Appeal to tradition is a common logical fallacy based on the assumption that a traditional practice must be good or better than its newer alternative.
It is often characterized by phrases such as “we have always done it this way” and occurs especially frequently in discussions about political and religious issues.
In this article, we’ll explain in detail how this fallacy works and why it rests on erroneous reasoning, as well as show a variety of examples.
What Is an Appeal to Tradition?
The appeal to tradition fallacy occurs when someone claims that a particular action or belief must be good or true because it is traditional.
In other words, it is based on the false assumption that if something has been done a certain way for a long time (that is, traditionally), it is necessarily the right way of doing it.
As John Locke, a well-known English philosopher, pointed out:
New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not already common.
As such, this type of argument takes the following logical form:
- X has been done for a long time.
- Therefore, X is right or good.
For example, an appeal to tradition would be to assert that: “in our family, we’ve always been smokers, therefore I must smoke too”.
This, like many other logical fallacies, is known by a variety of different names. These names include:
- Argumentum ad antiquitatem
- Appeal to antiquity
- Appeal to common practice
- Appeal to age
- Appeal to past practice
- Appeal to traditional wisdom
- Traditional wisdom
Why It’s Fallacious
This line of reasoning is fallacious because it’s based on historical preferences, instead of factual evidence; the only evidence it presents is simply the fact that something is or has been a common practice. However, in reality, this alone does not provide enough evidence for the claim.
Furthermore, if appealing to past practices was considered reasonable, it could be used to justify any discriminative or incorrect belief that has been long-held.
👉 For Example
- “Gays have never had the legal right to marry, therefore, it must be wrong, and we shouldn’t be legalizing gay marriages now.”
- “The idea that the earth is flat is much older than the idea of a round earth, so we should bring it back.”
- “Our family has a long tradition of male family members becoming lawyers; my great-grandfather, grandfather, and father were all lawyers. Thus, It’s the right and only option for me to become a lawyer too.”
- “People have believed in God for thousands of years, so it seems obvious to me that God exists.”
- “This medicine has been used by people since ancient history, therefore, it must be an effective way to treat diseases.”
- Country Time Lemonade slogan: “Just like grandma used to make.”
Appeal to Novelty
The opposite of the previously explained fallacy is one called appeal to novelty. It occurs when someone asserts that something must be true or good because it’s new.
For example, if someone says that a certain product must be better than its old version solely on the basis that it is newer, they are guilty of committing an appeal to novelty.
Appeal to Nature
Appeal to nature is a fallacy in which one assumes that since something is “natural,” it must be good, or conversely, if something is “unnatural,” it must be bad.
These types of claims are frequently used in alternative medicine; someone may insist that a particular herbal medicine must be a better or healthier option for treatment than a “synthetic” medicine simply due to its virtue of being natural.