Appeal to Pity Fallacy | Definition & Examples
The appeal to pity fallacy occurs when someone attempts to persuade others by provoking feelings of guilt or pity. Instead of presenting factual information and evidence to support an argument, one may try to play on people’s feelings. However, this is a manipulative tactic because feelings of pity are usually irrelevant to the point being made.
The appeal to pity fallacy is also known as argumentum ad misericordiam or argument from pity and can be observed in various contexts like marketing, political campaigns, and law.
What is the appeal to pity fallacy?
The appeal to pity fallacy occurs when someone substitutes logical evidence in an argument with a claim intended to elicit pity or guilt. However, feelings don’t serve as evidence for the truth of a claim. When we accept a conclusion regarding what should be a logical issue just because we feel sorry, we fall for this type of fallacy.
Appeal to pity is an informal fallacy. In other words, the content of the argument fails to provide adequate reasons for believing the truth of the conclusion. More specifically, it is a fallacy of relevance: these fallacies appeal to evidence or examples irrelevant to the argument at hand.
The appeal to pity fallacy is a variation of the appeal to emotion fallacy. If we can’t find a way to support our view with solid arguments, it may be tempting to arouse emotions in others so that they accept our conclusion. Although there is nothing wrong with using emotions when we argue, it is a fallacy to use emotions as a diversion or as proof that what we say is true or correct.
Are appeals to pity always fallacious?
An appeal to pity is not always fallacious. In fact, an appeal to pity is a variation of the rhetorical strategy known as appeal to emotion (or pathos). People may try to capitalize on any number of our emotions to persuade us, including pity. Such appeals may be legitimate as long as they are presented along with sound evidence.
In general, whether or not an appeal to pity is fallacious depends on how relevant the pity evoked is to the matter in question. When discussing personal stories or experiences that are relevant to a broader issue, like human trafficking, emotions can play a legitimate role in understanding and empathizing with others’ perspectives. It is the absence of supporting evidence that makes an appeal to pity fallacious.
Appeal to pity fallacy examples
In a court of law, the appeal to pity fallacy is often used to distract from the facts of the case and to gain sympathy from the judge, jury, or members of the public.
Propagandists rely on fallacious appeals to pity in an attempt to make their audiences more receptive to their divisive message.
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Frequently asked questions about the appeal to pity fallacy
- What is an example of appeal to pity fallacy?
An example of appeal to pity fallacy is the following appeal by a student to their professor:
“Professor, please consider raising my grade. I had a terrible semester: my car broke down, my laptop got stolen, and my cat got sick.”
While these circumstances may be unfortunate, they are not directly related to the student’s academic performance.
- What is the difference between the appeal to pity fallacy and red herring fallacy?
- Appeal to pity fallacy attempts to evoke feelings of sympathy, pity, or guilt in an audience, so that they accept the speaker’s conclusion as truthful.
- Red herring fallacy attempts to introduce an irrelevant piece of information that diverts the audience’s attention to a different topic.
Both fallacies can be used as a tool of deception. However, they operate differently and serve distinct purposes in arguments.
- What is argumentum ad misericordiam?
Argumentum ad misericordiam (Latin for “argument from pity or misery”) is another name for appeal to pity fallacy. It occurs when someone evokes sympathy or guilt in an attempt to gain support for their claim, without providing any logical reasons to support the claim itself. Appeal to pity is a deceptive tactic of argumentation, playing on people’s emotions to sway their opinion.
- What are some other common fallacies related to the appeal to emotion fallacy?
Appeal to emotion fallacy relates to several other fallacies, including:
- Appeal to fear or building an argument based on fear rather than evidence
- Appeal to pity or eliciting sympathy to support an argument
- Appeal to popularity (also ad populum fallacy) or arguing that something must be true or good because many people believe so
- Think of the children fallacy (also “What about the children?”) or attempting to garner sympathy for an argument by claiming that it supports the rights of children in some way
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