Appeal to Humor


The argument attempts to persuade by invoking feelings of good humor and laughter. To laugh with someone seems to imply agreement with his position and makes agreement with the position easier.



Often this fallacy takes the form of a cleverly worded or humorous slogan. On the other hand, calling a position "absurd" or "laughable" without actually telling a joke should probably be considered an Ad Hominem - Abusive fallacy, rather than an Appeal to Humor. A good comedian can sometimes make us laugh at something merely by saying that it is funny; but generally speaking, declaring that something is funny without actually making fun of it is more abusive than humorous. Also, be careful not to confuse Appeal to Humor with other fallacies (especially Amphiboly) that tend to be funny. The fallacy of Appeal to Humor uses humor to persuade. The speaker is aware of the joke and is inviting the listener to share the joke with him. Other fallacies are funny because we see through them. In those cases, the speaker is not aware that he is the butt of the joke and he is not aware that the listener is laughing at him.



"I notice that everyone in favor of abortion has already been born." - Ronald Reagan 1980, in response to a question on his position on abortion during the presidential debates.


"Keep Bush, Cheney, Ashcroft and Rumsfeld in office! After all, why change horsemen in mid-apocalypse?" - found on a website during the 2004 Bush re-election campaign.



Any stand-up comic will tell you that the secret to humor is: tell the truth. A good comic tells us things about ourselves that we normally wouldn't want to hear since they are too embarrassing or sensitive. But by getting us to laugh about ourselves, we learn to recognize our own foibles, and we learn to forgive the foibles of others. We laugh at human foibles because this allows us to live with them. Humor is the ultimate defense mechanism. Laughter is a natural and healthy way to respond when we recognize that someone has offered us a bravely-spoken, but possibly uncomfortable, truth.

The fallacy of Appeal to Humor exploits our natural response to bravely-spoken truth. The fallacy presumes that any view that can be expressed in a way that elicits laughter must be true. However, we actually laugh for many reasons. We may laugh at a slogan merely because it is cleverly worded. We may laugh only because everyone around us is laughing. We laugh at slap-stick humor. An argument mimics our response to bravely-spoken truth when it gets us to laugh for a reason that is unrelated to our recognition of truth.


Source: Richard Whateley describes this fallacy, but does not name it, in Elements of Logic, 1826. The term "appeal to humor" apparently first appears some time in the 20th Century. I first became aware of this fallacy from Gerald Runkle, Good Thinking: An Introduction to Logic (1978).


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