Appeal to Popularity Fallacy: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 The Opinions of Others
  • 1:13 Popularity Isn't Enough
  • 2:44 Using Popularity to…
  • 4:27 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 discusses the flaw of focusing on popular opinion when making your case. You'll consider examples of how this fallacy emerges and why popularity is not reliable in drawing a conclusion.

The Opinions of Others

Horace has two job offers, both of which will keep him financially secure and offer good opportunities for a future career. However, one of them is a bit unconventional. Horace would play a key role as a manager in a company that provides services to families where children have contracted head lice. The other opportunity would be working in a computer programming job with a company that sells incredibly popular apps for smartphones.

All of his friends think he is crazy for considering a role with the head lice company. In fact, no one he knows is supporting his own inclination which is to take the managerial job rather than the programming job. One day his sister says to him, 'You've got to take the programming job. Everyone thinks that's the one you should take. That means it's really the better of the two choices for a job.'

This lesson explores the problem with the reasoning used by Horace's sister to convince him to take the programming job. We'll talk about the appeal to popularity fallacy and why it can easily trip a person up.

Popularity Isn't Enough

Is it really a good enough reason for Horace to choose which job is better for him based on what appears to be the most popular choice? In philosophy, a fallacy called appeal to popularity is known to be a faulty approach to making an argument. You can tell this fallacy is being used when an argument relies on public opinion to determine what is true, right, or good. When Horace's sister recommends the job based solely on its popularity, she uses this flawed logic.

The popular app company itself also uses an appeal to popularity when they tell him why he should take the job. His interviewer has said to him, 'We're known to be the best, and you should want to work with us. Ask anyone you know and they'll tell you the same thing. It's common knowledge that we've got a bright future. Therefore, you'll want to get on board now.'

Horace weighs his decision and factors in something even more important to him. He doesn't really want to program all day. Although he's good at it, and it's a popular field, he really has a knack for management and sees himself headed in that direction. He also likes that the lice treatment company has opportunities to relocate with all expenses paid, and it's been a dream of his to move somewhere new. He decides that the head lice job is best for him, despite the popular opinion that says he should go with the smartphone app company.

Using Popularity to Make Decisions

Are there times when using popular opinion makes sense? Well, it's definitely possible that something that is a popular choice turns out to be a better choice.

For instance, when it comes time for Horace to relocate to a new part of the country, he'll likely try to find out which moving companies are most prominent and popular and which have the most and best reviews. It may turn out that one of the most popular moving companies is, in fact, one of the best out there, matching what Horace is looking for in a company.

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