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Argumentum Ad Populum

by Hans Bluedorn

The news these days is crammed full with so many different kinds of logical fallacies that it is quite easy, after only minimal training, to open up the can and point out to the less observant the more odoriferous ones. Here is one of the more prevailing fallacies for this week.

"We shouldn't proceed with the trial of the President. The American people are tired and want to get this over with. If you proceed with the trial you will be going ahead with something which the American people do not want."

This fallacy has gone around so often that nobody knows who first contracted it. It may have infected the mind of a dozen politicians simultaneously. This is identified as "Argumentum Ad Populum," or arguing from popularity. Popularity is the determining factor in whether you do or do not do something. What is wrong with this reasoning? The President's impeachment is not a question of what the American people want. It is a moral question. If we legalized or outlawed things according to the desires of the people – instead of on a firm moral ground – we would end up with immoral legislation – things like......say.....abortion.

How should we respond to this fallacy?

Exodus 23:2 Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment.

If you argue such things as the accuracy of the polls, or whether the people are informed enough to make a judgment, then you have conceded the actual point of argument. Don't get sidetracked. The issue is not whether the people want it. The issue is whether it is right or wrong.

Copyright January 13, 1999, all rights reserved. 6046 views


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