Argumentum ad Baculum
Abstract: The argumentum
ad baculum is based upon the appeal to force or threat in order to bring
about the acceptance of a conclusion and is often fallacious. The fallacy is
explained with illustrative examples
Argumentum ad Baculum
(fear of force): the fallacy committed when one appeals to force or
the threat of force to bring about the acceptance of a conclusion.
- The ad baculum derives its strength from an appeal
to human timidity or fear and is a fallacy when the appeal
is not logically related to the claim being made. In other
words, the emotion resulting from a threat rather than a
pertinent reason is used to cause agreement with the purported
conclusion of the argument.
- The ad baculum contains implicitly or explicitly a
threat. Behind this threat is often the idea that in the end,
“Might makes right.” Threats, per se, however,
are not fallacies because they involve behavior, not arguments.
- Often the informal structure of argumentum ad baculum
fallacy is as follows.
If statement p is accepted or action a
is done, then logically irrelevant event x will happen.
Event x is bad, dangerous, or threatening.
∴ Statement p is true or action a should
- Examples of ad baculum fallacies:
Chairman of the Board: “All those opposed to my arguments
for the opening of a new department, signify by saying, ‘I
The Department of Transportation needs to reconsider the
speed limit proposals on interstate highways for the simple
reason that if they do not, their departmental budget for
Department of Transportation will be cut by 25%.
“I'm sure you can support the proposal to diversify into
the fast food industry because if I receive any opposition
on this initiative, I will personally see that you are
transferred to the janitorial division of this corporation.”
The basis of an ad baculum concerns the fate of
medieval philosopher and astronomer Giordano Bruno.
Bruno (1548-1600) envisioned a multitude of solar systems
in limitless space and believed in the astronomical hypothesis of
Copernicus. The Medieval Inquisition threatened his life unless
he changed his views. Bruno refused and so was burned at the stake.
“On October 10, 1971, Secretary of State William P. Rogers
cautioned foreign ministers that Congress might force the
United States reduce its financial contributions to the
United Nations if Nationalist China is expelled.”
As a logical argument, Secretary Rogers' caution is fallacious; as
a political maneuver no argument is being adduced.
- Since many threats involve emotional responses, they
can overlap with the emotional appeal of the ad populum fallacy.
The appeal to the fear of not being accepted as part of a
group can often be analyzed as either the ad baculum
or the ad populum.
- Non-fallacious examples of the ad baculum:
the appeal is relevant when the threat or the force is
directly or causally related to the conclusion.
- Greenpeace argued that the large underground nuclear tests
at Amchitka Island off Alaska in the early 1970's had the possible
results of earthquakes, tsunamis, and radiation. Hence, these
environmentalists opposed testing. The threat is logically connected
with the argument because of the probability of these consequences
is not decisional (or prescriptive) but causal—hence, no fallacy
For example, when environemtal groups object to the use of
thermonuclear weapons for in situ recovery of oil from tar
sands or use
against ground troops, excavation of a new Panama canal or harbor in
on the grounds of the dangers of radioactive contamination, the
implied threat is relevant and causally connected to the proposed
nuclear explosions. Consequently, such arguments would not commit
the ad baculum fallacy.
- Physical or emotional threats in the nature of directive
discourse or commands are not arguments and so are not fallacies.
E.g., "Study hard or your grades will fall" would not
be fallacious for two reasons: (1) no argument is present, and
(2) the connection between the two statements of the disjunction
suggest a causal relation of relevancy. It is unfortunate that
many logic sources identify a fallacy occurring in disjunctive
statements like ths.
- Undecideable Cases: In some controversies the relevancy
of the threat cannot be directly determined from the context of
the argument, and so the argument cannot be reliably assessed without
background research and contextual analysis in order to determine the
For example, are the following arguments a fallacy?
- Consider first the following argument:
(1) Publication of research for the creation of
avian A/H5N1 influenza viruses with the capacity for airborne
transmission between mammals without recombination in an intermediate
host constitutes a risk for human pandemic influenza.
(2) Human pandemic influenza signifies the death
∴ Research for the creation of avian A/H5N1 influenza
viruses with the capacity for airborne transmission between mammals
without recombination in an intermediate host should not be published.
Analysis: In the summer of 2011 Dutch researchers from
the Erasmus Medical Center created an airborne H5N1 avian flu
virus and estimated the virus could kill 59% of the people it
The U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity
recommended that the Research should not be published with
experimental details because of the “unusually high magnitude
of risk” of someone transforming the virus causing
“;a pandemic of significant proportions.” But many scientists
thought the potential threat from terrorists creating a deadly
H5N1 virus was greatly exaggerated because the virus could not be
easily transmitted among people. So in this case the potential
benefit for public health outweighed concerns of terrorists
unleashing a pandemic and the paper was published. Consequently, this example would not be
- Here is second example of an implied threat:
“China has threatened to restrict drug exports to the
U.S. following President Trump's accusation that the regime
withheld news of the [COVID-19] virus, which surfaced in Wuhan
Analysis: This passage is a descriptive report of a threat
by China which is not logically relevant to the U.S. accusation of
withholding information which would be useful for the prevention of
future cases. So although the report of a fallacy is not a fallacy
per se. The structure of the implicit argument is
If the U.S. continues to accuse China of withholding
coronavirus information, China will restrict drug imports to the U.S.
The U.S. continues to accuse China of withholding
∴ China will restrict drug imports to the U.S.
Send corrections or suggestions to
Read the disclaimer
concerning this page.
1997-2020 Licensed under GFDL and
The “Copyleft” copyright assures the user the freedom
to use, copy, redistribute, make modifications with the same terms.
Works for sale must link to a free copy.
The “Creative Commons” copyright assures the user the freedom
to copy, distribute, display, and modify on the same terms. Works for sale
must link to a free copy.