Appeal to Rugged Individualism


The argument attempts to support a position by appealing to the opinion of a small (but opinionated) group of people, or even of a single person. The presumed authority of this person or group comes from their willingness to stand alone against majority opinion.



Some books describe this fallacy, but give it the name "snob appeal."




"Be original. Drink Dr. Pepper" - 1950s Dr. Pepper slogan


"So much flavor, frankly, that most people can't handle it." - Rubio's Grill slogan


"Just like Copernicus, we in the Flat Earth Society are willing to defy the wrong-headed scientific orthodoxy of the mainstream scientific community."


"I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. I’ve been challenged by so many people and I don’t, frankly, have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time, either." - Donald Trump (2015)



If it is a bad idea to accept a position merely because it is popular, it is an even worse idea to accept a position merely because it is unpopular. Yet Americans (at least) are strongly attracted to this pattern of reasoning, and advertisers are happy to exploit our attraction. Psychologically, the fallacy plays upon the desire to be above the crowd, better than others, a leader rather than a follower, or, in the case of the phrase "politically correct" someone who eschews a dominant orthodoxy.

People who pride themselves on being rational are much more likely to fall into this fallacy than they are to fall into its opposite, the Appeal to Popularity. The reason is not just that people who try to be rational have a stronger desire to be individualists (although this may be true). The reason is, rather, that being "rational" requires thinking arguments through for oneself. Thinking things through for yourself may lead you to unique insights. It may give you things to say about a subject other than what everyone else is saying. Hence it is often a good indication that someone has thought a position through when he takes a view that is not just like the mainstream view.

However, because it is true that people who take unusual positions have often thought deeply about the matter, a person who has not thought a position through may appear to be more thoughtful merely my holding positions that are unusual, eccentric, and "not politically correct." That is, holding unusual and alarming positions may create the illusion that you have thought things through, even if you have not.

The fallacy of Appeal to Rugged Individualism is always ironically self-limiting. We attempt to persuade in order to get others to agree with our opinions. Imagine everyone adopting a certain position on the grounds that it was unpopular...only to discover that everyone else has also adopted the view for the same reason! I am certain that this is the dynamic that drives the fashion industry: a style is fashionable only as long as only a select few are wearing it. Once it becomes popular, it ceases to be fashionable and a new style must be found. Fortunately, truth does not operate by the rules of fashion. Thinking things through for yourself does not mean holding unpopular beliefs; it means hold whatever beliefs reason leads you to, whether they are popular or not.


Source: I named this one myself, with the Marlboro Man in mind. However, Morris Engel, With Good Reason (1st ed. 1976), preceded me in describing the fallacy, which he labeled "Authority of the Select Few."


WELCOME                     EXPLANATION OF PRINCIPLES                                     TABLE OF FALLACIES                        EXERCISES                     INDEX