Appeal to Force Fallacy: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 Pushy Ways
  • 0:32 The Appeal to Force Fallacy
  • 2:14 Appeal to Force Examples
  • 3:55 Non-Fallacious Arguments
  • 4:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies, the study of American history/society/culture. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer.

This lesson explains what is meant by an appeal to force, and why it's a favorite of bullies and even some politicians! You'll learn how the fallacy relies on fear as a tool to influence the beliefs of others.

Pushy Ways

One day, you're waiting in line for an ice cream cone, minding your own business, when a person who is bigger and stronger than you steps in front of you.

'Um, excuse me. I'm in line,' you say.
The Big Bully replies, 'Well, I'm in front of you now. You'll just have to wait longer for your ice cream because we both know what will happen if you make trouble over this.'

You don't agree with the bully's logic, but if you push the issue, you can already picture a waffle cone being shoved in your face after you leave the ice cream shop.

The Appeal to Force Fallacy

The bully's argument is what is known as an appeal to force. An appeal to force is a fallacy, or faulty argument, that is based on the threat of harm and is not relevant to the argument itself. In short, the threat does not prove or disprove the truth of the statement.

Other than warning against the excessive sugar rush you're about to get, the bully can't make a good case for butting in line without threatening you. Now, if the bully had said that he had been there first and, therefore, has a valid claim to the spot in front of you, his position would be defensible. He might also make the argument that he should be allowed to step in front of you because he just wants to get some extra napkins and won't take very long. But, the bully's argument is fallacious because he argues that you should believe that he has the right to go in front of you based solely on his power over you.

Often, an appeal to force won't actually change the beliefs of the person who is on the receiving end of the argument. In this example, your opinion about the bully's actions won't change based on his argument, but you may be compelled to act as if you agreed so that you won't have to experience any negative consequences. When we talk about an appeal to force, keep in mind that force is not limited to physical violence, such as a fellow patron pushing ice cream in your face. Force can also refer to other negative consequences that could have an emotional or even financial impact. Sometimes, an appeal to force will include an element of manipulation, which may work to persuade you that an argument is logical when it is not. Scare tactics are also commonly associated with this type of fallacy. A scare tactic is a strategy that provokes a sense of fear and may compel you to accept an argument you otherwise would not.

Appeal to Force Examples

Let's look at some examples to help you understand the concept:

1. A friend who means a great deal to you desperately wants to be the top runner in the school. Before a track meet, your friend says to you, 'If you don't let me win the race, I can't be your friend anymore. Letting me win the race makes sense, don't you think?'

This is a fallacy because the threat of losing the friendship if you win the race doesn't make a strong argument in favor of forfeiting. Your friend is simply manipulating you into seeing things his way, even though his argument isn't at all logical.

2. In the next scenario, a relative tells you that if you don't help her pay off her debt, she will use a fake ID to rack up debt in your name.

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