Firmitas

Appeal to Fear of Force

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

Appeal to Force

This is also known as Argumentum ad baculum and Appeal to Fear of Force.

This is a very simple tactic to cause a person to fear physical force or psychological abuse in order to make them believe. It is the favorite tactics of repressive governments, religions, and control freaks.

  • There exists Proposition P.
  • Surly Person A insists that Proposition P is true or false.
  • Therefore Proposition P is true or false just as he insists. ]]

The fallacy exists in asserting that a threat can determine the truth-value of the primary claim, but in actuality the primary claim is true or false irregardless of the force claim.

The truth is bullet-proof.

Examples

Religion tells you XYZ god is real, and if you don't believe then you'll spend eternity burning in the afterlife (or physical attack by believers, or ostracism etc.). Therefore the god is real.

Booze and dope are cool, and if you don't agree then everyone will reject you and you'll be ostracized as a loser. (Social threat.)

If you dare to speak forbidden pro-democracy ideas in public, the Party will brand you an extremist and put you in jail or a labor camp to be reconditioned.

If you dare to assert a theory of events that people in power dislike, assorted people will brand you a conspiracy theorist and mock and shun you and demand that you recant, as they did to Galileo.

Capitalism is the best system of government, and anyway if you don't believe in it then Senator Joe McCarthy and his thugs will put you in prison for being a Communist and Soviet spy.

Weaknesses

Whether the primary claim is true or false can only be shown based on evidence and logic, not through threats.

If a person has to threaten you to make you believe something is true, it is likely they know it is false, and they know that if you think for yourself, you will realize it is false.

The more significant the consequences of rejecting the threatening person's claim:

  • The more extreme the threats will be.
  • The more frequent the threats will be.
  • The great the number of loyal people will be deployed to threaten.

You should think about what the threatener has to lose from your not accepting their claims.

An arguer whose threats are all talk is called a paper tiger.

Valid uses

Sometimes Appeal to Force is valid, as when a parent tells a child it's bad to touch a red-hot burner on the stove, because doing so will lead to a painful burn. However the lesson is not truly learned until the child is burnt by his own choice.