Appeal to Common Practice

Description:

The Appeal to Common Practice is a fallacy with the following structure:

1) X is a common action.

2) Therefore X is correct/moral/justified/reasonable, etc.

The basic idea behind the fallacy is that the fact that most people do X is used as “evidence” to support the action or practice. It is a fallacy because the mere fact that most people do something does not make it correct, moral, justified, or reasonable.

An appeal to fair play, which might seem to be an appeal to common practice, need not be a fallacy. For example, a woman working in an office might say “the men who do the same job as me get paid more than I do, so it would be right for me to get paid the same as them.” This would not be a fallacy as long as there was no relevant difference between her and the men (in terms of ability, experience, hours worked, etc.). More formally:

1) It is common practice to treat people of type Y in manner X and to treat people of type Z in a different manner.

2) There is no relevant difference between people of type Y and type Z.

3) Therefore people of type Z should be treated in manner X, too.

This argument rests heavily on the principle of relevant difference. On this principle two people, A and B, can only be treated differently if and only if there is a relevant difference between them. For example, it would be fine for me to give a better grade to A than B if A did better work than B. However, it would be wrong of me to give A a better grade than B simply because A has red hair and B has blonde hair.

There might be some cases in which the fact that most people accept X as moral entails that X is moral. For example, one view of morality is that morality is relative to the practices of a culture, time, person, etc. If what is moral is determined by what is commonly practiced, then this argument:

1) Most people do X.

2) Therefore X is morally correct.

would not be a fallacy. This would however entail some odd results. For example, imagine that there are only 100 people on earth. 60 of them do not steal or cheat and 40 do. At this time, stealing and cheating would be wrong. The next day, a natural disaster kills 30 of the 60 people who do not cheat or steal. Now it is morally correct to cheat and steal. Thus, it would be possible to change the moral order of the world to one’s view simply by eliminating those who disagree.

Example #1

Director Jones is in charge of running a state waste management program. When it is found that the program is rife with corruption, Jones says “This program has its problems, but nothing goes on in this program that doesn’t go on in all state programs.”

Example #2

“Yeah, I know some people say that cheating on tests is wrong. But we all know that everyone does it, so it’s okay.”

Example #3

“Sure, some people buy into that equality crap. However, we know that everyone pays women less then men. It’s okay, too. Since everyone does it, it can’t really be wrong.”

Example #4

“There is nothing wrong with requiring multicultural classes, even at the expense of core subjects. After all, all of the universities and colleges are pushing multiculturalism.”

Advertisements
Published in: on March 12, 2008 at 5:57 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://reasonresources.wordpress.com/2008/03/12/appeal-to-common-practice/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

One CommentLeave a comment

  1. […] This, as noted above, assumes that the people are making an informed stupid choice. The ITA seems to be somewhat deceptive in its ad campaign. While it is true that UV radiation does enable the body to create vitamin D, exposure to UV radiation also has serious health risks. To downplay these risks is morally unacceptable and the ITA should be honest about the risks. Natural enough, they can appeal to the fact that almost all advertising campaigns are (by their very nature) acts of deceit, downplaying and so forth. However, the mere fact that everyone does such things hardly makes it right-this is an appeal to common practice. […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: