Argumentation Schemes for Presumptive Reasoning

By Douglas N. Walton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
ARGUMENT FROM CONSEQUENCES

The argumentum ad consequentiam or argument from consequences may be broadly characterized as the argument for accepting the truth (or falsehood) of a proposition by citing the consequences of accepting (or rejecting) that proposition. However, the argumentum ad consequentiam is often more narrowly and negatively conceived as the argument for rejecting a proposition by citing undesirable (bad) consequences that might follow from its acceptance. Here "bad" primarily means undesirable for the proponent of the argument for acceptance of the proposition, although the consequences might be undesirable for others as well.

The argumentum ad consequentiam tends to be classified as a fallacy by those informal logic textbooks that include it.1 However, other writings on argumentation have seen it as a reasonable (nonfallacious) type of argument.2 Still other sources have treated it as sometimes fallacious and sometimes not.

A typical example of the use of the argumentum ad consequentiam is the following case.

Case 6.1: Two politicians are arguing about the issue of whether a woman should have the right to an abortion. The pro-life politician argues against this proposition on the grounds that the fetus has a right to life. The pro-choice politician replies: "If you take that view, you will not be elected."

This reply can be held to be a fallacious argumentum ad consequentiam on the grounds this citing of negative consequences by the second arguer is really irrelevant to the question of whether the first arguer's argument (based on the alleged right to life of the fetus) is any good or not.

If the second politician's reply is interpreted as an argument designed to refute the point of view of the first politician, it does seem to be somehow irrelevant. It also has shades of the argumentum ad baculum (appeal to threat) and the

____________________
1
Argwnenlwn ad consequentiam would seem to be a modern addition to the list of fallacies. I have found no substantial references to this fallacy in historical textbooks or other writings on the fallacies before its mention in twentieth-century sources. Tlle most plausible exception is the account of a fallacy in DeMorgan ( 1847, pp. 276-277)-see later-but the fallacy referred to is a subfallacy as opposed to being the basic fallacy of argumentum ad consequentiam.
2
Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca ( 1971, p. 266).

-168-

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Argumentation Schemes for Presumptive Reasoning
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Lea Titles in Argumentation ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Table of Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Chapter One - Introduction 1
  • Chapter Two - Presumptive Reasoning 17
  • Chapter Three - the Argumentation Schemes 46
  • Chapter Four - Argument from Ignorance 111
  • Concluding Remarks 131
  • Chapter Five - Ignoring Qualifications 133
  • Chapter Six - Argument from Consequences 168
  • Author Index 212
  • Subject Index 214
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