Day 48 — Shifting the Goalposts/Special Pleading

Moving or shifting the goalposts (also known as special pleading) is another great example of a simple informal logical fallacy — that pretty much says what it is already. Essentially, the criteria for justifying an argument are changed once it seems like an initial argument won’t hold up to scrutiny or rebuttal.

You can see some great examples on a social media account called “For Exposure”, which looks at reasons why artists don’t get paid (or sometimes even credited!) for their work.

Say for example someone doesn’t credit you for profiting from your artwork. The person who took the work might firstly argue that artists should work for free, or even be grateful that their work was used — because the exposure of having that piece used for someone else’s profit is payment in itself.

You could then point out that you need payment and/or credit in order to sustain yourself to make more work. Therefore, it is better to pay, or at least acknowledge, or maybe just ask the artist first.

The claimant could then say, well, you’re not really good enough to be paid or credited; that there’s plenty of real experts (weasel words!) who work for free; that you put your work out there and should expect it to be taken advantage of by default…or even that they are in fact ‘doing you a favour’ because you’re work isn’t worth paying or creditingbut somehow it’s still good enough for them to use.

Or maybe you should do something that actually pays well instead of making art if you have an issue with them taking it. Or even that they’ve worked for free, therefore you should too. The possibilities, if you have a look, are fairly endless.

If someone’s moving the goalposts it shouldn’t distract you from the original goal that was set in the first place. If the standards are so unreachable that it’s evolved beyond reason — that may be a good sign that it’s this particular fallacy.

Further Resources:

The Skeptic’s Field Guide