Project Logicality | The Appeal to Force


 Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 21.28.48(This post contains rough language, and at least one rather graphic example, not particularly kid-friendly, is provided. Then, this is not a kid-friendly blog, so no biggie.)

Here we discuss the appeal to force, just for the sake of annoying pedantry, the argument from the cudgel, or the ad baculum fallacy.

It’s informal, language-derived argument, an irrelevant appeal, trying to coerce compliance or even merely feigned agreement with a claim by applying force or its threat, whether that be physical, psychological, or legal.

It may be thought of as a subset of the argument from final consequences, and in a simple but slightly vulgar formulation basically amounts to:

Agree with me and do as I say, or I’ll kick your f**king *ss!

or a bit less crudely,

Agree that I’m right because I’m badder and meaner than you are and I can light you up!

There’s also:

Do as I say, not as I do …or else!

That last might also double as an argument from authority, it and the ad baculum being not-so-subtle forms of bullying.

It’s fallacious when the threat implied or expressed used has no logical relation to the claim. It aims to exploit a demand for submission to authority and fear to substitute for valid argument.

This is probably apocryphal, but there’s a classic example I’ve seen on various places on the Web and in one of my Great Courses lectures, of a statement of Hitler’s upon hearing the then Pope’s displeasure, in which he’s claimed to have said, “…and how many tanks does the Pope have?”

Not exactly a rhetorical question.

But that nicely illustrates the specious use of this argument in exploiting the idea that ‘might makes right.’

Another example of this is Pascal’s Wager, with its choice, actually a false dilemma, of theistic belief while supposedly losing nothing and a chance at winning everything, or non-belief and risking perdition if ‘wrong,’ whatever that’s supposed to mean. There’s a whole host of unstated assumptions going into the wager that lack independent support, and which if not presupposed undermine Pascal’s  case, but I won’t deal with that here.

But an ad baculum argument can have valid applications, as when the threat invoked directly relates to the claims and is not merely used to overthrow a discussion by substituting intimidation or fear for real justification of a claim. There are criminal penalties imposed as punishment in various legal systems. This includes things like theft, fraud, and treason, which such penalties as narfling the Garthok, or maybe being consigned to Jabba the Hutt’s Rancor pit for making awful movie references on this blog. Ouch.

For example:

If you read the forbidden (and completely made-up) haiku collection ‘Reflections on Infinity,’ horrible and nasty critters (equally fictitious) from the Outer Void (as made-up as the first two) will show up and slowly eat your brain. Attracting the attention of such horrors can be horrific, worse than death, as madness comes while they eat your brain. To best avoid this unpleasant fate, you must not read ‘Reflections on Infinity.’

That was a little over the top, but I did say this blog isn’t kid-friendly.

With many informal arguments, sometimes fallacies or not, valid or invalid use depends on context. The use of it for furthering or squelching critical discussion, is valid when used for the former, invalid for the latter.

Most informal fallacies are not simple matters of incorrect structure. They depend on meaning bound up in language, which is inextricably linked to it, not merely decorative filler as with formal logic. Content matters.

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