Definition

Ad populum (Latin for "appeal to the people") or appeal to popularity is when it is argued a conclusion must be true or good because most people believe it true or good. The argument from tradition is closely related because it is argued a conclusion must be true or good because people have historically believed it to be true or good.

There are many related fallacies that appeal to emotion. In Critical Thinking (2009), Parker and Moore identify several ways to fallaciously appeal to emotion: argument from outrage (inflammatory words followed by a conclusion), apple polishing (flatter person and then offer conclusion), guilt trips (create guilt in people to force acceptance of a conclusion), peer pressure (accept conclusion to get acceptance), and group think (pride of group membership causes the acceptance of some beliefs).

Examples

1) Dualism is silly; you just cannot believe it (appeal to emotion).

2) Most people believe dualism is true, so it probably is true (ad populum).

3) Eating animals is moral because we have been eating them for thousands of years (appeal to tradition).

4) Only very intelligent people like you recognize the truth of relativism and determinism, or only people like you are smart enough to know God exists (apple polishing or appeal to emotion).

Discussion

The problem with many of these fallacies is you cannot logically infer what is true from what people believe, feel, or want to be true. If everyone believes the earth is stationary, it would not make it so. If everyone believes the earth is moving, it would not make it so. If most people believe slavery is good, it would not make it so.

How to avoid

Put aside emotions and examine the evidence.

Of course, avoiding emotional fallacies is easier said than done. The truth is most of us want to be loved and accepted, so we feel enormous pressure to agree with these fallacious appeals to emotion. Also, it is very difficult to examine every issue, so we often end up following the herd at a conscious or subconscious level. I know that if I had lived eight hundred years ago, I would have thought the earth was flat and stationary.

There is also a complex and interesting relationship between emotion and reason. Indeed, it seems recent research suggests reason cannot exist without emotions.

Still, our emotions and billions of people can be wrong, and wanting something to be true does not make it so. Feeling a belief to be true is not usually a good argument for it being true (exceptions include “I feel happy” or “I feel hungry”). The best we can do when logic is required is to attempt to put aside emotions and follow the evidence where it leads.

Exercise 

  1. Is one ever justified in appealing to emotion? Explain.
  2. Create or find a few examples of these fallacies.

Answers

  1. Yes. For example, I can infer “I feel sad” from the feeling that I am sad.

Also, the stoics and modern cognitive therapists recognize that many emotions are essentially judgments (or based on judgments). For example, my fear of a lion is based on the judgment that lions can harm. My feeling of loss is based on the judgment that something of value was lost.

The relationship between logic and emotion is complex, and we are just beginning our exploration of it. Still, it is clear that most appeals to emotion are fallacious.

  1. Examples will vary.