Introduction to Logical Fallacies (Workshop Style): Appeal to force/emotions

Trying to persuade others by means of coercion or by appealing to their emotions. This is a more obvious form of appealing to consequences.

Example: There may be a lot of cases in which this fallacy happens in our ordinary lives. I remember my own dad’s response to my question of “Why?” was usually given as a shout of “Because I say so, and you know what happens when you don’t listen to me boy!”. It was obvious to me, even at my very young age, that his way of coercion does not make things he wanted right. There must have been reasons behind them other than his sheer force[1].

Perhaps the simplest and most common examples are some students at the end of the semester “You cannot fail me Professor Smith, if that happens I’ll be expelled/ My dad will kill me.”

Professor Smith may be quite sorry that these things may happen, s/he may even consider passing the student, but there is absolutely no logical reason for that. The argument is flawed since it only appeals to emotions and abandons the reason behind a fail grade, that the student simply does not know enough about the subject at hand[2].

Propaganda is another less common form of this fallacy. It is a media based movement devoid of any substantial reason, but based on excitation of the feelings that people may have on a particular subject. An example for movement is the so called “pro-life” movement in US. Most of what is presented by the pro-life could be considered as propaganda. Read a part of the poem written from an unborn child’s mouth against abortion:

please don’t let them kill me,
it wasn’t my fault mommy.
and if you think you’re doing what’s right
then ask yourself, what if it was me?

Remember that no argument is presented, if one tries to argue against abortion, one has to do so by means of reason and evidence, not just by writing poems of this sort, designed only to provoke emotional response instead of giving a message by means of reasoning. Most propaganda exists exactly because there are no good reasons to appeal to, only emotions.

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[1] My father died some years ago, it’s a pity he died as the same person as is portrayed here.

[2] There is a humorous story based on this fallacy: There was a very poor writer who lived in a very bad state. He wrote a book and took it to a publisher as a last ditch of effort to earn some money. The publisher asked: “What’s the book about?” to which the writer responded: “It’s a story about a woman who’s in love with a young man. They marry each other, and she gets pregnant, but the man is eaten by a shark, the child is born dead, and she finally commits suicide from heart-break. Also, if you don’t publish the story, its writer will die of hunger!”

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Introduction to Logical Fallacies (Workshop Style): Appeal to Authority

The fallacy that the notion X is true, only because authority Y says so. No matter who the authority is, God, Prophet, holy book, the President, or Mr. John Smith; the authority still needs a reason to believe the notion, and that reason has to be clear. Sometimes, the reason is perfectly clear. A doctor has a specialty and a definite insight into the illnesses s/he has specialized in. It is perfectly reasonable to assume a specialist has good reasons for her claims. Therefore it won’t be fallacious to back a claim about one’s health and cite the doctor as the source of it.

To make this more clear, we could put it this way: Authority cannot be replaced as a premise of an argument, or as the reason behind a claim. However, a legitimate authority can be put as the source of reasons behind a claim.

Example: There is quite an interesting issues on morality which could be pointed out under this fallacy. A lot of moral claims given by fundamentalists turn out to be purely fallacious, on both fronts: replacing the authority with reason, or appealing to an authority which by no means is even remotely close to being a specialist on the subject of moral claims. Sometimes it is even worse, the authority turns out to be completely devoid of any sense of morality.

One of these particular issues is the law itself, when the law is presented as the only reason for the correctness of a notion. In a back and forth conversation with some pro-guns after the shooting in Sandy Hook elementary school (in 2012), they kept pointing out that “We have the right to have guns, our constitution is clear about it.” and I kept asking them “It’s true that the law in US allows people to have weapons, but why do you think it’s the right thing to do? Why the law is right? What is the reason?”

The law does not make a notion automatically right simply because it is “the law”. There are reasons behind what our politicians decide to legislate, and simply pointing at a certain law does not make a similar claim right.

Perhaps the worst of all appeals to authority are the claims from religious fundamentalists on the subject of moral values. In arguments with religious fanatics, “X is wrong” is a notion that is usually backed up by “Because God has commanded it”. Obviously God (any God) is by no means a legitimate authority on moral subjects. Most of it could be because God never seems to clearly answer questions about his reasons for a particular commandment[1]. And moreover, by reading most religious books we immediately realize that most Gods are worse than psychopaths, how could they ever be a legitimate authority on moral subjects?

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[1] Compare this with the case of  legitimate authority who specializes on a subject. For example a scientist on his/her specialty  A legitimate authority is always prepared to provide reasons for what s/he believes.