Appeal to Ignorance Fallacy: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 In Danger or Not?
  • 0:44 Burden of Proof
  • 2:00 Examples of Appeal to…
  • 4:10 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.

In this lesson, consider the tendency we have to use our own ignorance and lack of information to arrive at shaky conclusions. Determine when a person is shifting the burden of proof away from themselves.

In Danger or Not?

'I promise you that storm is not a threat to us,' Carina says as she leads the way up the mountain trail. 'It's perfectly safe for us to hike if we're not in the direct center of the rain and thunder.' Her friends are suspicious, but she continues to try to make her case. Carina says, 'I don't know of anyone who's ever had a problem hiking during a storm. Nobody has ever convinced me it's threatening, so I feel like we're really safe.' Her friends are still doubtful and hang back, worried about going higher up on the mountain, beyond the tree line. In this lesson, we'll look at Carina's appeal to ignorance fallacy and learn why her friends have every reason to be wary of her argument.

Burden of Proof

Carina claims that hiking during a nearby thunderstorm is safe because she's not been convinced that it is unsafe. She's never had experiences that tell her it's unsafe. She's concluded that this means that they are safe. Do you believe Carina? You might find yourself questioning her argument. What is it about what she's saying that doesn't sit right?

One of the main problems is that it is an argument that shifts the burden of proof away from the person making the claim, one that is an appeal to ignorance. Instead of Carina having to prove that the mountain is safe to hike on in bad weather, she is instead claiming that there is not enough evidence that it is unsafe.

The reverse could still be a fallacy, where the opposite is argued by her friends. They are saying that it is probably unsafe because there is not enough evidence that it is safe. In either case, the argument is relying on a lack of evidence or proof from their side of the argument. The approach is not sufficient to arrive at a solid conclusion.

What's more worrisome about Carina's push to keep hiking is that she's not just questioning whether it's safe or unsafe; she's making a claim and coming to a conclusion. At least her friends are willing to admit that they don't have enough information to say for sure and are erring on the side of caution.

Examples of Appeal to Ignorance

Have you ever come to a conclusion about something even though you didn't have enough information to prove your thinking? Most of us do this a lot. If we don't hear back from a friend, we might come to the conclusion that they don't care about us. Or, if we send a gift and we hear no response, we might assume the person didn't like the gift. A lack of information or response can put us into a situation where we rely on an appeal to ignorance in order to come to a conclusion.

You can remember the name of this fallacy by thinking of how the argument involves ignorance, or not having enough information to come to a particular conclusion. Instead, a person using this type of argument puts the burden of proof on the other side of the issue.

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