Also Known as: Appeal to Mockery, The Horse Laugh.
The Appeal to Ridicule is a fallacy in which ridicule or mockery is substituted for evidence for a claim. This reasoning has the following form:
Premise 1: X, a form of ridicule, is directed at claim C.
Premise 2: Therefore, claim C is false.
This is fallacious because ridicule does not show a claim is false. This can be shown in the following example: “1+1=2! That’s the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard! So, 1+1 does not equal 2!”
This fallacy can be effective for psychological reasons. People generally do not want to associate with something (or someone) that is being effectively ridiculed or mocked. People are also inclined to believe that things they already dislike or disbelieve are ridiculous and hence Appeals to Ridicule can be quite effective in these cases. People also tend to think that those they disagree with are ridiculous, especially in matters such as politics. The ridicule need not be funny and can often be cruel.
This fallacy is often used in conjunction with hyperbole (extravagant overstatement) to make the target appear ridiculous. In such cases, this fallacy can also function as a Straw Man fallacy. In such a case, there are two logical errors wrapped up in one argument. The Straw Man fallacy would occur when the target is a distorted or exaggerated version of the actual target. This distortion would be intended to make the straw target seem ridiculous. The Appeal to Ridicule would occur because the audience is supposed to reject the straw target because of the ridicule aimed at it.
This fallacy can also occur in conjunction with an Ad Hominem or Genetic Fallacy. In these cases, the attack made on the source of the claim is intended to make the target seem ridiculous.
Proving that a claim is absurd with a good argument could make it reasonable to reject the claim. One example of this sort of reasoning is the reductio ad absurdum (reducing to absurdity). In this argument, the method is to show that a contradiction (a statement that must be false) or an absurd result follows from a claim. For example: “Bill claims that a member of a minority group cannot be a racist. However, this is absurd. Think about this: white males are a minority in the world. Given Bill’s claim, it would follow that no white males could be racists. Hence, the men of the Klan, male Nazis, and male white supremacists are not racist.”
Since the claim that the Klan, Nazis, and white supremacists are not racist is clearly absurd, it can be concluded that the claim that a member of a minority cannot be a racist is false. While a reductio argument might fail for other reasons, it is not an Appeal to Ridicule. This is because the absurdity the reductio is aimed at showing is not mere mockery but a conceptual absurdity, such as contradiction.
Defense: The defense against this fallacy is not a matter of riding yourself of a sense of humor. Rather, the defense is to distinguish between a reason to accept a claim and mere mockery. Defending against this fallacy is more difficult when you already dislike the targeted claim or think it is silly. But you should consider whether you dislike the claim or think it is silly for good reasons.
“Sure, my worthy opponent claims that we should lower tuition, but that is just laughable.”
“Equal rights for women? Yeah, I’ll support that when they start paying for dinner and taking out the trash! Hah! Fetch me another brewski, Mildred.”
“Those crazy conservatives! They think a strong military is the key to peace! Such fools!”
“Same sex marriage? Why that is just like allowing people to marry turtles. Can you imagine turtles in little tuxes or wedding gowns? So, no.”
“My opponent says that there is a legitimate right to keep and bear arms. But whenever I hear him say that all I can picture are Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam. He might as well be saying “wascally wabbit. So, I obviously don’t take his silly ideas seriously.”