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Appeal to tradition, also known as proof from tradition,[1] appeal to common practice, argumentum ad antiquitatem, false induction, or the "is/ought" fallacy,[2] is a common logical fallacy in which a thesis is deemed correct on the basis that it correlates with some past or present tradition. The appeal takes the form of "this is right because we've always done it this way."[3]

An appeal to tradition essentially makes two assumptions:

  • The old way of thinking was proven correct when introduced. In actuality 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 cases where circumstances have changed, this assumption may be false.

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

Contents

Examples

  • "Interracial couples have not traditionally existed. Hence, it is right for the state to ban interracial marriage."
Rebuttal: Circular; they have not traditionally existed because they were banned so they are banned because they have not existed.
  • "Your marriage is a bad idea because gay marriage has no historical precedent."
Rebuttal: While there is no American historical precedent, the Roman Empire ordained gay marriages as do many modern nations.
  • "These rules were written 100 years ago and we have always followed them. Therefore, there is no need to change them."
Rebuttal: the society in which the rules were written has changed, and thus those rules may no longer be applicable.
  • "Murdering innocents is wrong, because it has been considered so since the dawn of civilization."
Rebuttal: Had it always been considered correct, we could still use ethical reasons to start condemning it now.
  • "Men should always pay for dates, because men have always paid for dates."
Rebuttal: Until recently, men were the only sex that could earn substantial income and wealth. Consequently, they were the only sex that had the ability to pay for dates, and it became customary to do so. This however, is no longer the case. The financial disparity that once existed between the two sexes to justify such a tradition no longer exists today. Thus, this custom may no longer be applicable; and may be quite abusive given the current circumstances.
  • "Women should stay at home, because women have always stayed at home."
Rebuttal: Women stayed at home because of very limited alternative functions in society due to gender based education. However, this is no longer the case today. Therefore, it would be incorrect to derive the same conclusion based on history when the current circumstances are indeed different. Under modern economic conditions, a family might actually receive greater benefit from an additional household income than someone who simply stays home.

Exceptions

In some contexts, particularly in various religions such as Judaism, Hinduism or Catholicism among many others, a belief in the importance of tradition is axiomatic and thus in discussions internal to those beliefs, an appeal to tradition is not fallacious[citation needed].

See also

Notes

References

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