Argumentum ad baculum (Latin for “argument to the cudgel” or “appeal to the stick”), also known as appeal to force, is an argument where force, coercion, or the threat of force, is given as a justification. It is a specific case of the negative form of anargument to the consequences. For this reason, it is sometimes referred to as the “Might Makes Right” fallacy.

A fallacious argument based on argumentum ad baculum generally proceeds as follows:

  • If x accepts P as true, then Q.
  • x will act to prevent Q.
  • Therefore, P is not true.

This form of argument is an informal fallacy, because the attack Q may not necessarily reveal anything about the truth value of thepremise P. This fallacy has been identified since the Middle Ages by many philosophers. This is a special case of argumentum ad consequentiam, or “appeal to consequences”.

Examples

  • Employee: I do not think the company should invest its money in this project.
  • mployer: That opinion is sufficiently poor that expressing it will get you fired.
  • “If you do not believe in God, you will burn in hell.”

The non-fallacious ad baculum

The fallacy in the argument lies in assuming that the truth value of “x accepts P” is related to the truth value of P itself. Whether x does actually accept P, and whether P is true can not be inferred from the available statements. However, the argument can be changed into a valid modus tollens by changing the conclusion. For example:

  • If Peter does not deny knowing Jesus, he will be arrested by the Romans.
  • Peter does not want to be arrested by Romans.
  • Therefore, Peter denies knowing Jesus.

Note that this argument does not assert or come to any conclusion on whether Peter actually knows Jesus (cf. the fallacious conclusion “Therefore, Peter does not know Jesus”).

This argument is of the form:

  • If x accepts P, then Q
  • x will act to prevent Q
  • Therefore, x will reject P.

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