Appeal to Guilt


The argument attempts to persuade by making the person to be persuaded feel guilty for not accepting the position.



"Aren't you ashamed of yourself for not buying this car, after I've gone to all the work to fill out the credit application."


"It would break your mother's heart to hear you defend those immoral Harry Potter books in that way."



It is sometimes difficult to understand what someone else is saying, especially when that person is trying to give a complex argument in support of an opinion. Naturally, we tend to interpret what we are hearing in light of our own experience. Words and phrases can carry different meanings for different people. As a result, we may fail to follow an argument that is perfectly sound. When this occurs, it is to be expected that the other person--the person making the argument--will criticize our inability to understand. Being permitted to point out that a misunderstanding has occurred is necessary in a conversation in which misunderstandings might occur. Hence, it is only good reasoning to permit criticism. Moreover, if my own understanding of an argument turns out to be deficient in some way, it is even natural for me to feel a degree of shame or guilt.

The fallacy of Appeal to Guilt mimics this situation in which a reasoner criticizes his listener for failing to correctly follow the offered reasoning. However, in this case, the reasoner has not actually offered any reasoning for the listener to follow. The criticism (and accompanying guilt) create an illusion that a complex logical argument has been offered, implying that anyone who fails to be persuaded by it simply failed to understand.


Source: The phrase "appeal to guilt" is in common usage on the Internet. However, I am unable to identify a classical print source for the fallacy. I added the fallacy to my list to create a match for Runkle's "Appeal to Flattery," Good Thinking: An Introduction to Logic (1978), but I am fairly sure that I am not the first logician to use the phrase.


WELCOME                     EXPLANATION OF PRINCIPLES                                     TABLE OF FALLACIES                        EXERCISES                     INDEX