they will never realize their own need to open up and move beyond the “cold hard facts” and into the gracious, living, thriving way of love. The real issue is not who is right when everyone is wrong; the real issue is this: how does one become right? The answer is that it can never be done alone, but with people helping each other, supporting each other, as they overcome sin. But the critic doesn’t want the light of truth to reveal their own fallen nature; they seem to revel in the absolutism of the individual and the Satanic mimicry of God by the creation of individualized, humanistic truth cut off from the foundation of all truth: love. What they said might be fact, but without that love, is it really true?

"Thanks for the correction. This is where I got the idea that they were Jewish:https://www.jpost.com/Ameri...I’m ..."

On Antisemitism and the Catholic Church
"I just want to correct one point of fact: the Koch brothers are not Jewish. ..."

On Antisemitism and the Catholic Church
"I agree, he’s a symptom. It’s been building to this. Just as the civil rights ..."

It’s Not Really About the Issues
"Yesterday, I stumbled across the old distinction between the "teaching church" and the "listening church." ..."

On Antisemitism and the Catholic Church

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Catholic
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Mark DeFrancisis

    “He is looking at real, fallen persons, people who all need help. As long as one keeps looking around for people to fight, as long as one goes around looking for people they can feel superior too, they will never realize their own need to open up and move beyond the “cold hard facts” and into the gracious, living, thriving way of love. The real issue is not who is right when everyone is wrong; the real issue is this: how does one become right? The answer is that it can never be done alone, but with people helping each other, supporting each other, as they overcome sin.”

    If only these words were the guiding motto of the Catholic blogosphere and the everyday living of all of us as Christians. Then, we would construct a splendidly attractive and truly transformative Gospel of Life!!!

  • Mark

    Right. I’m not saying I am perfect here. I think we all get times where our ego gets in the way. But I think this should be the spirit of the Catholic blogosphere; if it were, things would be much much much better. I do find people I can dialogue in this way with — but I wish it was much, much more.

  • This move you describe, from a third-person rationalism to a first-person intimacy, is crucial. It also seems to be why continental philosophy is so apt at taking the “theological turn” I write about from time to time.

    Zizek has this joke about the “let him who has no sin throw the first stone” in footnote 112 to his first essay in “The Monstrosity of Christ” that I find really funny:

    “…there is a nice joke about what ensues when Christ, in front of a large crowd, proclaims his famous ‘Let the one who is without sin throw the first stone!’: he is immediately hit with a stone; he then turns in the direction from where the stone came and says reproachfully: ‘Mother! I told you to stay home!”

  • Mark,

    The world you describe in your quote explains homelessness, substance abuse, gangs, and youth violence. When people are surrounded by broken relations, they seek loving relations. The way they seek them does not matter one hoot.

    To me, this gives an insight into so many of the dynamics of our society. Perhaps it also explains MJ’s relations with children. I believe there is an intense need for spiritual relations underlying his “atypical” behavior.