Firmitas

Appeal to Emotion

Revision 1
© 2011-2019 by Zack Smith. All rights reserved.

Appeal to Emotion

The speaker manipulates the emotions of the listener, either verbally or nonverbally, to fallaciously support a secondary claim.

The emotion that is manipulated can be anything that is useful, including pity, sympathy, hatred, spite, etc. Whatever will trigger acceptance of the secondary claim is used.

Its form
  • Person A tells Person B something to induce an emotion.
  • Person A then asserts the truth of Proposition P.

There are many named subtypes of Appeal to Emotion:

  • Appeal to Pity i.e. Argumentum ad misericordiam
  • Appeal to Fear i.e. Argumentum ad metum
  • Appeal to Terror i.e. Argumentum in terrorem
  • Appeal to Ridicule i.e. Reductio ad ridiculum
  • Appeal to Spite i.e. Argumentum ad odium
  • Appeal to Flattery

Examples

Wouldn't your life have so much more meaning if there truly was a god up in the sky? Your life is terribly devoid of meaning, you poor little thing, and religion is here to change that and to give you purpose again. Therefore there is a god.

You're a successful, knowledgeable, style-conscious fellow, therefore this $1000 watch would be perfect for you.

A circus comes to town and situates itself in the main grassy square, failing to get a permit. Large amounts of trash get strewn everywhere. To avoid taking responsibility for their mess and lawbreaking, or paying fees and fines, they make an emotional argument: We are poor people coming from a poor place. We have come a long way. We just want to work hard and earn some money to support our families. The saps fall for it.

Weaknessess

You can easily attack the emotional manipulation, as it is likely to be shabbily conceived, formulaic, based on speculation, experimental, or even emphasized with disrespectful pressure.

You can always directly contradict whatever the emotional manipulation is, to make it clear that the manipulation is made in vain and is irrelevant. For instance, to the salesman proffering a $1000 watch, say I am so poor. How about $5 instead?

You might belittle the contrived nature of the manipulation.

If they persist, you should assess the secondary claim based on its own merits, like insisting that the $1000 watch is clearly a worthless fake.

Valid uses

Sometimes the secondary claim is true and the emotional manipulation is superfluous but entertaining. For example, a child who needs a laptop for school may play up her desperation for it and over-dramatize the consequences of her not receiving a laptop from her parents, portraying it as a grand life-or-death crisis.