Appeal to tradition

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Appeal to tradition (also known as argumentum ad antiquitatem,[1] appeal to antiquity, or appeal to common practice) is a common fallacy in which a thesis is deemed correct on the basis that it is correlated with some past or present tradition. The appeal takes the form of "this is right because we've always done it this way."[2]

An appeal to tradition essentially makes two assumptions that are not necessarily true:

  • The old way of thinking was proven correct when introduced, i.e. since the old way of thinking was prevalent, it was necessarily correct.
    • In reality, 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 reality, the circumstances may have changed; this assumption may also therefore be untrue.

The opposite of an appeal to tradition is an appeal to novelty, claiming something is good because it is new.

What it isn't[edit]

Noting that the practice being defended or argued for is traditional, is only a fallacious argument in itself if the argument is not developed further, for example;

  • by pointing out that following the tradition has given much useful evidence as to the consequences of doing so,(for example "people have been washing their hands before meals for over a century, and nobody's died as a result of doing so yet")
  • or by pointing out that the widespread acceptance of the practice means that there would be significant implications/disruption/cost involved in abandoning the tradition (for example, arguing that the 'traditional' QWERTYUIOP keyboard layout should be retained "because it is traditional" would be fallacious unless if the further argument is made that QWERTYUIOP should be retained because, being traditional, it is familiar to most current keyboard users who would need retraining if any change were made).

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

  • Trufant, William (1917). Argumentation and Debating. Houghton Mifflin company. Digitized May 9, 2007.