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Language, Logic, and Action Pt. 4: Appeals to Pity



If you’ve been paying attention to the prophets of the faux-pocalypse, then you’re probably aware of their collectivist moral exhortations. These exhortations not only echo the aggressive “Mao era”-style fear sloganeering of current day Communist China (see here) intended to manipulate the public into compliance with draconian social control measures, they are also examples of the appeal to pity. The appeal to pity, or argumentum ad misericordiam, is a logical fallacy in which
…pity or a related emotion such as sympathy or compassion is appealed to for the sake of getting a conclusion accepted.1
This fallacy is usually employed when one cannot logically justify his conclusion. Consider the following hypothetical scenario:

Person A: Did you know that the official COVID-19 story is probably not true? COVID-19 did not come from an infected bat or pangolin,2 but very likely originated in a laboratory in Wuhan, China?3
 
Person B: That’s not true.
 
Person A: It’s more likely to be true than the “official story.” Studies have shown that COVID-19 is actually a hybrid virus that could not occur naturally in such a short space of time.4
 
Person B: There are people literally dying right now, and you’re arguing against the settled science? Do you even care?
 
In this example, person B dismisses person A’s evidence based reasoning, and then commits the appeal to pity fallacy two times. The first is an appeal to person A to have pity for those who are suffering from COVID-19; the second is an attempt to shut person A up by laying a guilt trip on him. Moreover, because person B identifies his position as “the settled science,” he is likewise guilty of circular reasoning.

It is important to take note of the appeal to pity’s form and use, particularly because of its prevalence in contemporary discussions about hot-button topics. For instance, consider the following appeals to pity that are popular right now –
  • “If you cared about your neighbor, you would just wear the danged mask!”
  • “Only a greedy person would want to end the lock down measures that are saving lives.”
  • “How is it loving to question the truthfulness of someone’s claim to having been victimized?”
  • “People are trying to get justice for their slain loved ones, not debate statistics.”
  • “How much more suffering will people have to endure to get you to acknowledge the reality of their claims?”
  • “Now is not the time for ‘conspiracy theories’ about how many people are actually dying from COVID-19, but for showing compassion toward the many, many people who are suffering and dying from COVID-19.”
This reasoning is irrational (i.e. not rationally sound), but it gets a pass by many of us today because it plays on the desire of many people to not be socially ostracized for expressing unpopular thoughts. Fearing the judgment of men, many have taken to not challenging such incoherent reasoning. Another reason why the appeal to pity gets a pass is because the majority of people in the world are not sociopaths. We normally empathize with those who are in trouble of one kind or another, and thereby open ourselves up to being manipulated by appeals to pity.

While we should be empathetic toward others in most situations,5 we should never forgo reasoning correctly in order to love our neighbor as ourselves. Loving your neighbor, according to Scripture, means obeying the Law of God, and this takes a lot of sustained, developed, and sound reasoning on every subject – even those subjects which are filling our social media feeds with demands for our absolute compliance.


1 “Introduction to Logic,” Philosophy Course Notes, Accessed July 3, 2020, https://philosophy.lander.edu/logic/misery.html.
2 See Brown, Matthew. “Fact check: Is COVID-19 caused by human consumption of animals?,” USA Today, March 18, 2020. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2020/03/18/coronavirus-fact-check-covid-19-caused-eating-animals/5073094002/.
3 See Edmunds, Donna Rachel. “Former MI6 head claims COVID-19 was made in a Chinese lab,” The Jerusalem Post, June 7, 2020. https://www.jpost.com/health-science/former-mi6-head-covid-19-was-made-in-a-chinese-lab-630346.
4 See Ebbs, William. “HIV & Ebola-Like Mutations Suggest Coronavirus Leaked From a Lab,” CCN, March 3, 2020. https://www.ccn.com/hiv-ebola-like-mutations-suggest-coronavirus-leaked-from-a-lab/; Pradhan, Prashant; Ashutosh, Pandey Kumar; “Uncanny similarity of unique inserts in the 2019-nCoV spike protein to HIV-1 gp120 and Gag,” BioRXiv, February 2, 2020. https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.01.30.927871v2.full.pdf; Chen, Stephen, “Coronavirus far more likely than Sars to bond to human cells due to HIV-like mutation, scientists say,” South China Morning Post, February 27,2020. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/3052495/coronavirus-far-more-likely-sars-bond-human-cells-scientists-say; Miller, Robert. “The Coronavirus Is Man Made According to Luc Montagnier the Man Who Discovered HIV,” Gilmore Health News, April 16, 2020. https://www.gilmorehealth.com/chinese-coronavirus-is-a-man-made-virus-according-to-luc-montagnier-the-man-who-discovered-hiv/, & “Luc Montagnier Insists That the Virus Came out of a Lab in Follow-Up Interview,” May 4, 2020. https://www.gilmorehealth.com/luc-montagnier-insists-that-the-virus-came-out-of-a-lab-in-follow-up-interview/.
5 One exception to being empathetic toward another person is in the case of their feeling sorrow for not being able to sin in their preferred way.

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