I. Case studies
A. The "rules of war" developed in the West (by way of Just War theory) include the principle: noncombatants are not legitimate targets of violence. Attacks on civilian targets are hence immoral. This is called the principle of immunity for noncombatants.
Our military command is faced with the following situation in war: one of the enemy's key military headquarters is situated directly across the street from a civilian hospital. The headquarters is a legitimate, indeed, critical target. But the nature of conventional bombing techniques means that any attack on the headquarters is certain to also involve hits on the hospital and thus result in civilian deaths.
Military command issues a statement: we uphold just war theory, and remain committed to the principle of immunity for noncombatants. We are also ordering a bombing attack on enemy headquarters, which will result in civilian deaths.
Can military command be charged with the fallacy of inconsistency?
B. Traditional Catholic moral theory insists that the legal/moral/spiritual person begins at the moment of conception; to kill the conceptus/fetus/unborn baby is thus to commit murder. Consequently, abortion is strongly opposed.
A woman is diagnosed with cancer of the uterus. The standard procedure in such cases is to surgically remove the uterus before the cancer spreads to other parts of the body. While such an operation, of course, renders the woman infertile -- her right to life takes precedence over saving her potential for reproduction. Removal of the uterus hence represents no moral quandary.
A woman is diagnosed by her doctor as having cancer of the uterus. She is also pregnant. If the uterus is removed in order to save her life, the operation will also result in the death of her conceptus/fetus/unborn baby.
Her priest tells her: the Church is "pro-life"; we must do all we can to protect the unborn child from harm. I also insist that you have the necessary operation to save you from cancer, even though it will result in the death of the unborn child.
Is the priest guilty of the fallacy of inconsistency?
II. Inconsistency -- or Fallacy of Accident?
1. When you see what appears to be a fallacy of inconsistency:
a. IDENTIFY where the inconsistency lies.
b. IF the inconsistency takes the following form:
GENERAL PRINCIPLE <--------> <------------> PARTICULAR CASE
THEN proceed to step 2., below.
IF the inconsistency is not of the form above (i.e., a conflict between a general principle and a particular case), THEN remain with your original identification - fallacy of inconsistency.
2. GIVEN that the argument you're dealing with now appears to stand as an inconsistency between a general principle and a particular case --
UNDERTAKE THE FOLLOWING ANALYSIS :
a. IDENTIFY primary and secondary/accidental intentions/acts/features of the particular case.
e.g., in the example used involving the removal of a cancerous uterus (primary intention/act/feature), the associated death of the fetus in those cases where the woman is pregnant appears not to be a primary or essential feature of the case.
As the example suggests, to determine whether a feature of the case is primary or secondary/accidental - try to determine whether the intention/act/ feature can be separated from what is clearly primary. In this case, for example, we can imagine - or know from experience - women (i.e., those persons with uterii) who are not pregannt. Hence there is no essential relation between the primary features and this accidental or secondary feature.
b. Once you have analysed the features of the case and determined which are primary and which are secondary --
ASK : does the general principle you see at work here apply to the primary or secondary features of the case?
IF the general principle applies to what is in fact a PRIMARY feature of the case:
your original identification of inconsistency is VALID
IF the general principle applies to what is in fact a SECONDARY feature of the case:
the identification of inconsistency rests in fact on fallacy of accident -
that is: to charge inconsistency here involves mistakenly applying a general principle to what is only an accidental or secondary feature of the case, instead of to what is a primary or essential feature of the case.
GP1) Ministers of the church are to represent Jesus -- as healer, as speaker of God's word, as the one who assures us of God's forgiveness of sin.
GP2) Males and females are both created in the image of God: both stand as equal reflections of God. The church affirms the full equality of male and female.
PC) Because Jesus was male, only men can be ordained as ministers of the church.
Question 1: where is the apparent contradiction -- that is, what General principle (P1 or P2) appears to contradict the particular case?
BE SURE TO IDENTIFY WHAT FEATURES OR CHARACTERISTICS OF THE PARTICULAR CASE ARE IN APPARENT CONFLICT WITH THE GENERAL PRINCIPLE YOU IDENTIFY.
Question 2: ARE the features or characteristics of the particular case, on your best analysis, really PRIMARY or SECONDARY features of the case?
That is, does the general principle apply really to PRIMARY or SECONDARY features?
GP1: Drury University is dedicated to the mission of helping students achieve their full potential as autonomous, independent persons -- persons who are free and responsible, fully capable of making their own decisions and accepting responsibility for the consequences of their acts.
PC: Drury University prohibits minors from possessing or consuming alcohol in dormitory facilities (which are provided as convenient rental units for students).
GP1: The fraternal organization of I Phelta Thi prohibits discrimination in any form on the basis of race, creed, national origin, or gender, as contrary to its affirmation of the full equality of all human beings.
PC: IPT will hold a slave auction to raise funds for needy children.
GP1: The Constitution of the United States and its amendments prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, creed, national origin, or gender.
PC: The Charter of Twin Oaks Country Club expressly forbids admitting Jews and persons of color to membership.
Still more examples... ²