Moving the goalposts

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==Definition==
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{{argument-stub}}
  
'''Moving the Goalposts''' is a type of informal [[logical fallacy]] in which the arguer, presented with evidence against one of his claims, redefines his claim without acknowledging the validity of the evidence and counterargument.  
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'''Moving the goalposts''' is the practice of arbitrarily changing the criteria for "proof" or acceptance of a claim out of the range of whatever evidence currently exists in the argument.
  
The argument is a fallacy since it redefines the claim as needed to suit the argument. In doing so, it can make any claim at all vacuously true and invulnerable to reasoned disproof. No True Scotsman is a particular example of this kind of fallacy at work, where the definition of a word is illegitimately shifted to exclude undesired examples.  
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Example:
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*''Apologist:'' Evolution must be false because life forms obviously don't change.
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*''Counter-Apologist:'' Breeders have developed hundreds of unique breeds in just the past 300 years.
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*''A:'' Well, that's just microevolution. You can't create a new species.
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*''C:'' Ever try to cross a Chihuahua with a Great Dane?<!-- ?? -->
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*''A:'' Ok, but you just get a new species<!-- ?? --> of the same kind. You can't create a new kind.
  
==Examples==
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It should be noted that changing criteria is a fundamental part of [[science]]. Science must be able to reject earlier, less precise theories in order to adopt more accurate worldviews. An example is Newtonian physics, which becomes an inaccurate predictor of events when applied to very small objects (like electrons) or to objects moving at relativistic speeds.
  
===Example 1:===
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The difference between legitimate modification and "moving the goalposts" is the ''ad hoc'' nature of the latter.
:'''Antagonist:''' "That movie reviewer is clearly biased; no foreign film has ever gotten more than two stars from him."
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:'''Protagonist:''' "Actually, I think Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon got three and a half when it came out."  
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:'''Antagonist:''' "Yes, well, He's never given four stars to any foreign film."
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:'''Protagonist:''' "I think he gave four stars to No Man's Land, too."
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:'''Antagonist:''' "Well, those were both Oscar winners. He has to rate those highly. But he's never given four stars to any foreign film that didn't go on to win an Oscar."
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===Example 2:===
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==See also==  
:'''Antagonist:''' "Evolution is clearly impossible; no life form can change"
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:'''Protagonist:''' "Um, livestock breeders do it all the time. Where do you think hybrid roses come from?"
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:'''Antagonist:''' "Well, that's just microevolution. You breed a new rose, it's still a rose. What you can't do is breed a new species."
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:'''Protagonist:''' "Actually, we can and have. There's lots of examples of observed speciation.
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:'''Antagonist:''' "Yes, but you still just get another variation of the same kind; you never get a completely new type of animal. You can't breed a dog and get a chicken."
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==Discussion==
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The key to understand this fallacy is to understand what a claim under discussion actually means. In most cases, the actual "claim" is a relatively broad and perhaps ill-defined one. What does it mean for a movie reviewer to be "biased"? In most cases, the person making such a claim will have an intuitive, informal idea of what he really means, but cannot necessarily articulate the exact evidence upon which he bases his idea. I might, for example, think that a reviewer is biased because he consistently rates foreign films lower that I do, but I (mostly) agree with his ratings of domestic ones. That's hard to articulate and even harder to demonstrate, but it may nevertheless be real.
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On the other hand, "moving the goalposts" can also be a sign that the claimant has made up his mind and is impervious to evidence. If he is convinced, for example, that a pattern exists, any single counterexample can be dismissed as unrepresentative.
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==Exceptions to the Rule==
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"Moving the goalposts" can be legitimate when used to make more explict exactly what is meant by a given claim, as in the film review discussion above. When the proposed amendment to the claim is more accurate and useful than the original claim, then moving the goalposts is simply an intelligent response to valid criticism.
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Also, claims of "moving the goalposts" often degenerate into mere semantic quibbles when the overall meaning of the statement is clear. For example, a claim that "all scientists today accept the theory of gravity" is probably false in detail. If you spent the next five years searching assiduously, you could probably find a single person, somewhere in the world, with training in science who holds a contrary opinion in the teeth of near-universal disdain and all standards of evidence. Focusing on the lone holdout adds legitimacy to an otherwise nonexistent controversy.
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==Related Topics==  
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*[[No true Scotsman fallacy]]
 
*[[No true Scotsman fallacy]]

Latest revision as of 02:57, 10 February 2011


Moving the goalposts is the practice of arbitrarily changing the criteria for "proof" or acceptance of a claim out of the range of whatever evidence currently exists in the argument.

Example:

  • Apologist: Evolution must be false because life forms obviously don't change.
  • Counter-Apologist: Breeders have developed hundreds of unique breeds in just the past 300 years.
  • A: Well, that's just microevolution. You can't create a new species.
  • C: Ever try to cross a Chihuahua with a Great Dane?
  • A: Ok, but you just get a new species of the same kind. You can't create a new kind.

It should be noted that changing criteria is a fundamental part of science. Science must be able to reject earlier, less precise theories in order to adopt more accurate worldviews. An example is Newtonian physics, which becomes an inaccurate predictor of events when applied to very small objects (like electrons) or to objects moving at relativistic speeds.

The difference between legitimate modification and "moving the goalposts" is the ad hoc nature of the latter.

See also

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