This fallacy occurs when a person assumes that asserting "who is to say" (or some variation) ends the need for further consideration of an issue. It is assumed by the person that this tactic "proves" that there is no way to decide whether any position or view is better than another. The person may appear to be asking a question, but they have the answer in mind: no one is to say.
The fallacy has the following form:
- "Who is to say?" or some variation is presented.
- Therefore there is no way to decide whether any position or view is better or worse than another.
This sort of reasoning is fallacious because the mere fact that someone says "who is to say?" hardly proves that there is no better or worse position on the issue at hand.
It is, of course, possible that there are situations in which it is impossible to show that one position of view is any better than the others. However, this would have to be shown through argument. For example, what people like and dislike when it comes to food is a rather subjective matter - what proof could be given that Rocky Road ice cream is tastier than Heavenly Hash? In this case, it would be reasonable to hold the view that no one is to say what ice cream truly tastes better or worse.
This fallacy is often used as a tactic to simply end discussion or as an easy (lazy) way to avoid taking a position on an issue.
- Three students are discussing cheating.
Sally: "You know, I saw that Josh was cheating like a crazy monkey on the last test."
Andrea: "Yeah, he's like that."
Bill: "Um, what the heck does 'cheating like a crazy monkey' mean?"
Sally: "Whatever, Bill. Anyway, I think cheating is wrong. People should work for their grades."
Andrea: "Hey, little miss judge, who are you to say what people should do?"
Andrea: "I mean, how can anyone say what is wrong or right? You just can't."
- Some people are discussing evolutionary theory versus creationism
Polly: "You know, the evidence for evolution seems overwhelming. There is the fossil evidence, the genetic data and all kinds of…"
Jim: "That may be. But you can't just chalk the universe up to chance. I think that God is a necessary factor in explaining the universe."
Geoff: "Hey guys, lighten up. I mean, no one can really decide who is right here. So, there is no point in fighting. Polly, you can keep on bowing down to Darwin and Rorty. Jim, you can keep on praying to Jesus. See everybody can be happy because no one is right…or wrong."
Polly: "Heretic. You must be burned."
Jim: "I'll get the wood and gasoline."
Geoff: "Hey, can't we all just get along?"
Jim & Polly: "No!"