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Appeal to the Consequences of a Belief

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The Appeal to the Consequences of a Belief is a broad fallacy that has the following patterns:

 

Form 1

Premise 1: If people did not accept X as true, there would be negative consequences.

Conclusion:  X is true.

 

Form 2

Premise 1: If people did not accept X as false, there would be negative consequences.

Conclusion:  X is false.

 

Form 3

Premise 1: Accepting that X is true has positive consequences.

Conclusion:  X is true.

 

Form 4

Premise 1: Accepting that X is false has positive consequences.

Conclusion:  X is false.

 

Wishful Thinking Version 1

Premise 1: I wish that X were true.

Conclusion:  X is true.

 

Wishful Thinking Version 2

Premise 1: I wish that X were false.

Conclusion:  X is false.

 

This sort of reasoning is fallacious because the consequences of a belief have no bearing on whether the belief is true or false. To illustrate, if someone were to say, “If purple unicorns don’t exist, then I will be miserable, so they must exist, we would not expect purple unicorns to start appearing.

It must be noted that the consequences are those that stem from the belief. It is important to distinguish between a rational reason to believe (evidence) and a prudential reason to believe (motivation). A rational reason to believe is evidence that objectively and logically supports the claim. A prudential (or pragmatic) reason to believe is a reason to accept the claim because of some external factor like fear, a threat, or a benefit or harm that may stem from the belief that is relevant to what a person values but not to the truth of the claim. For example, some people claim that if people did not believe in God, then that would be the death of morality and society would fall into chaos. Even if it is assumed that this is true, it does not prove that God exists. But it could provide a pragmatic (even a moral) reason to try to get people to believe in God.

The nature of the fallacy is especially clear in the case of Wishful Thinking. Obviously, merely wishing that something is true does not make it true. This fallacy differs from the Appeal to Belief fallacy in that the Appeal to Belief involves taking a claim that most people believe that X is true to be evidence for X being true. Wishful Thinking is not that most people believe it, but that it is true because someone really wants or hopes it is true. Alternatively, that it is false because someone really wants or hopes it is false.

This is not a rejection of the idea that a positive or hopeful attitude can be beneficial or that a negative or despairing outlook can be harmful. To use an obvious example, an athlete who is positive will tend to do better than a comparable athlete who is sunk into despair. But this is not due to wishful thinking, rather it is a matter of sports psychology.

 

Defense: The main defense against this fallacy is to keep in mind the difference between evidence for a claim and a practical or pragmatic reason to accept a claim (or get others to accept it). Wishful Thinking, which is usually self-inflicted, is especially difficult to guard against. People most often engage in Wishful Thinking when they are in distress or need and there can be strong emotions driving the fallacious reasoning. But the defense is to ask yourself whether you have evidence for your belief or if you just want it to be true. If other people engage in Wishful Thinking, there can be moral reasons to allow them to do so without criticism. For example, if someone is telling themselves that their loved ones are alright during a natural disaster because they could not bear it if anything happened to them, that would not be the time to give the person a logic lesson. But we should be on guard against our own Wishful Thinking and that of others when decisions are being made. For example, financial decisions should be protected from Wishful Thinking.

 

Example #1:

God must exist! If God did not exist, then all basis for morality would be lost and the world would be a horrible place!

 

Example #2:

It can never happen to me. If I believed it could, I could never sleep soundly at night.

 

Example #3:

I don’t think that there will be a nuclear war. If I believed that, I wouldn’t be able to get up in the morning. I mean, how depressing.

 

Example #4:

I acknowledge that I have no argument for the existence of God. However, I have a great desire for God to exist and for there to be an afterlife. Therefore, I accept that God exists.

 

Example #5:

Ann: “Wow, you bought a brand-new electric SUV! I mean it is great, but weren’t you just saying that your job barely pays you enough to get by? And our rent is due soon. I’ve got my half…”

Julie: “Oh, it will work out. Don’t worry, I have a good feeling that things will be fine. Look, I bought a lottery ticket!”

Originally appeared on A Philosopher’s Blog Read More

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