People often make arguments from authority, and not all of them are fallacious. If the given authority is an expert on the discussed field, if there is a consensus among the experts of that field, and if the expert has no personal interests, it's a valid argument.

So, I ask: Is it possible to make a logically valid argument with an appeal to emotion?

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    "If the given authority is an expert on the discussed field, if there is a consensus among the experts of that field, and if the expert has no personal interests, it's a valid argument." that is a fallacy. there are all sorts of fails that occurred with the consensus of experts, all believing they had no personal interest in whatever it was. about emotion, consider Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper: "Think of the children!!!" or here's another one. Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 2:00

3 Answers 3


Your question is an interesting on that involves the interface of several issues where students often have trouble.

First, I want to answer this question:

Is it possible to make a logically valid argument with an appeal to emotion?

The answer to this question is no. Or at least it's difficult to imagine an argument that both depends in any meaningful way on an appeal to emotions and is logically valid. But this has more to do with the definition of validity, than whether such an argument could be a good argument or a strong argument.

Logical validity is a term with a specific meaning, viz., that an argument is such that if its premises were true, then the conclusion must also be true. This is achieved by severely limiting the manner in which the premises relate to each other and the conclusion.

That said, I see no reason that an argument could not be quite strong that involves appealing to emotions in the right way.

But there's a second issue at work here which has to do with the way informal fallacies operate. Informal fallacies basically involve judgment calls as to whether the problem is real for the argument.

Thus, in your example, much of the question as to whether the use of an "expert" amounts to appeal to authority hinges on whether both parties accept that such a person is an expert. So for example, should we take Richard Dawkins or Pope Francis to be an expert on religion? Our use becomes fallacious when we would not judge the "expert" to be knowledgeable about the matter in question.

Similarly, an appeal to emotion is going to be fallacious when we think this is a question that should be settled without the emotion in question. So for instance some of the arguments around the death penalty depend on whether retribution is wrongly or rightly a part of punishment. For some views, it might be the case that the feelings of the aggrieved provide a legitimate basis for retribution whereas others find this fallacious.

All of that to say informal fallacies are a messy business.


Yes, it is possible to appeal to emotion without committing a fallacy, and to make an effective argument that appeals to emotion.

First of all, it is possible to make a logically valid argument that appeals to emotion. A logically valid argument is an argument where if the premises are true, the conclusion cannot be false. Here's an example, with premises above the line and conclusion below:

If you harm eagles, you will be convicted of a crime. 
If you are convicted of a crime, you will be sad.
You don't want to be sad, do you?
You don't want to harm eagles.

The third premise clearly appeals to your emotions.

Now, the question is: Is this is an effective argument? Ie, is this an argument we shouldn't understand as merely fallacious? The answer to both questions is: yes.
It all depends on whether you agree that you don't want to be sad (and with the other premises). Effective arguments meet their interlocutors where they are: they have premises that the person being argued to is most likely to accept. If you accept this emotional premise, the argument is effective.

The problem in an appeal to emotion that is fallacious is that it begins with a premise about emotion and ends with a premise about something else like truth or rightness, like

Killing eagles will make you sad.
Killing eagles is wrong.


Isn't it sad if people kill eagles!
People don't kill eagles.

And these are just invalid arguments. It's possible for their conclusions to be false and their premises to be true at the same time. We get this kind of example when we rely on emotion to carry our interlocutor from premise to conclusion, instead of on logically-valid inferences.

But simply appealing to emotions doesn't necessarily put us in the position of making an invalid argument—we are put thus only if we use the emotions to do logical work for us.

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    I'm not convinced your first argument does appeal to emotion in the way the fallacy means. You're making a truth claim about an emotional judgment there. Is that what you take "appeal to emotions" to normally mean? (I take it to be something subtler than that). To put it another way, / (1) If you are in love, you should tell everyone. (2) you are in love. Therefore (3) you should tell everyone. / Clearly this is a valid argument and one that mentions emotions. But where is the "appeal" moment?
    – virmaior
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 6:21
  • The argument I offered does more than mention emotions. It is premised on the interlocutor feeling a certain way. It appeals to the interlocutor's emotions. My instructional point for the questioner, which you most likely agree with, was just that appealing to the interlocutor's emotions becomes fallacious if and only if the appeal is itself supposed to do some logical work—some entailment of what would otherwise not be entailed. Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 6:33
  • I absolutely agree with your larger point.
    – virmaior
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 6:46
  • I do think that the example argument rhetorically appeals to emotion in the more general sense rather than makes a truth claim. It says, equivalently, "hey, you'd want to feel this way, right?" I even had the rhetorical question in there, and will add it back. Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 16:35

I think so; sometimes emotional presuppositions are hidden in what appear to be solely arguments justified by reason:

For example, Rawls in his Theory of Justice, outlines a defence of classical utilitarianism by an appeal to the impartial spectator, who in fact is not impartial because he enters into the soul, mind and desires of the community of whom he will be the giver of laws; this comes across much more clearly in Whitmans evocation of democracy, leaves of grass.

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