Pity, Appeal to

(Argumentum ad misericordiam)

There is nothing necessarily wrong with appealing to someone’s sense of pity. It can be exactly what is needed. But it can also throw an argument off course—a wrecking distraction from what the discussion is actually about. It can apply either to you, the arguer (“please, take pity on a struggling innocent in this subject”), or to them, the people you are talking about. For example, the historian Jules Michelet used such an appeal to nudge his readers towards a sympathetic view of the French Revolution, encouraging them to see it as an uprising consisting mainly of starving widows and orphans.P21

Stephen Toulmin et al wonder, “Can any sensible person ever fall for such tactics?”P22


Related entries:

Ad Hominem, Compassion, Reductionism.

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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was a cultural historian and economist, based in London, England. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a pioneer of post-growth economics, and a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, 'Lean Logic' and 'Surviving the Future', published posthumously in 2016. These in turn inspired the 2020 launches of both BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong's feature film about Fleming's perspective and legacy - 'The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation?' - and Sterling College's unique 'Surviving the Future: Conversations for Our Time' online courses. For more information on all of the above, including Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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