Appeal to Pity

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Appeal to pity

Also called

  • Argumentum ad Misericordiam

Attempting to make someone feel sorry for either the arguer or the subject of the argument, in order to convince them to accept the argument regardless of its validity.

Sir, you shouldn't fire me, even though I'm chronically late, bicker with all the other staff, and consistently fail to finish my tasks on time, because I have a sick wife and four children and if I lose my job we'll be thrown out of our house and have to live on the street."

Tropes which rely on or incorporate this fallacy:

  • Overuse of appeal to pity is one of the reasons why Wangst and Sympathetic Sues only get responded with Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy.
  • Think of the Children!, in which the subject of the argument is claimed to adversely affect children. This works not only because it appeals to people's natural instinct to protect children, but because it implies that anyone who disagrees is a big meanie who hates children. (Note that this itself is a fallacious False Dichotomy, as one can care for others but still need to successfully manage their business to provide income for many workers, who may also have kids to feed.)
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones and Pet the Dog - the viewer may find themselves thinking "Well, yes, that guy did hole himself up in a fortified chapel with fifty hostages so he could open a portal to hell with the unholy power of their tormented souls. But killing him means that sweet little girl will lose her grandfather who she loves dearly."
  • Freudian Excuse. "Yes, he's a Jerkass, but only because this horrible thing happened to him when he was a child." Note that a Freudian Excuse can function as a legitimate explanation if the author does not rely solely on sympathy. A Freudian Excuse may instead explain how the environment conditioned and motivated the character's bad behaviour. (E.g. He lived in a Crapsack World, Wretched Hive, or other such hellish Might Makes Right environment where No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, and came to a logical conclusion that ruthlessness, vengeance and Social Darwinism are necessary for survival and self-improvement.)

Examples:

  • Researchers have shown that the best predictor of the outcome of a malpractice lawsuit in the United States is not whether there is evidence that the physician actually erred, but the status of the patient and the severity of the result. For example, (in the US) if a newborn has a malformation, the odds of an award are distressingly high, even when there is no evidence that the cause is anything except bad luck. Obstetricians have absurdly high malpractice insurance as a result, and that cost is picked up ultimately by the patients.

Looks like this fallacy, but isn't:


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