Appeal to Private Motives


The argument attempts to persuade someone to accept a position by pointing out that the person to be persuaded has other opinions or vested interests that suggest agreement with the position.



"Well, you at least should be in favor of the tax cuts. At your income level, the tax cuts should save you a fortune."


"I don't know why you're so opposed to stricter immigration policies. I know you are concerned about overcrowding, and stricter immigration policies will help slow the growth of the population in this country."


“You have no choice but to vote for me, because your 401(k)'s down the tubes, everything's gonna be down the tubes. So, whether you love me or hate me, you gotta vote for me,” – Donald Trump, August 15, 2019, after predicting that markets would crash if he lost the 2020 election.



People are entitled to look out for their own interests. Policies and laws cannot always benefit everyone, but the question of who is harmed and who is benefited is certainly relevant. Thus, it makes sense that people who benefit from a law or policy should speak in support of it. Assuming that the people who are harmed also speak up, there is a good chance that the wisest possible policy can be found.

However, there is a difference between pointing out that a certain law or policy benefits one person and claiming that all points of view have been duly considered. Appeal to Private Motives mimics a proper consideration of the listener's opinions and interests, but errs (consciously or unconsciously) in neglecting to consider the opinions and interests of others. It passes off an argument persuasive to one person as an argument with general appeal. It tries to get the listener to forget his obligation to be fair-minded in pursuit of the truth, and to focus only upon those reasons that he himself might find persuasive or attractive.


Source: My personal source for this fallacy was T. Edward Damer, Attacking Faulty Reasoning (1995), but this is, in fact, one of the fallacies mentioned in Aristotle's Sophistical Refutations.


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