Argumentum ad Populum

just cos t's popular don't make it right

Logic is the study of reasoning, whether it is good reasoning or bad. There is a fallacious argument that goes “If many believe it, it must be so”, or argumentum ad populum. Much that it is tempting to go along with prevailing belief, what the masses agree with, if you do not ‘think different’ (to borrow from Apple) then how are new things going to happen?

Groupthink or bandwagon thinking can be lazy and dangerous. Sometimes the majority can be right, but sometimes they can be wrong. Just because more people believe it, does not make it so.

So why do we (as a rule) prefer to go along with the crowd?

– Easier to agree/go with the crowd, and fit in (we hate not fitting in = where bullying starts)
– People are lazy (I love people, but as a rule we do tend to go for the easier option)
– Harder to go it alone
– “Everyone’s doing it” (akin to playground excuse “he/she started it”, “officer – everyone was going at this speed”) = juvenile argument.
– Advertisers love to prey on you using this argument (“everyone’s using it … aren’t you?”)
– Mob mentality; you are forced to vote with the crowd, as putting your hand up against the majority could lead to repercussions
– Read the bestseller – so many have endorsed it already.

The Chinese call it “Three men make a tiger”. The old story goes that even a Chinese King will accept anything if repeated by enough people. So if one person reports a tiger is running around the market he doesn’t believe, if second reports it then he may ponder, if a third reports it, then the King believes it.

The argument is non fallacious when it is solid in all cases, becomes conventional truth, based on evidence and fact… but just because most say it is so, don’t just plainly believe it. We once thought the world was flat, that the Earth was the centre of the universe and that running the four minute mile was impossible.


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