Return to Philosophy Web       Title: Introduction to Logic

Homepage > Logic > Informal Fallacies > Fallacies of Relevance > Ad Populum        


Logic Homepage




"A Crowd on Belle Isle Park," Library of Congress, P & P Online, LC-D4-33111Philosophy 103: Introduction to Logic
Argumentum Ad Populum

Abstract: The argument based upon what most or all people think or believe  is characterized and shown to be sometimes persuasive but normally fallacious.

           FALLACY NAVIGATOR                

  1. Argumentum ad Populum (popular appeal or appeal to the majority): The fallacy of attempting to win popular assent to a conclusion by arousing the feeling and enthusiasms of the multitude.  There are several variations of this fallacy, but we will emphasize two forms.

    1. "Snob Appeal": the fallacy of attempting to prove a conclusion by appealing to what an elite or a select few (but not necessarily an authority) in a society thinks or believes.

      (There are many non-fallacious appeals in style, fashion, and politics--since in these areas the appeal is not irrelevant.)

      Person L says statement p or argument A.
      Person L is in the elite.
      Statement p is true or argument A is good.

    2. "Bandwagon": the fallacy of attempting to prove a conclusion on the grounds that all or most people think or believe it is true.

      Most, many, or all persons believe statement p is true.
      Statement p is true.

    3. "appeal to emotion": the fallacy of using expressive and emotively laden language to arouse emotion in support of a conclusion.

      Emotions such as enthusiasm, pride, anger, or disgust are used to express evidence for statement p
      Statement p is true.

  2. Many advertising slogans are based on this fallacy:  Strictly speaking, one statement considered by itself cannot be a fallacy because it's not an argument.  Nevertheless, the import of these "catch-phrases" seems to be in some cases by conversational implicature an implicit argument. I.e., the statement can easily be reconstructed from its context into an implicit argument.

    § "Coffee is the think drink."
    ("London (AP) The coffee industry says it will try to convince youngsters that coffee is the ‘think drink’. … ‘We want to capture the youth market.’"
    [The Fredericksburg Virginia Free Lance-Star "Industry Promoting Coffee as ‘Think Drink’" (December 10, 1966), 82 No. 390, 10.])

    § "Join the Pepsi People Feelin' Free" (slogan early 1970s,)

    § "Join the Pepsi generation" (slogan mid-1980s)

    § "Sony. Ask anyone." (Sony trademark, 1970s)

    1. Occasionally, it is difficult to make a distinction between the ad verecundiam (appeal to authority) and the ad populum   (appeal to the elite) fallacies.

    2. The basis of the ad populum appeal is the assumption that large numbers of persons are more likely to be right than a given individual is likely to be right. Also, in light of peer pressure, many persons feel it's better to be normal than to go against the crowd. Moreover, our social desire to be approved by others often results in our joining the "bandwagon" of the probable winning side in a political contest.

  3. The main problem with this fallacy is the mere fact that many people agree on something often does not imply that what they agree on is true; nevertheless, the fact that many people agree, can be relevant evidence for the truth in some instances, as shown below. The distinction is based on the nature of the relevance of the premisses to the conclusion.

  4. Examples of the ad populum:

    • "But officer, I don't deserve a ticket; everyone goes this speed.  If I went any slower, I wouldn't be going with the stream of traffic."

    • It is well recognized by most persons that the present technological revolution has affected the ethical basis of the nation's institution of education.  Since this belief is so widely held, there can be little doubt of its accuracy.

    • "Man could alleviate his misery by marriage. This close companionship enhances the joys of one and mitigated the sorrow of the other, and anyone knew God always provided for married people."

      [Lee Emily Pearson, Elizabethans at Home, (London: Oxford University Press, 1957), 289.]

    • "Shell was charged with misleading advertising in its Platformate advertisements. A Shell spokesman said: 'The same comment could be made about most good advertising of most products.'"

      [Samm Sinclair Baker, The Permissible Lie (Cleveland: World Publishing Company, 1968), 39.]

    • "To his dying day, Governor Marvin Mandel will never understand what was wrong in accepting more that $350,000 worth of gifts from wealthy friends who happened to engage in business ventures that benefited from his gubernatorial influence. The governor has lots of company … And to a man they have cried in bewilderment that ‘everybody does it,’ that politics survives on back scratching."

      [Martha Angle and Robert Walters, "In Washington: The Public Isn't Buying" Bowling Green Daily News (September 6, 1977), 123 No. 212, 16.]

    • St. Augustine wrote, "For such is the power of true Godhead that it cannot be altogether and utterly hidden from the rational creature, once it makes use of its reason. For with the exception of a few in whom nature is excessively depraved, the whole human race confesses God to be author of the world."

      [Erich Przywara, An Augustine Synthesis (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958), 122.]

      Note, as well, the ad hominem implications of this argument.

  5. Non-fallacious examples of the ad populum: the appeal is not irrelevant when what most persons believe or what the select few believe does in fact determine what is true. Conventional truth such as the definitions of words, standard use of symbols, and clothing styles, or voting in juries, meetings, or political elections are typical examples where the appeal to the majority , the experts, or the people-in-the-know would be relevant and so would not be fallacious.

    1. Many logic sources associate the ad populum fallacy with the presence of emotion alone in expressions of rhetorical passages, patriotic speeches, diatribes, or cheerful accolades. However, it's important to understand that no fallacy occurs unless the literal significance of the emotionally expressed evidence is irrelevant to the purported conclusion. The presence of emotively laden language alone does not constitute a fallacy unless an argument is being presented.

    2. If an elite group of people are in a position to know of what they speak, their authority is relevant and should not automatically be discounted. E.g., Is is a legitimate appeal and no fallacy to argue that most physicians believe that a high fat diet is unhealthy, and therefore a high fat diet is unhealthy.

    3. The number of persons who believe a claim can be probable evidence for the truth of the conclusion. But without further information about the case in point, the number of persons cannot be directly related to the truth of the claim.

    4. Other examples of where an ad populum appeal would not be fallacious include the "the wisdom of crowds," "swarm intelligence," and "crowd sourcing" because these instruments are often more reliable than other inductive methods.

  6. Non-fallacious examples of the ad populum argument:

    • "We believe in a generous America, in a compassionate America, in a tolerant America, open to the dreams of an immigrant's daughter who studies in our schools and pledges to our flag. To the young boy on the south side of Chicago who sees a life beyond the nearest street corner. To the funiture worker's child in North Carolona who wants to become a doctor or a scientist, an engineer or an entrepreneur, a diplomat ore even a president—that's the future we hope for. That's the vision we share. That's where we need to go—forward. That's where we need to go." ["Transcript of President Obama's Election Night Speech." New York Times (November 7, 2012) quoted in Donna Brazile, "Forward," Index-Journal 94 No. 194 (November 12, 2012), 6A.]

      These statements do not constitute an argument and so no fallacy is present in this passage.

    • "Why are so many people attracted to the Pontiac Grand Prix? It could be that so many people are attracted to the Grand Prix because—so many people are attracted to the Grand Prix!"
      [A ABC-TV 1992 advertisement quoted in Irving M. Copi and Carl Cohen, Introduction to Logic New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1994), 129.}

      Undoubtedly, Copi and Cohen are assuming that there is an elliptical conclusion being implied, but the passage as it stands is the fallacy of petition principii

Return to Logic Homepage       

Ad Hominem   Top of Page   Ad Misericordiam

Send corrections or suggestions to
Read the disclaimer concerning this page.
Licensed under the GFDL 1.3 and Creative Commons 3.0

Arguments | LanguageFallacies  | Propositions  | Syllogisms  | Translation  | Symbolic