An Appeal to Emotion is a fallacy with the following structure:
Premise 1: Emotions are evoked about X.
Conclusion: Therefore, X is true.
This fallacy involves substituting means of producing strong emotions in place of evidence for a claim. If the favorable emotions associated with X influence the person to accept X as true because they “feel good about X,” then they have fallen prey to the fallacy.
This reasoning commonly occurs in politics and advertising. Political speeches are usually aimed at generating feelings aimed at getting people to vote or act a certain way. In the case of advertising, commercials are aimed at evoking emotions to get people to buy products or services. In most cases, these speeches and commercials are devoid of actual evidence.
This reasoning is fallacious because using various tactics to incite emotions in people does not serve as evidence for a claim. For example, if a person were able to inspire an incredible hatred of the claim that 1+1 = 2 and then inspired people to love the claim that 1+1 =3, it would hardly follow that the claim that 1+1 = 3 would be adequately supported.
Often it will not be obvious that the fallacy is being used to support a claim. Rather, it will appear to be an attempt to move people to take an action, such as buying a product or fighting in a war. However, it is possible to determine the claim serving as the conclusion of the fallacy. The question to ask is, “what sort of claim is this person attempting to get people to accept and act on?” For example, if a political leader is attempting to convince their followers to engage in violence using hate speech, then the claim would be “you should participate in these acts of violence.” In this case, the “evidence” would be the hatred evoked in the followers. This hatred would serve to make them favorable inclined towards the claim that they should engage in the acts of violence.
As another example, a beer commercial might show happy, scantily clad people on a beach, guzzling beer. In this case the claim would be “you should buy this beer.” The “evidence” would be the excitement evoked by seeing beautiful people guzzling beer on the beach.
While invoking emotions to “prove” a claim would be a fallacy, invoking emotions to motivate or inspire people is not. Without an appeal to peoples’ emotions, it can be difficult to get them to act or to perform their best. For example, a coach does not present their team with logical arguments before the big game. Instead, the pre-game speech is loaded with emotional terms and is an attempt to fire them up so they will play better. It is not an attempt to prove a claim and hence is not a fallacy.
As a final point, it can be difficult to distinguish an Appeal to Emotion from some other fallacies. There are also times when multiple fallacies are being committed. For example, Ad Hominems are often like Appeals to Emotion and, in some cases, both fallacies will be committed. As an example, a leader might attempt to invoke hatred of a person to inspire their followers to accept that they should reject an opponent’s claims. The same attack could function as an Appeal to Emotion and a Personal Attack. In the first case, the attack would be aimed at making the followers feel favorable about rejecting her claims. In the second case, the attack would be aimed at making the followers reject the opponents’s claims because of some perceived (or imagined) defect in their character.
This fallacy is related to the Appeal to Popularity fallacy. Despite the differences between them, they involve appeals to emotions. In both cases the fallacies aim at getting people to accept claims based on how they or others feel about the claims and not based on evidence for the claims.
Another way to look at these two fallacies is as follows
Appeal to Popularity (Variant)
Premise 1: Most people approve of X.
Premise 2: So, I should approve of X, too.
Conclusion: Since I approve of X, X must be true.
Appeal to Emotion (Variant)
Premise 1: I approve of (feel positive about) X.
Conclusion: Therefore, X is true.
In this variant, in an Appeal to Popularity the claim is accepted because most people approve of the claim. In the case of an Appeal to Emotion the claim is accepted because the individual approves of the claim because of the favorable emotion towards the claim.
Defense: The defense against this fallacy is focusing on distinguishing between what inspires emotions and what justifies a claim. As with all emotion-based fallacies, the defense is not to suppress or ignore your emotions but to be aware that how you feel about a claim does not prove or disprove that claim. To avoid unfairly accusing people of this fallacy, you should determine whether someone is trying to “prove” a claim by appealing to emotions or simply trying to invoke emotions for another purpose. The purpose might be a bad one, but they would not be committing this fallacy.
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Bill goes to hear a politician speak. The politician tells the crowd about the evils of the government and the need to throw out the people who are currently in office. After hearing the speech, Bill is full of hatred for the current politicians. Because of this, he feels good about getting rid of the old politicians and accepts that it is the right thing to do because of how he feels.