The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Fallacy: Appeal to Pity

Also known as: Ad Misericordiam

Description of Appeal to Pity

An Appeal to Pity is a fallacy in which a person substitutes a claim intended to create pity for evidence in an argument. The form of the "argument" is as follows:

  1. P is presented, with the intent to create pity.
  2. Therefore claim C is true.

This line of "reasoning" is fallacious because pity does not serve as evidence for a claim. This is extremely clear in the following case: "You must accept that 1+1=46, after all I'm dying..." While you may pity me because I am dying, it would hardly make my claim true.

This fallacy differs from the Appeal to the Consequences of a Belief (ACB). In the ACB fallacy, a person is using the effects of a belief as a substitute for evidence. In the Appeal to Pity, it is the feelings of pity or sympathy that are substituted for evidence.

It must be noted that there are cases in which claims that actually serve as evidence also evoke a feeling of pity. In such cases, the feeling of pity is still not evidence. The following is an example of a case in which a claim evokes pity and also serves as legitimate evidence:

Professor: "You missed the midterm, Bill."
Bill: "I know. I think you should let me take the makeup."
Professor: "Why?"
Bill: "I was hit by a truck on the way to the midterm. Since I had to go to the emergency room with a broken leg, I think I am entitled to a makeup."
Professor: "I'm sorry about the leg, Bill. Of course you can make it up."

The above example does not involve a fallacy. While the professor does feel sorry for Bill, she is justified in accepting Bill's claim that he deserves a makeup. After all getting run over by a truck would be a legitimate excuse for missing a test.

Examples of Appeal to Pity

  1. Jill: "He'd be a terrible coach for the team."
    Bill: "He had his heart set on the job, and it would break if he didn't get it."
    Jill: "I guess he'll do an adequate job."

  2. "I'm positive that my work will meet your requirements. I really need the job since my grandmother is sick"

  3. "I should receive an 'A' in this class. After all, if I don't get an 'A' I won't get the fellowship that I want."

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