Source: p 236, With Good Reason, An Introduction to Informal Fallacies (2000 6 ed) by York U. Prof. S. Morris Engel

A more straightforward example would be this statement to a jury by the renowned criminal lawyer Clarence Darrow:

c) You folks think we city people are all crooked. but city people think you farmers are all crooked. There isn't one of you I'd trust in a horse trade, because you'd sure to skin me. But when it comes to having sympathy with a person in trouble, I'd sooner trust you folks than city folks, because you come to know people better get to be closer friends. (Quoted in Irving Stone. Clarence Darrow for the Defense: A Biography)

Darrow's argument pleads for sympathy by appealing to the innate goodwill of the jurors.

How is the above an Appeal to Pity? It appears a Valid (but Unsound) Deductive Argument:

Premise 1. All farmers sympathise with a person in trouble.

Premise 2. I trust people who sympathise with a person in trouble.

Conclusion: 3. I trust farmers.

1 Answer 1


First of all, let's consider what an "appeal to pity" is: its an attempt to win support for one's argument by appealing to the sympathies of one's listeners. It's considered a logical fallacy because, of course, one's listener's sympathy should not be involved in the (logical) validity of the argument (i.e., one should be able to agree that an argument is valid, even if one doesn't find it persuasive). It's nevertheless a powerful and effective rhetorical tool.

Second, let's consider the "deductive argument" you adduce. While it's possible to impose such a structure on his remarks (mutatis mutandis), it doesn't get you to the right place. If Clarence Darrow were simply trying to establish the proposition "I trust farmers," he wouldn't be doing a very good job as a defence lawyer. After all, whether or not Clarence Darrow trusts farmers is entirely irrelevant to any conceivable defence. What he is trying to do is win farmers over to his side. The force of his remarks isn't to establish any particular proposition, but rather to create a connection ("he gets me!") intended to provoke them to be more sympathetic for the case he's trying to make. It is the goal or object of these statements that makes them an appeal to pity, regardless of whether or not one might discern some deductive argument within it.

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