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ad populum fallacy

The ad populum fallacy is the appeal to the popularity of a claim as a reason for accepting it.

The number of people who believe a claim is irrelevant to its truth. Fifty million people can be wrong. In fact, millions of people have been wrong about many things: that the Earth is flat and motionless, for example, and that the stars are lights shining through holes in the sky.

The ad populum fallacy is also referred to as the bandwagon fallacy, the appeal to the mob, the democratic fallacy, and the appeal to popularity.

The ad populum fallacy is seductive because it appeals to our desire to belong and to conform, to our desire for security and safety. It is a common appeal in advertising and politics. A clever manipulator of the masses will try to seduce those who blithely assume that the majority is always right. Also seduced by this appeal will be the insecure, who may be made to feel guilty if they oppose the majority or feel strong by joining forces with large numbers of other uncritical thinkers.

Examples of ad populum appeals:

“TRY NEW, IMPROVED [fill in the blank with the name of any one of innumerable commercial products]. EVERYBODY’s USING IT!

“Gods must exist, since every culture has some sort of belief in a higher being.”

The Bold and the Listless must be a great book. It’s been on the best seller list for 8 weeks.”

“Arnold Killembetter’s movie "True Garbage" is the greatest movie of all time. No movie has made as much money as it did.”

“The fact that the majority of our citizens support the death penalty proves that it is morally right.”

See also Critical Thinking Mini-Lessons and Unnatural Acts blog: ad populum fallacy.

further reading

books

Browne, M. Neil & Stuart M. Keeley. Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking (Prentice Hall, 1997).

Carroll, Robert Todd. Becoming a Critical Thinker - A Guide for the New Millennium (Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2000).

Damer. T. Edward. Attacking Faulty Reasoning: A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments 4th edition (Wadsworth Pub Co, 2001).

Kahane, Howard. Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric: The Use of Reason in Everyday Life, 8th edition (Wadsworth, 1997).

Moore, Brooke Noel. Critical Thinking (Mayfield Publishing Company, 2000).

Last updated 26-Dec-2013
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