Appeal to Spite

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Also Known as: Appeal to Anger

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The Appeal to Spite Fallacy is a fallacy in which spite or anger is substituted for evidence for (or against) a claim. This line of reasoning has the following form:

 

Premise 1: X is presented with the intent of generating spite/anger.

Conclusion: Therefore, claim C is true (or false)

 

This is fallacious because a feeling of spite or anger does not count as evidence for or against a claim. This is shown by the following silly example: “Bill claims that the earth revolves around the sun. But remember that dirty trick he pulled on you last week. Now, doesn’t my claim that the sun revolves around the earth make sense to you?”

There is also a variant called Anger Justification:

 

Premise 1: If B did X to you, then you would be angry enough to do Y to B.

Conclusion: Doing Y to B is morally justified.

 

While there are moral theories that rest on emotions, even if it were true that an action would make me angry enough to do something, it does not follow that the action would be right. After all, I might be easily angered by even petty offenses. And even if I was not easy to anger, anger is still not proof.

Spite and anger are powerful emotions and can be effective in bypassing reason. When people are angry, they often think that they are justified in their anger simply because they are angry. That is, there is a tendency to see anger as self-justifying: if I am angry at X, I must have a good reason to be angry at X. But people can obviously be angry for bad reasons or no reason at all.

Spite and anger are also effective persuasive tools because a person’s anger at one thing can easily be shifted to an unrelated target. For example, a person who is angry about a co-worker turning them down for a date is likely to have that anger affect their judgment about their co-worker’s qualifications for the job. Politicians often make use of this feature of anger, in some cases shifting justified anger to an unwarranted target. For example, it does seem reasonable for American workers to be angry that corporations have moved many jobs overseas. But politicians often shift this anger towards unrelated targets, such as migrants.

Being emotions, anger and spite are not themselves fallacies. There are moral debates over when they are appropriate to feel, but that is a matter for ethics.

There are cases in which a claim can evoke spite or anger while also providing a good reason to accept or reject a claim. However,  the feelings of anger or spite are not evidence; it just so happens that good evidence could also make a person angry. The following is an example of such a non-fallacious situation:

 

Jill: “I think I’ll vote for Jane to be treasurer of NOW.”

Vicki: “Remember the time that your purse vanished at a meeting last year?”

Jill: “Yes.”

Vicki: “Well, I just found out that she stole your purse and stole some other stuff from people. Because of this, I checked the organizations books and found that she has transferring money into her bank account.”

Jill: “I’m not voting for her! Also, I’m calling the police!”

 

In this case, Jill has a good reason not to vote for Jane. Since a treasurer should be honest, a known thief would be a bad choice. If Jill concludes that she should vote against Jane because she is a thief and not just out of spite, her reasoning would not be fallacious.

 

Example #1:

Bill: “I think that Jane did a great job this year. I’m going to nominate her for the award.”

Dave: “Have you forgotten last year? Remember that she didn’t nominate you last year.”

Bill: “You’re right. I’m not going to nominate her.”

 

Example #2:

Jill: “I think Jane’s idea is a really good one and will really save a lot of money for the department.”

Bill: “Maybe. Remember how she showed that your paper had a fatal flaw when you read it at the convention last year…”

Jill: “I had just about forgotten about that! I think I’ll go with your idea instead.”

Originally appeared on A Philosopher’s Blog Read More

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