ESGS Logical Fallacies

Appeal to Pity


Also called appeal to Misery, Special Pleading, Ad Misericordiam.

An Appeal to Pity is a fallacy in which a person substitutes a claim intended to create pity for evidence in an argument. The form of the "argument" is as follows:


This line of "reasoning" is fallacious because pity does not serve as evidence for a claim.

This fallacy differs from the Appeal to Consequences. In this fallacy, a person is using the effects of a belief as a substitute for evidence. In the appeal to Pity, it is the feelings of pity or sympathy that are substituted for evidence.

It must be noted that there are cases in which claims that actually serve as evidence also evoke a feeling of pity. In such cases, the feeling of pity is still not evidence.


"You must accept that 1+1=46, after all I'm dying..."
While you may pity me because I am dying, it would hardly make my claim true.

"I did not murder my mother and father with an axe! Please don't find me guilty; I'm suffering enough through being an orphan."

Jill: "He'd be a terrible coach for the team."
Bill: "He had his heart set on the job, and it would break if he didn't get it."
Jill: "I guess he'll do an adequate job."

"I'm positive that my work will meet your requirements. I really need the job since my grandmother is sick"

"I should receive an 'A' in this class. After all, if I don't get an 'A' I won't get the fellowship that I want."

How can you say that's out? It was so close, and besides, I'm down ten games to two.

We hope you'll accept our recommendations. We spent the last three months working extra time on it.


Professor: "You missed the midterm, Bill."
Bill: "I know. I think you should let me take the makeup."
Professor: "Why?"
Bill: "I was hit by a truck on the way to the midterm. Since I had to go to the emergency room with a broken leg, I think I am entitled to a makeup."
Professor: "I'm sorry about the leg, Bill. Of course you can make it up."
While the professor does feel sorry for Bill, she is justified in accepting Bill's claim that he deserves a makeup. After all getting run over by a truck would be a legitimate excuse for missing a test.


An appeal to pity is a poor argument but it works well in politics, where 'victims' gain favorable bias.

Identify the proposition and the appeal to pity and argue that the pitiful state of the arguer has nothing to do with the truth of the proposition.

© ESGS, 2002.