Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you were forced to do something just because someone in authority told you to? This is a classic example of the Ad Baculum fallacy.
Also referred to as Appeal to Force, Ad Baculum fallacy is a common logical fallacy that occurs when someone uses threats or coercion to persuade others to accept their argument. This fallacy is often used to manipulate others, suppress dissent, or intimidate people into accepting an idea without critically examining it.
The Ad Baculum fallacy is often seen in political speeches, advertising, debates, and discussions. It is a tactic used by people who feel that their argument is weak and cannot stand on its own merits. Instead of using rational arguments and evidence, they resort to intimidation or force to assert their point.
For example, a politician might use the Ad Baculum fallacy by threatening to cut funding for a program if people do not support their position. An advertisement might use the Ad Baculum fallacy by implying that bad things will happen if people do not buy their product. In both cases, the argument relies on fear and intimidation rather than facts and reason.
It’s important to note that the Ad Baculum fallacy is unethical and ineffective. While it may sometimes work, it often leads to resentment and resistance rather than acceptance. People are more likely to be persuaded by rational arguments and evidence than by fear and intimidation. Therefore, to make a convincing argument, it’s essential to focus on presenting logical reasoning and supporting evidence.
Moreover, recognizing the Ad Baculum fallacy is not enough; one must also avoid using it themselves. In debates or discussions, resorting to threats or force only weakens one’s position and credibility. Instead, one should strive to present their argument clearly and concisely and address any opposing viewpoints with respect and reason.
It is important to recognize when someone is trying to intimidate or threaten you into accepting their argument. If you feel like you are being pressured in this way, take a step back and evaluate the argument based on its merits. Consider the evidence and logic presented, and ask yourself if the argument makes sense.
To better understand the Ad Baculum fallacy, let’s look at some examples of arguments some people use to have their way.
Real-Life Examples of Ad Baculum Fallacy in Argumentation
1. Relationship Ultimatum
Scenario: A spouse threatens to divorce if their partner disagrees with their life choices.
This is possibly one of the most commonly used arguments in the ad Baculum fallacy. It is usually followed by statements such as, “If you love me, you will accept me for who I am.” The threat results in the blackmailed party giving way to the one giving an ultimatum. The fallacy goes both ways; both men and women use it.
2. Online Bullying
Scenario: Someone threatens to release a person’s private information if he/she doesn’t comply with their demands.
This is a scenario most exploited by cyberbullies who gather intimate information on an individual and use it to have their way. White-collar thieves could hack the account of a bank manager, collect sensitive information, and use that to blackmail him into allowing them access to the bank’s floor plans and access codes. In cases where the information held on one’s head is too sensitive, the victim is left with no choice but to follow all the orders he receives.
3. Peer Intimidation
Scenario：A group of friends pressure an individual to join their club, or they will have him excluded from all social events.
Peer pressure is the most common form of intimidation among people of the same age group. The desire to be accepted by one’s peers can cause a person to make compromises that have a negative impact on them. In this case, the individual is forced to disregard his own preferences, interests, and morals or else be cast out among his peers.
4. Parental Threat
Scenario：A parent tells their child to believe what they say about a particular matter, or they’ll be grounded.
We have all found ourselves in this situation. Parents habitually force their way on their children, followed by mild to severe punishment for those who do not comply. While the threats may prove effective at first, eventually, the kids become hardheads and grow numb to whatever punishment may befall them due to their disobedience.
5. Religious Coercion
Scenario：A religious leader threatens eternal damnation for those who do not follow their teachings.
This is a classic example of the Ad Baculum fallacy used in religious contexts. Religious leaders may use threats of eternal punishment or damnation to coerce people into following their teachings or beliefs. This kind of coercion is unethical and goes against the principles of free will and personal autonomy. The result is many end up leaving that religion, and others only stay because they don’t want to suffer forever in eternal hellfire.
6. Media Manipulation
Scenario：A media outlet threatens legal action against anyone who publishes negative stories about them.
Media outlets may use threats of legal action or lawsuits to silence critics or competitors who publish negative stories about them. This kind of behavior goes against the principles of free speech and transparency. Still, an individual or a small media company might back off from fighting for their rights due to limited resources and fear of defamation.
7. Medical Coercion
Scenario：A doctor intimidates patients into getting treatments they don’t want by threatening severe consequences like death
This scenario mainly applies to those whose conscience does not allow them to get blood transfusions. In most cases, doctors try to persuade a patient to accept transfusion after all family members and friends have left, thinking that the patient’s decision is based on other’s opinions. Doctors sometimes resort to using scare tactics like threatening patients with death if they don’t take specific treatments that they recommend despite being aware that there could be other alternative treatments available that might suit them better.
8. Educational Intimidation
Scenario：An educator threatens failing grades for students who do not conform to their teaching style or beliefs.
Educators may use threats of failing grades or academic punishment for students who do not conform to their teaching style or beliefs on certain issues like politics, religion, etc., which goes against academic freedom principles that encourage open-mindedness among learners. For example, some Catholic-sponsored schools expect all students to abide by the teachings of the Catholic Church and partake in all the Masses and other religious practices. Those who do not adhere to these rules risk being punished, suspended, or expelled.
9. Workplace Coercion
Scenario：An employer threatens to fire an employee if they do not work overtime without pay.
This is a common scenario in many workplaces, where employees are forced to work longer hours without any compensation. The employer may use threats of job loss or demotion to coerce the employee into working overtime. This is a clear example of the Ad Baculum fallacy, where the employer is using fear and intimidation to get what they want.
10. Corporate Bullying
Scenario：A large corporation uses its financial power to intimidate smaller businesses into accepting unfavorable terms in contracts.
Large corporations may use their financial power to bully smaller businesses into accepting unfavorable terms in contracts, such as low prices for products or services rendered. Unable to lawyer up and lacking enough resources to make a case and file a lawsuit, such small businesses are forced to sign the contracts in fear of suffering total losses.
11. Police Intimidation
Scenario：A police officer uses excessive force to subdue an unarmed suspect or threatens physical harm or arrest if someone does not comply with their orders.
This scenario often occurs during protests or demonstrations when police officers use excessive force or threats of violence to disperse crowds. This kind of behavior violates the principles of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.
Police brutality is nothing new to all of us. Over the years, there have been countless cases of police abusing power by being violent while making their arrests. While they might not exactly use verbal threats, the fact that they have weapons such as a gun by itself is enough to instill fear in their victims. In fear of being assaulted, arrested, or implicated by a police officer, one might opt to tolerate wrongful treatment.
12. Military Coercion
Scenario：A military commander threatens disciplinary action or punishment for soldiers who refuse orders.
Military commanders may use threats of disciplinary action or punishment to coerce soldiers into following orders, even if they go against their conscience or moral values. The discipline may involve extreme training exercises, physical abuse, or being reassigned to territories with extremists.
13. Government Intimidation
Scenario：A government official threatens to arrest or harm citizens who protest against their policies.
In some countries, government officials use threats of violence and imprisonment to suppress dissent and criticism. This is a clear violation of human rights and democratic principles. The Ad Baculum fallacy is used here as a tool of oppression, where those in power use fear and intimidation to maintain control over their citizens. A classic example is the Nazi era during the reign of Adolf Hitler. This German dictator sent people to concentrated camps simply for not making the Nazi salute.
The Ad Baculum fallacy is a common logical fallacy that manipulates and intimidates people into accepting an argument. It is a powerful and dangerous tactic that can be used to silence opposition and enforce conformity. In this post, we have only covered a few examples of the Ad Baculum fallacy. By recognizing this fallacy and evaluating arguments based on evidence and logic, you can avoid being influenced by fear and intimidation.