What kind of fallacy is "Appeal to Force"?

Here is a definition:


This confuses me, because, to be honest, I think that force is not an idea and thus it should not fall under the category of a logical fallacy. A stronger person has nearly unquestionable power over a weaker one. And in a naturalistic sense this is non-debatable. Physicality is not an idea.

I understand that this kind of fallacy can "override rational discussion", but on the other hand "physical overpowering" should not be thought of as an argument in itself, right?

  • I made some edits. If I misrepresented you, please roll this back or further edit. Best wishes. – Frank Hubeny Aug 19 '19 at 12:43
  • Perhaps you are misunderstanding the term argument. Argument in a rational or academic sense means that if true premises are related one can use deductive reasoning to find the conclusion automatically. This does not excuse what happens if the conclusion is not in your favor. So this is where appeal to force comes in. In the said argument I WIN because I can physically do something to you that you can't do to me. This is how the Military works, prison works, society works. Many things are indeed an appeal to force because if you refuse to follow the grain you will be punished. – Logikal Aug 19 '19 at 12:53
  • No fallacy is really an idea. They are all extra-logical things that do override rational discussion. Otherwise, there is just a pure non-sequitur and not a more specific, repeatable fallacy. Fallacies are tricks of language, holes in ordinary perception, habits of cultural pressure, abuses of emotion, etc. They are fallacies just because some part of them is not really an idea. For example, arguing from the converse is not an idea, it is a weakness of language processing, which is a physiological problem related to some flaw humans have that makes them come up with confusing grammars. – user9166 Aug 20 '19 at 2:32
  • I agree. I've been trying to encourage people to stop slapping "fallacy" on everything they dislike (wrong judgments, cognitive biases, etc.) and restrict it to the original meaning of a mistake in reasoning. But it might be a lost cause. Wikipedia et al. promote a loose and expansive use of "informal fallacy" that covers any use of language to sway people. If rhetorical manipulation of emotions is "appeal to emotion" why should "appeal to force" be any different, fear is a great swaying tool. Frank recently answered a question where "appeal to intimidation" was involved. – Conifold Aug 20 '19 at 7:15
  • @Conifold Or perhaps more importantly, a fallacy is not meant to decide that an argument is true/false (even though some naive resources claim that they are "argumentation errors" as if an error also meant that it's false). It's meant to aid in "seeking for a context", where the argument is "least biased"? Illustration: Reduction Through Fallacies (Epistemology, Method to Knowledge) noncontradictingpolitics.blogspot.com/2019/08/… – mavavilj Aug 20 '19 at 10:14

Here is Bo Bennett's definition of Appeal to Force:

When force, coercion, or even a threat of force is used in place of a reason in an attempt to justify a conclusion.

It is not that force itself is the fallacy, but that one of the people who are arguing threatens to use force against another if the other person does not agree.

The OP asks:

I understand that this kind of fallacy can "override rational discussion", but on the other hand "physical overpowering" should not be thought of as an argument in itself, right?

The actual force itself is not part of the argument. Should force begin, the argument is long over. There would then be ethical issues to consider. Rather it is the appeal or the threat to use force during an argument that is informally fallacious.

Threats of force are not good reasons to accept a conclusion, but they may require one to take precautions.

Bennett, B. Appeal to Force. Retrieved on August 19, 2019, from Logically Fallacious at https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/tools/lp/Bo/LogicalFallacies/34/Appeal-to-Force

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It is a fallacy of relevance and in particular an appeal to consequence.

Essentially, it claims to be an argument about the truth of P, and is instead is an argument about the individual self interest of behaving as if they believe P.

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Physical force itself is not an argument, obviously. But consider an exchange like this:

  • Person A: "I believe X, and I think you should agree with me."
  • Person B: "What reason can you give for agreeing with you? X seems ridiculous..."
  • Person A: "If you don't agree with me, I'll kill you."

Here the act of violence is offered up as a reason to produce agreement. The idea of lethal force is used as a substantive argument in the debate; whether or not that idea is put into practice is more or less irrelevant.

In rational argument, people expect that substantive claims will address the ideas under discussion. The power of a rational argument lies in its ability to cause someone to revise their worldview solely on the strengths and weaknesses of the concepts themselves: their consistency, their logical validity, their appropriateness and applicability... It is generally considered to be bad form to import other forms of power — physical violence, social authority, shame and guilt, money, factional norms, etc — into the discussion. People do it all the time, of course, but it is bad form. Most of the so-called 'informal fallacies' are not really fallacies in the proper sense, but are power-plays of this sort, and ought to be understood on those grounds.

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  • Okay, but I slightly disagree with your idea that "act of violence could not serve as an argument". The reason is that I believe that politics is "merely a replacement or an alternative to power through force". But being a replacement or an alternative means that "they can be switched (at least in principle, not necessarily under current law)". – mavavilj Aug 20 '19 at 10:21

You should start with premises, deduce things by applying the rules of logic correctly, and arrive at a conclusion. If you try to apply the rules of logic, but apply them incorrectly, that's a mistake; mistakes happens. If you use rules other than the rules of logic, that's a fallacy.

If you give me some premises, and tell me that you'll punch me if I don't arrive at conclusion X, then I may arrive at conclusion X because I don't want to be punched. "X is true because I don't want to be punched" isn't a rule of logic, therefore we have a fallacy.

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