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Argumentum ad Populum (Appeal to Numbers)

Appeals to Authority

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Fallacy Name:
Argumentum ad Populum

Alternate Names:
Appeal to the People
Appeal to the Majority
Appeal to the Gallery
Appeal to Popular Prejudcie
Appeal to the Mob
Appeal to the Multitude
Argument from Consensus
Argumentum ad Numerum

Category:
Fallacies of Relevance > Appeal to Authority

 

Explanation:
This fallacy occurs any time the sheer numbers of people who agree to something is used as a reason to get you to agree to it and takes the general form:

    1. When most people agree on a claim about subject S, the claim is true (normally an unstated premise). Claim X is one which most people agree on. Therefore, X is true.

This fallacy can take on the direct approach, where a speaker is addressing a crowd and makes a deliberate attempt to excite their emotions and passions in an attempt to get them to accept what he is saying. What we see here is the development of a sort of "mob mentality" — people go along with what they hear because they experience others also going along with it. This is, obviously enough, a common tactic in political speeches.

This fallacy can also take on an indirect approach, where the speaker is, or seems to be, addressing a single person while focusing on some relationship that individual has to larger groups or crowds.

 

Examples and Discussion:
One common way this fallacy is used is known as the "Bandwagon Argument." Here, the arguer explicitly relies upon people's desire to fit in and be liked by others to get them to "go along" with the offered conclusion. Naturally, it is a common tactic in advertising:

    2. Our cleaner is preferred two-to-one over the next leading brand.
    3. The number one movie for three weeks in a row!
    4. This book has been on the New York Times' bestseller list for 64 straight weeks.
    5. Over four million people have switched to our insurance company — shouldn't you

In all of the above cases, you are being told that lots and lots of other people prefer some particular product. In example #2, you are even being told to what degree it is allegedly preferred over the nearest competitor. Example #5 makes an overt appeal to you to follow the crowd, and with the others this appeal is implied.

We also find this argument used in religion:

    6. Hundreds of millions of people have been Christians, devoutly following it and even dying for it. How could that be possible if Christianity weren't true?

Once again, we find the argument that the number of people who accept a claim is a good basis for believing that claim. But we know now that such an appeal is fallacious — hundreds of millions of people can be wrong. Even a Christian making the above argument must acknowledge that because at least that many people have devoutly followed other religions.

The only time such an argument won't be fallacious is when the consensus is one of individual authorities and thus the argument meets the same basic standards required of the general Argument from Authority. For example, an argument about the nature of lung cancer based upon the published opinions of most cancer researchers would carry real weight and would not be fallacious.

Most of the time, however, this is not the case, thus rendering the argument fallacious. At best, it might serve as a minor, supplemental feature in an argument, but it cannot serve as a substitute for real facts and data.

Another common method is called the Appeal to Vanity. In this, some product or idea is associated with a person or group admired by others. The goal is to get people to adopt the product or idea because they, too, want to be like that person or group. This is common in advertising, but it can also be found in politics:

    7. The most successful business people in the country read the Wall Street Journal — shouldn't you read it, too?
    8. Some of the biggest stars in Hollywood support the cause of reducing pollution — don't you want to help us as well?

The third form that this indirect approach takes is call an Appeal to the Elite. Many people want to be thought of as "elite" in some fashion, be it in terms of what they know, whom they know, or what they have. When an argument appeals to this desire, it amounts to an Appeal to the Elite, also known as Snob Appeal.

This is often used in advertising when a company tries to get you to buy something based upon the idea that the product or service is that used by some particular — and elite — segment of society. The implication is that, if you also use it, then perhaps you can consider yourself part of that same class:

    9. The wealthiest citizens of the city have eaten at The Ritz for over 50 years. Why haven't you given us a try?
    10. The Bentley is a car for those with discriminating tastes. If you are one of the select few who can appreciate such a vehicle, you will never regret your decision to own one.

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