The Special Pleading fallacy occurs when someone applies standards, principles, or rules to other people or circumstances while making themselves or their own circumstances exempt from the same critical criteria, often without adequate justification. Essentially, this fallacy is committed when someone makes an exception to a general rule or principle without providing sufficient reason for why that exception should exist.
Person A: “It’s important for everyone to follow the law.”
Person B: “Didn’t you just jaywalk to get here?”
Person A: “Well, I’m in a hurry, so it’s okay for me to do it.”
In this example, Person A believes that everyone should follow the law, which is a general principle. However, when caught jaywalking, Person A offers a special pleading: they believe they should be exempt from the rule because they are in a hurry. Unless Person A can offer a satisfactory reason for why being in a hurry should excuse them from a law that everyone else has to follow, they are committing the Special Pleading fallacy.
The fallacy becomes problematic because it undermines the fairness and integrity of rules and principles. If we allow people to arbitrarily exempt themselves from rules, then those rules become meaningless. Special Pleading is often a sign of a poorly-reasoned argument, as the person using it is willing to set aside principles as soon as they become inconvenient.