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

Trying to persuade other by an appeal to their feelings and respect for a certain tradition. In other words:

  • X is traditional
  • Therefore X is good (or acceptable)

The reason this line of argument is fallacious is a hidden premise: “Whatever is traditional is acceptable”. Immediately we realize such is not the case. Slavery and sexism were (and still are) traditions in different societies. We now do not consider them acceptable, and if we find them in a society today (such as Islamic societies) we condemn them. “Tradition” is not “reason”.

Example: During the course of her carrier, the prime minister of Australia, Julia Gillard, was questioned about the issue of gay marriage numerous times. Her replies were usually a matter of dancing around the question, starting with “Our position…” or “I and the Labour party have a clear position…”. She usually avoided answering “Why?”, instead repeated her disagreement in different ways.

However, there were some cases which she did try to answer, and that is when our first fallacy is clearly shown. As the Daily Telegraph report here reads, Ms. Gillard tried to justify her disagreement with gay marriage as follows:

“I think that there are some important things from our past that need to continue to be part of our present and part of our future,” she said. “If I was in a different walk of life, if I’d continued in the law and was partner of a law firm now, I would express the same view, that I think for our culture, for our heritage, the Marriage Act and marriage being between a man and a woman has a special status.”

Surely, if we wish to agree with Ms. Gillard, as we saw above we may as well continue slavery and misogyny. After all, they were important parts of our culture and heritage. There is one more thing that is indeed not traditional: Women as prime ministers. I suspect Ms. Gillard should resign according to her own logic.

This fallacy is also important to note in defense of things that may actually be good. Take the whole different celebrations (such as Christmas) that most cultures have around the world. If one asks what is the point of celebrating Christmas (or any other celebration), one may wish to defend the so called “tradition” of Christmas simply because it is a part of the American culture or heritage. But such defence falls into the same category of fallacious argument: If Christmas (or any celebration) is “good”, that does not come from it being a tradition. Traditions are not reasons.

In such case we may wish to argue about the good effects that such celebrations can have on the society. Or perhaps based on the fact that having such celebrations can have positive impact on individual lives.



  1. Australian PM Julia Gillard: Gay marriage against my upbringingThe Daily Telegraph, March 21, 2011 []


Introductory Logic (Appealing to Traditions)

I had a previous post on the subject of gay marriage, and I mentioned appealing to traditions as one of the usual fallacies used to back up discriminative claims against gay marriage. The incentive behind writing that post was the Christian blogger, Rod Benson (who is apparently a Baptist minister according to his about page). He had a post about the subject at the time, and since he erased my comment (a harsh one nonetheless!) I wrote my post on self humiliation.

The good thing about extremist religious people is that they never learn. In a more recent post, he has continued with the same nonsense. Two paragraphs of this recent post has  actually turned out to be the perfect textbook case of appealing to traditions:

“No religious tradition can claim ownership of the institution of marriage. It’s neither Christian nor pagan. What we have in Australian federal law today is a definition of marriage that accurately represents the foundational beliefs and values inherent in the biblical teaching on Christian marriage, as well as thousands of years of cultural wisdom from a wide range of communities.

Marriage thus defined serves the common good, and provides a proper foundation for security and stability in national social and economic life.  This is why an overwhelming majority of churches supports the current definition of marriage in Australian law, and opposes the reform proposed by The Australian Greens. ”

According to that, the current definition of marriage “provides a proper foundation for security and stability in national social and economic life” because many of the cultures in the world have had it for thousands of years! Well, since unjustified discrimination against a minority is wrong, all these cultures are wrong, and that includes Christian culture as well. By no means this kind of fallacious argument can stand for the discrimination against gay couples in taking away their rights to want to be recognized as a couple: A married couple.

Besides, there have been many things that these cultures have had, and many of them still do, including: slavery, honour killings, child marriage, genital mutilation of both men and women, and many other horrible things.

Are these things wise? No. Acceptable? No. By any means justified? NO!

There you have it: The perfect textbook example of appealing to traditions.