Guilt by Association

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Guilt by Association is a term which describes the act of attempting to discredit a person because of his connection to a certain group or organization or to discredit a position because people whom the speaker expects the audience to dislike agree with that position or are otherwise associated with it.[1] Guilt by association is sometimes referred to as collective guilt, the act of a member of an organization being held responsible for the actions of the group or other group members.

Guilt by association is a tactic often used by liberal and leftist activist groups to smear conservatives (often, in an attempt to imply some nebulous connection of mainstream conservatives to an imagined threat from the "radical right"). Examples of liberal groups making frequent use of this tactic include, Daily Kos, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Center for Democratic Renewal, and Political Research Associates.

The form of the fallacy

Guilt by association is a fallacy of relevance because the mere fact that a disliked person accepts a position says nothing about the truth of that position. In other words, the argument is fallacious whether or not the disliked person accepts the position, although it is commonly used even when the disliked person demonstrably disagrees with the position attributed to him. A common expression used to refute the fallacy is "Even a stopped clock is right twice a day." The fallacy takes the following form:

  • A certain disagreeable person agrees, or is otherwise associated, with P.
  • Therefore, P is false.

An extreme example of guilt by association is the reductio ad Hitlerum.

Honor by association

The flip side of guilt by association is honor by association, which takes the following form:

  • A certain agreeable person agrees, or is otherwise associated, with P.
  • Therefore, P is true.

Guilt by association and honor by association are fallacious for the same reason. For example, the mere fact that someone good at sports is an atheist or a homosexual says nothing about whether God exists or whether homosexuality is moral. The term association fallacy covers both guilt by association and honor by association.

The Galileo gambit

A form of honor by association is the Galileo gambit, in which a person tries to deflect criticism by saying, for example, that Galileo was also attacked and ridiculed. The Galileo gambit is a fallacy because the fact that Galileo was attacked and ridiculed does not prove that everyone who is attacked and ridiculed will ultimately be proved right. The Galileo gambit takes the following form:

  • A is both X and Y.
  • B is X.
  • Therefore, B is Y.


  1. Fallacy: Guilt By Association

See also

External links