The Fallacy in the Treatment of the Ad Baculum as a Fallacy

Part of the Argumentation Library book series (ARGA, volume 2)


The ad baculum is not a fallacy. Many supposed examples of the ad baculum are not cases of it at all because no arguing is going on. Even when arguing is going on, the ad baculum is objectionable, not because some fallacy in argument has been committed or some procedural rule for discussion has been violated, but because intimidation is used instead of argument to put an end to further discussion. These are some of the points I want to make in this essay.


Informal Logic Prison Guard Operating Assumption Unwarranted Assumption Practical Syllogism 
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  1. 1.
    Other writers, including Jason (1987) and Woods (1995), agree with Wreen in classifying a mugging as ad baculum.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Wreen’s approach is very much like that of his fellow neo-traditionalists, Lambert and Ulrich (1980), whose argument that there is no such thing as an informal fallacy was discussed in the first essay in this book. Like Wreen, they think that the form of a supposed fallacy like the ad baculum is not deductively valid. But, unlike him, they do not consider the possibility that some arguments of the form may be inductively correct, depending on how the details of the argument are filled in.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    This qualification is needed because, for example, the solicitation of a bribe by the prison guard does not seem to be a case of the ad baculum. Wreen disagrees, perhaps because he thinking that the person asking for a bribe is threatening not to do what the other party wants done if the bribe is not paid. But even though the payment of the bribe is a condition of the action being performed, it seems misleading to characterize the prison guard as threatening not to help with the escape. Wreen’s real reason for treating it as a case of the ad baculum is that it has what he has decided is the ad baculum form (where the conclusion appeals to self-interest), and so he would not be much concerned with the difference between an appeal to force (or the use of a threat) and a solicitation of a bribe.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    That it is a mistake to expect informal logic to supply tests of correctness is one of the main contentions of the first essay in this book. See, especially, section two of that essay.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Despite what these quotations might seem to indicate, Wreen is quite sceptical, especially when he is criticizing the dialogical or pragma-dialectical approach, about the value of using the concept of a ‘speech act’, because “nothing close to an adequate definition of a speech act exists” (1994, 301). I have my own doubts about the concept, and I have tried to avoid any reliance upon it in this paper.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Brinton (1992) argues that Wreen has mistakenly supposed that every threat is a speech act, and he supports this diagnosis by citing Wreen’s own example where a dog is wordlessly threatened. As Brinton sees it, the issue raised by Wreen’s discussion is not, as I am supposing, whether the examples really are arguments, but whether it is justifiable to characterize the ad baculum as being essentially of the appeal-to-self-interest argument type. Brinton is bothered by the fact that Wreen’s analysis ends up omitting any reference to what Brinton refers to as the “sleaze factor” (p. 90), i.e., to the element of coercion that Brinton claims is an essential part of the ad baculum.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Wreen (1995) takes exception to Walton’s (1992) claim that a “reminder or threat” is “exactly the means for the lobbyist to fulfill his legitimate goal of the dialogue-namely to get the representative to agree to support the legislation in question” (p. 145). Wreen insists that dialogical aims “do not provide a criterion for and have no bearing” (p. 317) on whether the lobbyist’s argument is non-fallacious. This is because all that matters is whether the premises are true or warranted and whether they provide solid rounds for the acceptance of the conclusion.Google Scholar
  8. According to Woods (1995), the mugger is inviting the victim to engage in reasoning that involves weighing the costs and benefits of complying or refusing with the mugger’s demands: what the gunman proposes is a certain minimax strategy.… The addressee’s options are to hand over his wallet or refuse. The cost of refusal is death, provided that the victim finds the threat credible and performable; and the benefit of refusal is perhaps his hanging on to his money for a bit longer than if he handed it over in a timely way (p. 244).Google Scholar
  9. Deigh (1995) objects to the suggestion that the mugger is inviting the victim to mull things over. Deigh thinks that even if the victim gives an argument to herself when she decides what to do, it is a mistake to suppose that the mugger was giving that argument. Deigh uses an analogy to make this point. If I retreat from my front porch because a Doberman is on the loose there, “I may reason prudentially, (but) the Doberman obviously isn’t making an argument by growling and baring his teeth” (p. 119 ).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of OregonEugeneUSA

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