Appeal to Utility


The argument attempts to persuade by invoking a sentiment favoring practicality and reason (without, however, actually engaging in practical reasoning), or by professing to despise sentimentality.



"Despite the overwrought emotionalsim of the abolitionists, slavery cannot be immoral, since it would destroy the Southern way of life if we were to free our slaves."


"Arguments that we have an obligation to use taxes to feed the poor are just bleeding-heart liberalism."



This fallacy exploits the long-held prejudice that logic must be cold and unemotional. It is able to masquerade as good reasoning because, of course, emotions can be used to distract attention away from the issue at hand. As this entire category of fallacies shows, there are many ways to use irrelevant emotional appeals to distract attention away from relevant concerns.

However, it is important to remember that concern for human suffering is relevant more often than it is irrelevant. It is our emotions, including our compassion for others, that provides us with our chief motive for thinking rationally. In cases involving questions of human suffering, the plea to be "practical," or even "logical," may itself be a distraction when that plea is being used not to encourage a practical and rational discussion, but to cut off consideration of possible solutions.

The Appeal to Utility fallacy, of course, qualifies as an emotional appeal, even though the sentiment of practicality is often invoked by claiming to despise "emotionalism" or "sentimentality." Lack of compassion is just as much a "sentiment" as compassion, and just as prone to irrelevance.


Source: I named this fallacy myself. The name was probably inspired by Charles Dickens' Hard Times, in which advocates of utilitarianism are portrayed (probably unfairly) as unemotional and joyless.


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