My Dog Ate My Homework: The Logical Fallacy of the Appeal to Pity

Ad hominem | Appeal to Force | Appeal to Pity

Our third logical fallacy is that of the appeal to pity (Latin:  argumentum ad misericordiam), where you appeal to one’s emotions in order to progress your argument.  If you are from a Roman Catholic background, or have a classical choral background, you may recognize from the Latin the Et misericordia, from the Magnificat, the Latin rendition of Mary’s prayer in Luke 1:46-55, appealing and giving praise to God’s mercy extended from generation to generation.  (You can listen to a version of John Rutter’s Et misericordia for an idea.)

Matt Slick gives these two examples:

  1. Example:  You owe me big time because I really stuck my neck out for you.
  2. Example:  Oh come on, I’ve been sick.  That’s why I missed the deadline.

Another great example I saw was this:  “”You must accept that 1+1=46, after all I’m dying…”  While it is a shame that one is dying, does this affect the truth of the first claim?  No!

I was teaching a Bible class a few years ago, giving a Memory Verse Quiz.  I noticed in the back that a young lady was looking at her paper, then leaning back a bit to look at something in her purse.  She was looking so intently that she did not see me come up and catch her copying that verse from her iPhone.  I immediately sent her to the office for the rest of the class.  When I came into the office to have a talk with her and the principal, she said, “I needed to get a good grade in Bible, so it wouldn’t affect me getting into a good college.”  If she had begged us not to put it against her because of that rationale, this would be a classic appeal to pity. 

Again, the commonality is that we base the veracity of the argument on something other than the truth of the argument itself. 

Is there ever a good appeal to pity?  Here’s another example from another site:

Professor: “You missed the midterm, Bill.”
Bill: “I know. I think you should let me take the makeup.”
Professor: “Why?”
Bill: “I was hit by a truck on the way to the midterm. Since I had to go to the emergency room with a broken leg, I think I am entitled to a makeup.”
Professor: “I’m sorry about the leg, Bill. Of course you can make it up.”

This appeal to pity was legitimate in light of the evidence given. 

Let’s let truth be our guide and be wise in regards to other appeals!

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3 thoughts on “My Dog Ate My Homework: The Logical Fallacy of the Appeal to Pity

  1. Pingback: That’s the Way We’ve Always Done It: The Logical Fallacy of Appealing to Tradition « Gospel Gripped

  2. Pingback: Hurricane Isaac Is God’s Judgment?: The Logical Fallacy of Cause and Effect « Gospel Gripped

  3. Pingback: Logical Fallacies, Graphics Style « Gospel Gripped

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