- Appeal to tradition
Appeal to tradition, also known as proof from tradition, [Catholic Encyclopedia.] appeal to common practice, argumentum ad antiquitatem, false induction, or the "is/ought" fallacy, [Texas University.] is a common
logical fallacyin which a thesis is deemed correct on the basis that it correlates with some past or present tradition. The appeal takes the form of "this is right because we've always done it this way." [Trufant 1917.]
An appeal to tradition essentially makes two assumptions:
* The old way of thinking was proven correct when introduced. In actuality this may be false — the tradition might be entirely based on incorrect grounds.
* The past justifications for the tradition are still valid at present. In cases where circumstances have changed, this assumption may be false.
The opposite of an appeal to tradition is an
appeal to novelty, claiming something is good because it is "new".
* "Our society has always ridden horses. It would be foolish to start driving cars.":: Rebuttal: we want to travel farther and horses are no longer adequate for traveling such great distances. Furthermore, there was a point in our past where our ancestors made the change from walking to riding horses.
* "Your invention is a bad idea because it has no historical precedent.":: Rebuttal: the fact that something has not been previously attempted does not guarantee it will fail. Moreover, there is a first time for everything.
* "These rules were written 100 years ago and we have always followed them. Therefore, there is no need to change them.":: Rebuttal: the society in which the rules were written has changed, and thus those rules may no longer be applicable.
* "Murdering innocents is wrong, because it has been considered so since the dawn of civilization.":: Rebuttal: the correctness of the conclusion is a matter of ethics, not logic, but the reasoning is fallacious. Murdering is considered to be wrong because of the (ethical) reasons given when it was first considered so (reasons which still hold), but not "because" of the tradition condemning it. Had it always been considered correct, we could still use those ethical reasons to start condemning it now.
* There is a well-known story in cooking that shows the folly of appeal to tradition. In this story, there is a woman who, when cooking ham, always begins by cutting off one end of the ham and throwing it away. When this mysterious behavior is questioned by a friend or family member, she admits that she does it only because her mother did it that way. Becoming curious herself, she asks her mother why she cuts the end off the ham; she, in turn, says that it is how "her" mother did it. When the grandmother is questioned, she reveals that she cut the end off the ham only because it wouldn't fit in her pan otherwise. There are several variations to this story.
title = PROOF OF THE DOCTRINE FROM TRADITION
url = http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15047a.htm#III
author = Texas University
title = Is-Ought fallacy
url = http://www.txstate.edu/philosophy/fallacies/isought.htm
work = Fallacies Definitions
publisher = Texas State University Department of Philosophy
title = Argumentation and Debating
first = William
last = Trufant
publisher = Houghton Mifflin company
year = 1917
id = Digitized May 9, 2007
Appeal to novelty
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