Tag Archives: Informal Fallacies

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.

Logical Fallacies — The Argumentum Ad Baculum


Description of the argumentum ad baculum
Image via Wikipedia

The content of this post may contain NSFW language and at least one rather graphic example, not particularly kid-friendly, is provided.

You’ve been warned.

In this installment I’ll discuss the ad baculum argument, or just for the sake of annoying pedantry, because I’m evil like that, the ‘argument from the cudgel,’ or otherwise known as the appeal to force.

This is an informal argument, and often fallacious in its use of an irrelevant appeal, to compel compliance or at least feigned agreement with a conclusion by duress or by the threat of it, whether that duress be physical, psychological, or legal.

It’s a subset of the argument from consequences, and in a simple but possibly vulgar formulation basically amounts to, “Agree with me and do as you’re told, or I’ll kick your ass,” or maybe a bit less crudely, “I’m right because I’m badder and meaner than you are and I can light you up easily. So there.”

There’s also the (in)famous “Do as I say, not as I do,” with the addendum, “…or else!”

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

This is probably apocryphal, but there’s a classic example I’ve seen on various places on the Web, of a statement of Hitler’s upon hearing the then-current Pope’s displeasure with his policies, whereupon he is to have said, “…and how many tanks does the Pope have?”

Not exactly a rhetorical question…

…and it quite nicely illustrates the specious use of this argument in making use of the idea that ‘might makes right.’

Another example of this is Pascal’s Wager, with its choice, actually a false dilemma, of either belief in God while supposedly losing nothing and a chance at winning everything, or non-belief and risking perdition if one is ‘wrong,’ whatever that’s supposed to mean, since to many religious believers, everyone else’s beliefs, or lack of them as the case may be, are wrong, even intolerable, and sometimes pure evil to boot.

Never mind the underlying self-serving motivation for belief promoted by the Wager, but that’s a subject for a future post…

But an ad baculum argument not always a fallacy, and can have valid applications, such as when the threat, force or punishment invoked has a direct relation to the claims of the argument and is not merely used to overthrow a discussion by substituting intimidation or fear for actual justification of a claim, such as the criminal penalties imposed to support the edicts of various legal systems that certain activities, including but not limited to theft, fraud, and treason, are wrong, or unethical, and should be punished by law, such as by narfling the Garthok, or being consigned to Jabba’s Rancor pit for making bad SF 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 would be very unpleasant, and worse than death, for madness comes as they eat your brain.
  • So to best avoid this unpleasant fate, you must not read ‘Reflections on Infinity.’

Yes, that was a little over the top, but I did say this post wasn’t kid-safe.

Like several forms of argumentation, sometimes fallacies and others not, the valid or invalid use of it is dependent on context, and the use of it for the promotion or squelching of a critical discussion, valid when used for the former, invalid for the latter…

…or sound or unsound, strong or weak, in any case, even though the logic used is probabilistic rather than certain in nature.

Most informal fallacies are not simple matters of incorrect structure having nothing to do with the content of an argument, as with syllogistic logic, but are heavily dependent on the meaning bound up in the language used, for language is inextricably bound into informal argumentation, not mere decorative filler.

Belief Convinces Skeptics? Maybe Not.


In this article, (Click me Here)a writer attempts to make a case for accepting religious claims, specifically those of Christianity, based only on personal testimony and alleged experience, and compares the apostle Peter with a master salesman who could convince the most reticent of doubters.

There are several problems with the claims in this article, and I’ll go from the most likely premise which needs to be established as a truth-condition for the claims to the least likely, each assumption hinging on the ones prior to it:

First, there is the premise that Peter historically existed as a real person, not a fictional or mythical character. This is possible, and even likely, though I haven’t seen any definite confirmation of this by biblical historians and scholars, so I have the fewest problems with it. It could very well be, even with some considerable exaggeration in the accounts of him over time.

Second, dependent on the first, is the premise that what Peter has been credited as saying, he actually, literally did. It is likely that some of what he has been credited as saying he did, and that some has been added to and embellished by others after him. This happens a lot in the evolution of religious narratives and scriptures.

Third, and finally, this argument assumes as a given that everything Peter said is actually true, not merely that he believed it so, and no rationale is given to accept Peter’s claims unless one is already inclined to accept both the validity of the source, and the truth of the claims. These claims both beg the question and are based on fallacious appeals to authority and pragmatism (“I’ve been there, done that, I say it, and it works for me, so it must be true…”)for their establishment, and I’m afraid that to those who don’t already believe and know something about logical fallacies, they aren’t very convincing at all.

I remain skeptical, but it was a nice try, and an interesting exercise for putting my thoughts in order.