Appeal to pity is a logical fallacy – an error in reasoning that weakens the argument – in which someone appeals to the feeling of pity in place of valid evidence and sound reasoning. As such, it’s a specific form of the appeal to emotion fallacy.
It’s also called the Galileo argument and argumentum ad misericordiam.
Appeal to pity occurs when a person attempts to gain support for their claim or position by arousing the feeling of pity in their opponent and audience.
In essence, it’s said or implied that something must be true or false because it would be sad if it wasn’t.
An example of appeal to pity would be:
- “This project must be a breakthrough, I worked on it for months on end. Otherwise, I’ll be devastated because all my effort has gone to waste!”
Here, instead of giving valid reasons why the project is likely to succeed, one simply appeals to the fact he or she would be sad if it didn’t happen. In reality, things don’t work this way; the project may still fail no matter how much time and work went into it (even though it could be an indicator of its quality).
As such, this line of reasoning is fallacious, like other emotional appeals, because the way we feel about an argument doesn’t make it any more or any less true; it is the factual evidence supporting it that makes it so.
Here’s a number of examples to further illustrate this logical fallacy:
- “Santa Claus must be real; it would make a lot of kids sad if he wasn’t.”
- “You cannot expel him from the school, no matter what he did; it would break his mother’s heart.”
- “There must be a higher being that created the universe; just think how devastated all the believers would be if it wasn’t true.”
- “You really should give me this job; I have a family to feed!”
- “Teacher, I think I deserve an A for the exam. After all, I studied harder for it than anyone else.”