Fallacious Pathos

  • Argument by Dismissal: Rejecting an idea without providing a reason or explanation for its dismissal. For instance, there is a tendency to cry “socialism” when faced with calls for a single-payer system in the ongoing health care debate. Such a dismissal of the single-payer system may include the observations, “This is America!,” or, “You are free to live elsewhere if you prefer.” While we do live in the United States and people are free to live wherever they want, neither of these observations actually addresses the argument, either for or against the single-payer system. The observer relies on the simple (and fallacious) dismissal of the opposing viewpoint.


  • Argument by Emotive Language: Using emotional words that are not supported by evidence and/or are unconnected to the argument being made. For example, in abortion debates regarding a woman’s right to choose, the argument sometimes shifts from a discussion of medical or legal rights to a graphic description of the abortion process or extreme analogies between abortion and genocide. Most would agree that genocide should be prevented and that the destruction of a fetus is a violent procedure, but these observations distract from the conversation about a woman’s medical and legal rights.
  • Appeal to Pity: Drawing on irrelevant personal experiences or feelings in order to produce a sympathetic response. For instance, if I were writing about the necessity of universal health care and I included a personal anecdote about falling ill in Canada and being unable to receive free health care, that anecdote would be a fallacious appeal to pity. My personal experience, though interesting, does not illuminate the issue of universal health care.
  • The Slippery Slope: Suggesting that a particular argument or course of action will lead to disastrous consequences without offering evidence. This fallacy usually produces an emotional response. A common example is the assertion that legalizing gay marriage will lead to polygamy, bestiality, and/or pedophilia.