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Appeals to Emotion and Desire

Index of Fallacies

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One way in which fallacious arguments are constructed is by trying to elicit an emotional reaction from people and then using that reaction to get them to agree to the conclusion. When this occurs, the arguer is committing the fallacy of an Appeal to Emotion.

This sort of fallacy is a type of Fallacy of Relevance, because your emotional reaction does not necessarily have any bearing on the truth or falsity of a conclusion. You might, for example, be on a jury and hear all sorts of things about how the defendant is a nasty person - but no matter how much you are led to despise that person, that doesn't necessarily make them guilty of the crime they are being tried for.

Although we find this fallacy being used by lawyers, the most common place we are likely to find it is in advertising. Almost all effective advertisements appeal to our emotions in some fashion by evoking either good feelings for the product being sold, or bad feelings for some situation that the product is supposed to alleviate.

Soft drink advertisements are a good place to look for such appeals. There is very little marketing that can be done for soft drinks based upon facts alone. If they were advertised solely on facts, we'd hear that they are sweet and carbonated and that's about it. That doesn't make you want to run out and buy any, does it?

So, marketers create much more interesting advertisements by linking the drinks to comforting images or home and family, or to sports and recreation. The implication is, you can enjoy similar feelings in reality by consuming their product.

One common way the Appeal to Emotion is created is by appealing to an audience's prejudices or desires. When this occurs, the person is committing the fallacy of appeal to desire. This is also a type of Fallacy of Relevance, because what we want to be true isn't relevant when trying to determine what is true.

I may want to win the lottery, but that desire has no effect on whether or not I actually will win. I may want to have the nicest house in the neighborhood, but merely wishing it won't accomplish anything - and certainly won't convince anyone to conclude that my house is indeed the best.

Usually, such an appeal is not made openly or obviously. Instead, the appeal is made to a person's prejudices through subtle suggestions that certain ideas or facts have more inherent worth than others. Once again, we find this quite a lot in advertising - for example, when the newest things are promoted as having more worth simply because they are new.


The different types of Appeal to Emotion and Desire are:

Appeal to Poverty / Appeal to Money
Appeal to Novelty / Appeal to Age
Appeal to Force / Fear (Argumentum ad Baculum)
Appeal to Pity (Argumentum ad Misercordiam)
Appeal to Flattery

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