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Appeal to Consequence

Also known as argumentum ad consequentiam, in this form of argument the author points to the disagreeable consequences of holding a particular belief in order to show that this belief is false.

“In an argumentum ad consequentiam the premises deal only with the consequences that are likely to ensue from accepting the conclusion, and not with its truth. Logically speaking, it is entirely irrelevant that certain undesirable consequences might derive from the rejection of a thesis, or certain benefits accrue from its acceptance.”

Rescher (1964), p. 82.

By this description, the appeal to consequence would be categorized as a fallacy of irrelevance.


The lab leak theory of COVID-19 should be avoided because it could have negative consequences for relations with to China.

Scientists believed Covid leaked from Wuhan lab — but feared debate could hurt “international harmony”. Emails to Dr Anthony Fauci show “likely” explanation identified at start of coronavirus pandemic, but there were worries about saying so.

Sarah Knapton for The Telegraph (January 11, 2022).

Of all the issues that have roiled ties between China and the West since the pandemic emerged, none has been more sensitive in Beijing than questions about the origin of Covid-19. … The results of the lab leak probe could tie the hands of Xi Jinping, particularly if they come before he has an opportunity to meet Biden at the Group of 20 summit in October. … The issue of the origin of the virus is deeply connected to the legitimacy of the CCP, so I do not expect that China will become more transparent — it will fight this relentlessly

Iain Marlow and Dong Lyu, for Bloomberg NewsLab Leak Theory’s Revival Risks Making U.S.-China Relations Worse” (June 2, 2021).

You cannot support the critical teaching of well-established scientific theories like Evolution because it will lead to the perception that the scientific enterprise is uncertain or misguided. Including countervailing evidence will lower esteem for the sciences at the very time that we most desperately need young scientists to restore our competitive edge in technology.

Vegetarianism is an injurious and unhealthy practice. For if all people were vegetarians, the economy would be seriously affected, and many people would be thrown out of work.

Rescher, 1964.

“Second, there could be no free will without a soul. Physical machines operate completely by their programming and external forces in nature. Thus, human choices are the results of genetic makeup and brain chemistry. There is no center of consciousness that can make reasoned decisions. This raises a few difficult questions for those who deny the reality of the soul: How can we hold people morally accountable for their actions if they were not freely chosen? How does love have any meaning if choices are fatalistically determined by physical processes? If we deny the existence of the soul, then free will is merely an illusion.”

McDowell, “Is there Any Evidence for the Soul?”, 2008

However disagreeable it may be if we do not have free will and could not sustain moral accountability, this consequence does not imply the existence of the soul without also establishing that we do in fact have free will. This argument, though, could be construed as: if you believe in moral accountability, then you should also believe in free will. And, if free will, then also the existence of the soul, because matter is intrinsically deterministic.

The United States had justice on its side in waging the Mexican war of 1848. To question this is unpatriotic, and would give comfort to our enemies by promoting the cause of defeatism.

Rescher, 1964, p. 82.


Identify the consequences and argue that what we want to be the case does not affect what is in fact the case.


However — and take a deep breath here — if we set aside the question of correctness and ask instead questions about utility, then the consequences of a belief become very relevant. The criticism of faith given at the beginning of this chapter, i.e. that it can just as easily be used to support racism as merit badge ethics — is not subject to the appeal to consequences fallacy because faith itself is not a belief; it is a way of believing. The Appeal to Consequences fallacy applies to specific claims, not methodological dispositions whose consequences are the only measure of their strength. In the examples given above, a number of benefits for religion are claimed. By that logic, saying that religion and faithfulness are desirable traits because they produce these benefits is perfectly fine, but the defendant has then taken the witness stand and must endure cross-examination. It is therefore our duty as diligent investigators of world views to ascertain whether there are also any negative consequences of religion and faith — not just manufactured anecdotal ones like racism, but longer-standing historical correlations. If we find any, these will not imply anything about the truth or falseness of the tents of the religion in question, but they will put into broader context claims of individual and social benefit. Selective sampling is not allowed.

Fost, If Not God, Then What?, pp. 197-8.

On the appeal to consequences against cultural relativism.

But it is precisely this fallacy on which the conservative view of ‘cultural relativism’ rests. The conservative view rests on a fear (often unarticulated) of (what the conservative sees as) the consequences of a belief in ‘cultural relativity.’ This conservative view of the individual and social consequences of ‘cultural relativism’ (and empiricism, and the objectification inherent in modern life in general) is, in my opinion, terrifyingly correct, but irrelevant to the truth of the claims themselves. Thus, the conservative claim that ‘cultural relativism’ represents nihilism of sorts is quite likely accurate in its portrayal of modern society and modern society’s tendency to make impotent the values whose former power gave cultures their strength by binding the members of their societies. But it is a nihilism that represents not the betrayal of rationality and scientific progress (as conservatives often imply),  but the highest achievement of these. Indeed, one might well argue that this objectification, so great a victory in terms of the achievement of knowledge, represents modernization’s inevitably containing the seeds of its own destruction.

Golberg in Washburn et al., Dumbing Down, pp. 105-6.

On William James’ deference to consequences in The Varieties of Religious Experience.

“Many mystics, such as Teresa, tie mystical experience to positive effects — for example, to the practice of good deeds in the community. For Teresa, purported mystical experience followed by misdeeds would surely falsify the claim to true mystical experience. With James, the question is the reverse: whether good deeds or positive effects — namely, feelings of a specific kind — establish the claim to true mystical experience. To make his case, James would have to prove, not merely assert, that whatever effects he identified could likely — James would never claim definitely — come only from true mystical experience. Otherwise he would stand guilty of the functional fallacy: basing the truth of mysticism on an effect which has no necessary bearing on truth since it is equally compatible with delusion. Whether or not James could tighten his argument, his argument for the truth of mysticism is distinctive in its appeal to consequences rather than to content. His analysis is akin to a medical diagnosis: James’s ‘diagnosis’ is of belief — the claim to have had true mystical experience — and he is using the effects to determine not what belief the effects presuppose but whether that belief is true.

Carrette, William James and The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Centenary, p. 128.

Friedrich Nietzsche warned potential readers of his Anti-Christ that they must be entirely free of concern for the consequences of his ideas.

Even to endure my seriousness, my passion, [the reader] must carry intellectual integrity to the verge of hardness. He must be accustomed to living on the mountain tops — and to looking upon the wretched gabble of politics and nationalism as beneath him. He must have become indifferent; he must never ask of the truth whether it brings profit to him or a fatality to him.

The Antichrist (A.A. Knopf, 1920) preface, p. 38