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Appeal to Force

The listener is told that unpleasant consequences will follow if they do not agree with the advocate. In other words: “Agree with me, or else.” The old adage, “walk softly and carry a big stick”, also comes to mind. (This form of argument is also known as argumentum ad baculum. “Baculum” is Latin for “stick”.) “An argument always attempts to prove that the conclusion is worth of belief. Trustworthy arguments do this by providing clear and reasonable support for the conclusion. They rely solely on the power of reason. Whenever an argument relies on any other type of power to support its conclusion, it commits the fallacy of appeal to force. The most obvious sort of force is the physical threat of violence. The argument distracts us from a critical review and evaluation of its premises and conclusion by putting us into a defensive position.” (Stratton, Critical Thinking for College Students, p. 169.)

  1. "Adverse criticism of the utility companies advertises the entire community as a poor place in which to live and tends to retard its growth. Our company certainly would want to withdraw its business from such a community. Now, you wouldn't want that to happen to your fair city, would you?" (Walton, Scare Tactics, p. 35.)
  2. "Mr. Jones, we like only intelligent men in our organization; if you do not want to lose your job, then I suggest that you show a little intelligence by taking part in civic activities — e.g., by supporting my brother's campaign for election to the school committee." (Sahakian, Ideas of the Great Philosophers, p. 17.)
  3. "Professor Karmy, my father is visiting the campus this week and he would like to meet you. He will be busy on Tuesday, since he's spending the day playing golf with the College President, his old roommate. And on Wednesday he is meeting with the Endowment Office, where he plans to give a $100,000 check to the college. You should meet with Dad on Monday and assure him that I will be getting an 'A' in this class. It will probably make your life a lot easier." (Stratton, Critical Thinking for College Students, p. 169.)
  4. "On the international scale, the argumentum ad baculum means war or the threat of war. An amusing though at the same time frightening example of ad baculum reasoning at the international level is told in Harry Hopkins' account of the 'Big Three' meeting at Yalta toward the end of World War II. Churchill is reported to have told the others that the Pope had suggested that such-and-such a course of action should be followed. And Stalin is supposed to have indicated his disagreement by asking, 'And how many divisions did you say the Pope had available for combat duty?'" (Walton, Scare Tactics, p. 43.) Here, Stalin assumes the fallacy by discounting an argument because it is not accompanied by force.
  5. In Bill Maher's and Larry Charles' film, Religulous, Maher makes some critical remarks about faith at a truckers' chapel. One of the truckers present shakes his fist and says, "anyone who criticizes my Lord...".
  6. "Hello gentlemen, ladies. My name is Little Danny Pocket. I won´t take much of your time. Please excuse my tiny crutch. It is the only way I can get around these days. Ow. You see, my father worked for a newspaper in my native country of Denmark. His newspaper showed an image of Muhammed and two days later terrorists suicide-bombed his building. I was in the lobby when it happened. First one terrorist suicide bomber, then dozens more. They just kept coming. Suicide-bombers running into the building and blowing up one after another. They were like Mexican jumping beans. I just won't like to see people here in your studio getting hurt, you know. That would be, of course, your responsibility." (Cartman in Parker & Stone, "Cartoon Wars Part II", Southpark, Episode 10.4, 2006.) Cartman starts with what seems an appeal to pity but that quickly becomes a threat as a part of his argument that Family Guy should be canceled.
  7. In The Godfather, Don Corleone, after a family member aspiring to be an actor gushes about being rejected for a role, promises, "I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse." When the "Hollywood bigshot" does refuse, he wakes up with a decapitated horse head beside him in bed, and, not surprisingly, "changes his mind".
Identify the threat and the proposition and argue that the threat is unrelated to the truth or falsity of the proposition.
Many have designated the fallacious logic in the Appeal to Force as an issue of "relevance". The threat is simply irrelevent to the truth value of the proposition put forth.
"Castell tells us that argumentum ad baculum is the fallacy of appealing to force instead of appealing to reason. Here too, consistent with the previous treatments, ad baculum is defined as appeal to force, and dismissed as inherently fallacious on grounds that it is not a relevant contribution to a reasoned discussion." (Walton, Scare Tactics, p. 35.)
However, with due respect to Aristotle in his Rhetoric, should the Appeal to Force really be considered a logical fallacy? Many think not.
"It is plain that ad baculum fallacies are thought to be fallacies twice over. For the arguer who knowingly promotes his addressee's fear of force, the fallacy can be seen as a case of trickery or deception, an attempt to dupe the other party into reasoning erroneously. For the addressee, who succumbs to the arguer's trick, the fallacy is delusional in character; the addressee by his anxiety into thinking that his acceptance of the truth of the claim in question is justified. ... How can "so obvious a fallacy" trick anybody? It is also doubtful that anything answering to the present notion would qualify as an argument." (Woods in Hansen & Pinto, Fallacies, pp. 240-1.) "Note, by the way, that some of the alleged fallacies that have discussed in logic textbooks since time immemorial are not generally fallacious, at least according to the criteria set up in this text. Take the fallacy called appeal to force, committed, it is said, when a conclusion is accepted after a threat of force of one kind or another. Lawmakers, for instance, sometimes are charged with commission of this fallacy when they are convinced to vote a certain way by the implied threats of lobbyists to stop the flow campaign contributions. But legislators whose arms are twisted in this way generally are not guilty of a fallacy — the arm twisting doesn't convince them of the merits or demerits of particular legislation but rather of the personal (career) benefits to be gained by voting as lobbyists "suggest" they should. We need to know here, though, that self-interest frequently motivates people, lawmakers included, to believe what they otherwise would see to be false." (Kahane & Cavender, Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric, p. 106-7.)