What happens when we confuse cause and effect? What mistakes do we make in thinking backwards from effects to causes, based on little more than our preference or distaste for the perceived outcome or desired conclusion?
Here, we discuss the Argument from Final Consequences, a form of emotional appeal. It's a form of argument from intent, from a perceived goal, or outcome. Here, the central claim of the argument is based entirely on the desirability of that outcome, effect or purpose of that central claim.
This is fallacious when making factual statements, for it assumes that the desirability of the outcome makes the statement true, or lack of appeal makes it false, when the truth of a claim has little at all to do with the effects it has or how much we may like or dislike them.
Typically, arguments of this sort are inherently subjective in view, as they classify outcomes by personal value judgments—as wanted or unwanted—not on any prior fact, reason, evidence or other form of good grounding.
This fallacy differs from other appeals to emotion in that it makes a claim to a statement’s degree of truth depend on whether it is right or wrong, good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant. There are, of course, variations, including those on the following list, which is necessarily incomplete:
Appeal to Fear, such as the case of clergymen who demand that their congregations keep the faith or be damned.
Appeal to Ridicule, shading into the variant of an argument from incredulity. This could be a situation where one is told to accept what is claimed or be mocked or the claim itself is mocked.
Appeal to Flattery, as when a psychic tells her mark that she senses ‘psychic potential’ in her in order to further gain her confidence, as with any con game.
Appeal to Force, in the case of being told to accept something as true (or false) or face the threat of physical or legal consequences.
Appeal to Conspiracy, in which the truth of a conspiracy is claimed because the of alleged consequences of the truth being discovered by anyone not part the alleged conspiracy.
Appeal to Pride, as with claims that something is true (or false) because accepting it entails the consequences on one’s honor, reputation, or otherwise results in gaining or losing face.
Appeal to Motive, in which something is claimed to be so because the ones alleged to be responsible for it have or had something to gain from it.
Appeal to Hatred, in which something is claimed to be true because those it relates to are objects of hatred and bigotry.
Appeal to Pity, in which something is claimed to be false (or true) based on an appeal to one’s compassion or generosity toward the subject of the claim.
Appeal to Envy, in which something is claimed to be so, or not, because it involves something coveted.
Wishful Thinking, in which something is said to be true (or false) merely because one magically wishes it so.
Below is the general form of the argument:
If X, then Y will happen.
Y is desired (or undesirable).
So X is true (or false).
A few examples follow:
Humans will create an intergalactic empire because we need to have one in order to prosper.
Cthulhu must exist, or there would be no one to devour the world when the stars are right once again.
For evolution to be true, humans would have to be mere amoral beasts, meat robots without guidance or purpose, so evolution must be false.
There are a couple of subtly similar sorts of argument which are nonetheless valid:
- When claims of factual truth are not involved in the argument made, such as arguments of policy or involving actions to undertake.
- In the arguments involved with certain philosophical moral theories, such as Consequentialist Ethics, and when one is not implying that a consequence (Y) is undesirable but that it is merely false:
If X is true then Y is true.
Y is evidently not true.
So X is false.That last example is valid according to the form of Modus Tollens, or mode which denies, the negative form of the conditional argument Modus Ponens.
This can be a subtle error in reasoning to pick out and identify, but once figured out, is pretty apparent. Most of all, be careful of such fallacies in your own argumentation, for its subtlety can making it easy to commit without notice at first.