Appeal to Popular Opinion

Appeal to Popular Opinion

Appeal to Popular Opinion

Appeal to Popular Opinion

Synopsis

Making a case for what many consider a fallacious form of argument.

Arguments from popular opinion have long been regarded with suspicion, and in most logic textbooks the ad populum argument is classified as a fallacy. Douglas Walton now asks whether this negative evaluation is always justified, particularly in a democratic system where decisions are based on majority opinion.

In this insightful book, Walton maintains that there is a genuine type of argumentation based on commonly accepted opinions and presumptions that should represent a standard of rational decision-making on important issues, especially those of a personal and political nature. He shows how to judge arguments based on appeals to popular opinion in a more balanced way, identifying eleven subtypes of the ad populum argument and providing a pragmatic method to evaluate each of these types.

Walton has examined dozens of logic texts and drawn on a wide range of literature to reveal the many uses and misuses of popular opinion. He contrasts the traditional discussion of ad populum in Greek rhetoric with recent textbook treatment, then contrasts these contemporary views with his own dialectical perspective in order to clarify often confused appeals to prejudice and appeals to common knowledge.

Although appeal to popular opinion has long been a powerful argumentative tactic, this is the first book to systematically describe and evaluate it as a well-defined type of argument with its own special characteristics. It enables us to deal with these often deceptive arguments in a critically balanced way and makes an original contribution to an important strand of rhetoric.

Excerpt

The goal of this book is to provide a method of evaluating appeals to popular opinion, appeals of a kind that are commonly used to support or refute arguments on matters that are often extremely important to us. the problem is that while this type of argument, traditionally called the argumentum ad populum (argument to the people) in logic, has been recognized as important by logic textbooks, and is typically introduced as a form of argument to introductory students of logic, no serious attempt has ever been made to study it at any advanced level. the purpose of this book is to fill that gap.

There are two questions about popular opinion that we as human beings are concerned with in our daily lives and personal decisions on how to act and what to accept as true. One is to know what popular opinion is. the other is to know what conclusion to draw from popular opinion, once we know, or think we know, what it is. the first question is taken up in Chapter 1, and the second question will then be addressed in Chapter 2, leading on to a more detailed examination of the argumentum ad populum in subsequent chapters.

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