Logical Gal and the role of consensus

9 Apr

Does consensus matter?  Does it make something right?

Well, in government, achieving consensus in our legislative bodies is crucial for passing laws.  But just because there is consensus does NOT automatically confer justness on that decision.

Congress voting


This reliance on the weight of consensus can actually be a fallacy.  Often called the Appeal to Common Belief or Argumentum ad Populum  in Latin, it looks like this:

Premise 1 – If everyone believes something is acceptable to do, then it must be right

Premise 2 – Everyone believes doing X is acceptable

Conclusion – Therefore, doing X is right

This line of thinking is as old as the hills.  It has been used to justify majority behavior throughout history:

  • At one time, many American Southerners with economic means owned slaves.
  • At one time, many Germans discriminated against Jews.
  • At one time, many deformed babies were abandoned by the Romans

Noah shares the 10 Cs

Parents are used to being bombarded by their teens with this persuasive, but un-reasonable line of argumentation.  It’s difficult to resist the latest tech gadget or freedom or purchase that your child ‘has to have’!!  But resist you must until you are convinced by good reason to change your mind.  Choose to use this occasion to train your ‘supplicant’ to build a strong case for the change in parental policy.  You will be doing him or her a favor by providing practice in persuasive argumentation.   Your child, once an adult, will have many opportunities to argue for a change.  Relying on a weak and overused fallacy will not help him.

But mom, everyone else does

And being able to spot the Ad Populum Fallacy will keep your children from succumbing to other ‘truth by consensus’ issues.   It seems today, more and more ethical issues and scientific conclusions are decided by consensus rather than by truth and reason.


60 million frenchmen



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 )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: