Thursday, July 09, 2009

Do child sponsorship appeals commit the fallacy of the appeal to pity?

You can actually overdo it by identifying things that look like fallacies but really aren't fallacies.

Let's take the appeal to pity, for example, and take those shows that they have on late night television of starving kids who need a sponsor through the Christian Children's Fund. Because it is never pretended that this children merit assistance, but only that the need assistance, there is no appeal to pity. In order to appeal to pity to be a fallacy, there has to be a question of merit that is initially presented, and then resolved by an appeal to pity.

One of my favorite things in the movie About Schmidt was Jack Nicholson's letters to his sponsored child, Ndugu.


Gregory said...

I don't think so. An argument from pity is, under the more general category of logical fallacies, a fallacy of irrelevance....if I remember right. It's considered a fallacy in argumentation, precisely, because it has no direct inferential bearing on the claim. Take this classic example, with my own zany interpolation:

All men are mortal.

Socrates was unfairly treated by the Greek State. Did you know that it was because he merely spoke his mind? They even gave him an unfair trial!! Poor old Socrates. And here we are today with his legacy of discursive reasoning. Where would we be, as critical thinkers, without him?

Therefore, you should believe that Socrates is mortal.

But in the case of charities---most of them, anyhow---they are employing relevant information and circumstances to their case....which isn't, strictly speaking, an attempt at logical argumentation, anyway. Instead, child sponsorship appeals are merely intended to be emotional appeals to the human philanthropic instinct towards donating money to such-and-such organization, which, in turn, is trying to help out such-and-such sorts of people or things. In other words, it's an appropriate appeal to pity because the circumstances are relevant to that appeal.

Now, if the child sponsorship commercial tried to argue the point that you can trust them with your money because of "all the people we've helped out", then they have committed an egregious "fallacy": namely, "begging the question"

In that case, the charity has used poor logic to persuade it's audience to give. I hope that I don't need to remind anybody that the slightest appearance of dishonesty from a "charity" means thoughtful reconsideration of donating to different one.

PersonalFailure said...

I'd be okay with it even if it is a logical fallacy. Starving kids need food. If you have to really sell the pathos to get the food, do it.