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I've seen philosophical arguments descriped as 'argumentum ad baculum', but never quite understood what the criticism is trying to indicate. As best I can tell, it's using force or the threat of force to win an argument. Could anybody expand a little on the precise nature of this logical fallacy?

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    As per meta discussions, these sorts of questions are probably going to be discouraged in the future. – Joseph Weissman Jun 14 '11 at 12:22
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    @Joe: On some sites, this would have been closed as "General Reference". See this meta post for the background: Closed as General Reference. It's also not a good idea to start a beta with "easy questions" until the site has had a chance to become established. Sorry, I think this needs to be closed with the misnomer: "not a real question" on that basis. – Robert Cartaino Jun 14 '11 at 22:21
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I think the wiki page is a good place to start. I hadn't heard of 'Argumentum ad baculum' before, but it seems a fairly easy concept.

So, the argument seems to have the following form:

  • X argues in favor of P.
  • P => Q.
  • Q is harmful to X.
  • Therefore, not P.

A ridiculous instantiation of this form is:

  • Farmer Joe thinks it's going to rain tomorrow.
  • If it rains tomorrow, Farmer Joe's crops will die.
  • Farmer Joe's crops dying will make Farmer Joe bankrupt.
  • Therefore, it will not rain tomorrow.

An abuse of this form of argument is when Q is not linked to P at all. For example:

  • Employee: I do not think the company should invest its money into this project.
  • Employer: Be quiet or you will be fired.

However, this form can be valid when Q is actually linked to P. For example:

  • If you drive while drunk, you will be put in jail.
  • You want to avoid going to jail.
  • Therefore you should not drive while drunk.
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If I read Wikipedia right, the basic premise of the argument is that I'm right, because I have power over you. Which may end an argument, but very seldom really resolves a conflict...

The arguers often never actually get to the point of the problem, they never really have an actual argument about it (or leave that discussion prematurely). Instead, one of the involved parties, who happens to have some power over the other, invokes an argumentum ad baculum by threatening the other party and thus trying force them into compliance.

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  • The Latin means 'argument from the stick' [literally 'to' but that's not an English idiom] – user523 Sep 5 '11 at 21:07

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