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"Frank Burditt and Family" Library of Congress, P & P Online, LC-DIG-nclc-04423 Philosophy 103: Introduction to Logic 
Argumentum ad Misericordiam

Abstract: The argument concerning the appeal to pity or a related emotion to gain the acceptance of a conclusion is evaluated.

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I. Argumentum ad Misericordiam (argument from pity or misery) the fallacy committed when pity or a related emotion such as sympathy or compassion is appealed to for the sake of getting a conclusion accepted.

  1. Hence, assent or dissent to a statement or an argument is sought on the basis of an irrelevant appeal to pity. In other words, pity, or the related emotion is not the subject or the conclusion of the argument.


  2. The informal structure of the ad misericordiam usually is something like this:


  3. Person L argues statement p or argument A.
    L deserves pity because of circumstance y.
    Circumstance y is irrelevant to p or A.
    Statement p is true or argument A is good.

II.  Some typical ad misericordiam fallacy examples follow.



    Georgia Banker Bert Lance should be excused from conflict of interest divestiture problems, former President Jimmy Carter asserted, because Lance's promise to sell his stock so that he can serve his government has depressed its market value.



    Oh, Officer, There's no reason to give me a traffic ticket for going too fast because I was just on my way to the hospital to see my wife who is in serious condition to tell her I just lost my job and the car will be repossessed.



    Members of Congress can surely see in their hearts that they need to vote in favor of passage of the Gun Bill allowing concealed weapons because their constituents who lobby for liberalizing firearms will be greatly saddened if they do not do so.



    Public Schools, K through 12, need to have much easier exams for students because teachers don't fully realize the extent of the emotional repercussions of the sorrow and depression of the many students who could score much better on easier exams.



    Richard P. Feynman, the Nobel Prize winning physicist, has been misunderstood almost all of his life. Since World War II, he came close twice to having a mental breakdown--first with the death of his wife and second with the explosion of the atomic bomb. I think that the Journal of Science should publish some of his later theoretical work out of our kind regard for his memory and from the interest of human concern for his difficult life.



 III.  Related emotions include sympathy, love, regard, mercy, condolence, and compassion. Occasionally, an occurrence of a fallacy can be correctly analyzed as either the ad populum or the ad misericordiam fallacy since these fallacies overlap in their appeal.

IV.  Non-fallacious uses of the ad misericordiam include arguments where the appeal to pity or a related emotion is the subject of the argument or is a pertinent or germane reason for acceptance of the conclusion.

  1. Relief arguments are relevant to the problems raised by a disaster caused by a tidal wave and cholera outbreak in India.


  2. If we have the choice of buying a newspaper from a blind news vendor, ad misericordiam considerations are not necessarily irrelevant.  The essential question is whether the pity or compassion is relevant to the situation at hand and is being appealed to exclusively or excessively for the acceptance of the conclusion.


  3. In Voltaire's Candide, examples of misery are used time and time again to falsify Leibniz's (Pangloss') assertion that this is the best of all possible worlds. The evidence would be relevant to the argument being adduced.
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