Appeal to Force (Ad Baculum)


The argument is actually an explicit or veiled threat. In effect the arguer says, "Accept this position, or I'll punish you."



The phrase "ad baculum" is a Latin phrase meaning "(appeal) to the stick." A baculum or baculus (both forms were used) was a walking-stick or cane. Naturally, such sticks were sometimes used to give a miscreant a good drubbing.

Appeal to Force is sometimes confused with Appeal to Fear. The distinction is this: Appeal to Force is a threat. The speaker will personally do something to punish the listener. Appeal to Fear is only a warning. The speaker is foretelling that something bad will happen to the listener, but is not threatening to be the cause of that harm.



"It's bedtime. Give me any sass about it, and you'll get a spanking!"


The Grand Inquisitor might be very interested in your views denying the dual nature of Christ."


"I'd like to punch him in the face." - Donald Trump (Feb. 2016, at a campaign rally, remarks directed at a protester who was being escorted out of the rally.)



Of all the fallacies, the Ad Baculum fallacy may be the most difficult to reconcile with some form of legitimate reasoning. The Ad Baculum fallacy does not so much imitate good reasoning as announce that every effort at reasoning has come to an end. Now violence will be used instead. Persuasion is not the point, only compliance. For this reason I have doubts that Ad Baculum should be considered a "fallacy" at all.

However, while it is hard to imagine that anyone could actually be persuaded by an Ad Baculum argument, the Ad Baculum argument may be able to create the illusion that someone has been persuaded. If I can get my opponent to shut up, then he is at least no longer arguing with me. This may create the false impression that I have won.

More seriously, a well-regulated society does need to have the power to enforce its laws, even on people who do not accept those laws. On matters of behavior, we cannot always take the time to reason with people. A thief must be stopped, whether he agrees with our moral views on thievery or not. In making an arrest, it is not the job of the police to argue over whether or not a crime has been committed. That is the job (eventually) of a judge and jury. The appropriate authority simply makes a pronouncement, and the discussion is over (for now).

The Ad Baculum fallacy may mimic those situations in which a legitimate governing authority simply declares the discussion to be at an end in order to preserve order.  However, the Ad Baculum fallacy only mimics this situation. Generally, it is guilty of at least one significant error. While one can enforce behavior, one cannot enforce opinions. Compliance does not entail assent. The fallacy may be guilty of a second error as well: in a discussion aimed at arriving at the truth on some question, neither party to the discussion counts as a "legitimate governing authority" over the other, so neither has the right to decide the outcome of the discussion through force.


Source: This fallacy first appears in Antoine Arnauld and Pierre Nicole, L'Art de Penser (The Art of Thinking), 1662, which is better known as the Port-Royal Logic.


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