Appeal to Pity Fallacy

Definition of the Appeal to Pity Fallacy

An appeal to pity fallacy happens when someone wants to convince another person of something, not by giving strong reasons, but by making them feel sad or sorry. Imagine a friend who, instead of explaining why they deserve a bigger slice of cake, tells you a story about how they had a bad day. They’re trying to win your support with sadness instead of logic.

Another way to explain it is by comparing it to a case in a courtroom. If a lawyer doesn’t have enough evidence to prove their case, they might try to get the jury to feel pity for their client. They might say, “My client has been through so much already. Can we really add to their suffering?” Notice how they’re not arguing about the law or the facts – they’re playing on the jury’s emotions.

Tracing its roots to the past, this fallacy isn’t new. For example, Galileo’s struggle is often cited to invoke pity. But saying “poor Galileo” doesn’t actually tell us if his scientific claims were correct. It’s essential to remember that decision-making should usually rely on evidence and reason, not on how much we feel for someone’s situation.

Examples of the Appeal to Pity Fallacy

  • Example in School: Picture a student who didn’t study and did poorly on a test. They tell their teacher, “My dog was sick, and I couldn’t focus on studying.” This story might be true and sad, but it doesn’t change the answers on the test. The fallacy here is that the student hopes the teacher will give a better grade out of pity, but grades are meant to reflect knowledge, not personal circumstances.
  • Example in Work: Imagine a scenario where an employee is often late and doesn’t do their job well. They explain to their boss, “I’m late because I have to drop my kids at school.” The employee hopes their personal challenges will prevent them from getting in trouble. The fallacy exists in the attempt to use the difficult situation to outweigh the responsibilities of the job, which it shouldn’t.

How to Avoid an Appeal to Pity Fallacy

It’s natural to feel sorry for others, but we should be cautious not to let these feelings cloud our judgment. When faced with an argument or decision, it’s a good practice to pause and reflect on your thought process. Are you focusing on the actual facts, or are feelings of pity influencing you? By consciously separating your emotions from the issue, you can make more rational and fair judgments.

Related Topics with Explanations

  • Argumentum ad Hominem: This occurs when someone tries to win an argument by criticizing the person they’re debating with, not the idea itself. For instance, “You can’t be right because you’ve never been to college.” Instead of tackling the argument, they dismiss the other person’s credibility.
  • Appeal to Fear Fallacy: This type of argument uses threats or fear to persuade someone, bypassing logical reasoning. For instance, “If you don’t vote for this candidate, terrible things will happen to our country.” The fear of something bad happening is used to manipulate the listener into agreement.
  • Bandwagon Fallacy: This happens when someone suggests you should do something just because many people do it. Like, “You should watch this show because it’s the most popular one right now!” Popularity doesn’t always equal quality or the right choice for everyone.


Wrapping it all up, the appeal to pity fallacy is an emotional shortcut people sometimes use in arguments, hoping that feelings of sympathy will help them win over logic and facts. We’ve learned that this fallacy has historical roots, as with the story of Galileo, and while pity is a natural human emotion, it should not be the basis for most decisions. It’s crucial to recognize examples of this fallacy in everyday situations, like at school or work, and understand why they distract from the main points. To avoid falling into this trap, focus on facts and evidence when making decisions or engaging in debates. Additionally, we’ve explored related fallacies, including attacks on an individual’s character (ad hominem), the misuse of fear (appeal to fear), and the argument that we should follow the crowd (bandwagon). A strong argument should always stand firm on the ground of truth and reason, not on the swaying emotions of pity.