I've been in discussions where I have made a statement and the other person refutes the entire statement by bringing up 1 counter example. Is there a term for this?

For instance, if I said "Child murderers are bad people". Then, someone would say, "Not all child murderers are bad. What about the cop that killed a some 16 year old that was in the mall shooting other people?"

This is an overly simplified example. You make a statement that is 99.9999% true, but they find 1 counter example to refute the entire statement.

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    "The exception that proves the rule" or is that not the sort of thing argument you are after? – Chenmunka Aug 4 '16 at 12:15
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    Well, in mathematical arguments, one counterargument does suffice.... But anyway, Google strawman, see if that fits. – Dan Bron Aug 4 '16 at 12:15
  • This could just be called pedantry, ie being a pedant en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedant – Max Williams Aug 4 '16 at 12:19
  • Probably pedantry comes close. But my comment below on the saying also applies -- the point raised helps to clarify the "sweeping generalization" originally stated, and place bounds on its generality. – Hot Licks Aug 4 '16 at 12:24
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    Whatever the word for that is, the situation offered by your interlocutor as a counterexample fails to meet that standard. An officer who appropriately used deadly force to save lives will not have been convicted of murder. If an officer inappropriately used deadly force, eg the shooter was already disarmed or incapacitated, then they might well be guilty of murder because they didn't do it to stop the shooting. So I'd say this was something akin to 'misdirection' and suggest you pull the discussion back from killing to murder. – Spagirl Aug 4 '16 at 12:30

I'd call this a case of anecdotal fallacy.

Anecdotal fallacy – using a personal experience or an isolated example instead of sound reasoning or compelling evidence.

A philosophical term also known as misleading vividness is anecdotal evidence describing an occurrence with sufficient detail to permit hasty generalizations about the occurrence. It may be used, for example, to convince someone that the occurrence is a widespread problem. Although misleading vividness does little to support an argument logically, it can have a very strong psychological effect because of a cognitive heuristic called the availability heuristic.


"I am giving up extreme sports now that I have children. I think I will take up golf."

"I wouldn't do that. Do you remember Charles? He was playing golf when he got hit by a golf-cart. It broke his leg, and he fell over, giving himself a concussion. He was in hospital for a week and still walks with a limp. I would stick to paragliding!"


  • This is what I was looking for. Thanks for the answer and great references. – L_7337 Aug 4 '16 at 17:31
  • Glad to help. There is a mountain of faulty paradigms out there that can make life difficult, and naming them helps debunking them. – Bookeater Aug 4 '16 at 18:55

I think you are referring to the: "Exception that proves the rule":

  • The exception [that] proves the rule” is a saying whose meaning has been interpreted or misinterpreted in various ways. Its true, or at least original, meaning is that the presence of an exception applying to a specific case establishes (“proves”) that a general rule exists. For example, a sign that says “parking prohibited on Sundays” (the exception) “proves” that parking is allowed on the other six days of the week (the rule). A more explicit phrasing might be “the exception that proves the existence of the rule.”


  • In the OPs example, though, the exception is intended to disprove the rule. – Max Williams Aug 4 '16 at 12:17
  • @MaxWilliams - wouldn't that work the other way round? – user66974 Aug 4 '16 at 12:18
  • in another question perhaps. – Max Williams Aug 4 '16 at 12:20
  • The way I heard it is that this is a term in law, where, in many cases, a lawsuit must be brought to help clarify the meaning of a new law or some such. In the judgment produced by the court, the bounds and criteria of the law are clarified, and this occurs best when the court finds that this particular case is "outside" the law being considered. – Hot Licks Aug 4 '16 at 12:21
  • Given that as you say yourself, the meaning of this expression has been interpreted or misinterpreted in various ways, I don't really think it's helpful to OP to suggest it for his context. Regardless of which meaning the speaker wants to apply, it's likely that at least some of his audience will understand it differently. – FumbleFingers Aug 4 '16 at 13:15

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