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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Appeal to Emotion

Updated: Oct 15, 2023

**Graphic descriptions of death contained herein

Logical fallacy

Logical fallacies are common errors in reasoning that will undermine the rationale of an argument. I find it helpful to highlight these flaws so that people can better employ the use of logic and reasoning. With this understanding, rational thinking can occur and individuals may disturb themselves less.

The fallacy highlighted herein relates to an appeal to emotion. Per one source, “An appeal to emotion is an effort to win an argument without facts, logic, or reason, but instead by manipulating the emotions of the audience.”

Have you ever endured the inability to think properly when experiencing strong emotions? Perhaps you’ve been lovesick and unable to concentrate on anything other than the person you desire.

Maybe you’ve been so angry when driving that you weren’t thinking straight. You aren’t alone, because most people I’ve ever met have reported experience with emotional flooding (emotional overwhelm) to the degree whereby they didn’t use logic and reasoning in the moment.

According to Logically Fallacious, the logical form of an appeal to emotion is as follows…

Claim X is made without evidence.

In place of evidence, emotion is used to convince the interlocutor that X is true.

…as the source provides the following example:

There must be objective rights and wrongs in the universe. If not, how can you possibly say that torturing babies for fun could ever be right?

Rather than providing facts, logic, or reasoning, an argument of this sort appeals to one’s emotional nature. At this point, you may say, “Deric, torturing babies for fun really is bad though.” Regarding this retort, a separate source clarifies:

It’s important to note that sometimes a logically coherent argument may inspire emotion or have an emotional aspect, but the problem and fallacy occurs when emotion is used instead of a logical argument, or to obscure the fact that no compelling rational reason exists for one’s position.

While I agree that torturing babies for fun is behavior in which I wouldn’t want to participate, I don’t base my decision not to do so on a mere emotional response. Being able to articulate a well-reasoned argument for why something is good, bad, or otherwise is the key to this lesson.

Logically Fallacious concludes:

The thought of people torturing babies for fun immediately brings up unpleasant images (in sane people). The actual argument (implied) is that there are objective (universal) rights and wrongs (morality). The argument is worded in such a way to connect the argument’s conclusions (that there is objective morality) with the idea that torturing babies for fun is wrong (this is also a non sequitur fallacy). No matter how we personally feel about a horrible act, our feelings are not a valid substitution for an objective reason behind why the act is horrible.

Understanding how an appeal to emotion serves as a logical fallacy is important for comprehension of the remaining portion of this blogpost. Though the subject matter is about to get a bit rough, I encourage you to think about the consequences of appeals to emotion when reading the following.

Headless babies

Days ago, concerning the 2023 Israel-Hamas war, journalist Nicole Zedeck reported, “Babies with their heads cut off, that’s what [the soldiers] said. Gunned down. Families gunned down, completely gunned down in their beds.”

News of the ghastly event traveled around the world. Regarding the matter, Joe Biden stated, “I never really thought that I would see and have confirmed pictures of terrorists beheading children.”

When speculation of Zedeck’s shocking claim was met with skepticism, she apparently doubled down by stating:

I witnessed some of those scenes with my own eyes as we were walking through this community that may be a quarter of a mile from the Gaza border, the atrocities that were still left behind, children, cribs, baby cribs overturned on their side, splattered with blood.

Subsequently, one source affirmed, “The Israeli government has not confirmed the specific claim that Hamas attackers cut off the heads of babies during their shock attack.” Following the affirmation, one source reported, “The White House has walked back President Joe Biden’s claim that he saw pictures of beheaded children following Hamas’s deadly attack on Israel.”

Could Zedeck and Biden simply have been mistaken? Dear reader, when’s the last time you mistook observation of an occurrence—any event will do—as relating to the severed heads of infants?

Since childhood, I’ve personally witnessed many deaths. I’ve seen bodies ripped open and heads separated from torsos due to motor vehicle accidents. As well, I’ve observed other mutilated corpses when in the military.

Once, I even saw the aftermath of fatality accident from a man whose face was cut off. From the Internet, I’ve seen even more death and dying—people who were in the process of expiring. Personally, I don’t recommend that anyone watch cartel videos.

Not once in all my life—not a single time—have I ever seen multiple babies with their heads cut off. This isn’t to suggest that such an occurrence isn’t possible, though to draw upon a healthy amount of skepticism when such claims are used to bolster support for the actual slaughter of children.

Of this, I invite you to consider the report of CNN which claims of the current casualty count in Gaza:

According to the latest reports by local health authorities and media, at least 2,215 Palestinians were reportedly killed, including over 700 children, and more than 8,714 people wounded, including more than 2,450 children.

The current conflict in Gaza isn’t the first time that a false claim based on an appeal to emotion was utilized to justify violence. Perhaps you’re familiar with the story of Nayirah al-Ṣabaḥ’s testimony to the United States Congressional Human Rights Caucus on October 10, 1990.

Nayirah reported of the Iraqi occupation in Kuwait, “While I was there, I saw the Iraqi soldiers coming into the hospital with guns and go into the room where 15 babies were in incubators. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators and left the babies on the cold floor to die.”

Per one source, “Her testimony helped to stir American opinion in favor of participation in the Gulf War.” This is precisely how an appeal to emotion can result in catastrophic consequences.

Trampling the rights of people when using a Helen Lovejoy position, as it relates to a “think of the children” declaration, is little more than an illogical appeal to emotion and serves an egregious offense to human rights. Therefore, I oppose emotional argumentation.


I remain uncertain about the atrocities that have been committed in connection with the Israel-Hamas war. Unfortunately, it appears as though cooler heads haven’t prevailed, because retaliation is underway as I type.

I condemn the attack from Hamas on Israelis which led to Israel’s declaration of war on Hamas. Likewise, I denounce potential war crimes committed by Israel in response to Hamas. I suppose it’s a fitting outcome that neither party to the war asked for my opinion.

At any rate, I value use of facts, logic, and reason to win an argument. This is because use of an appeal to emotion can lead to devastating effects when world powers clash with one another.

On a much smaller scale, I also understand how emotional appeals can be used to justify an individual’s unhealthy behavior. Instead of drowning in fateful emotions, I invite people to swim to the shore and think things through in a rational manner.

Does this sound like a strategy that may benefit you, dear reader? Maybe you reject my position, because you maintain that anyone who argues against payback for the slaughter of innocent Jewish civilians must hate Jews. If so, guess what logical fallacy you’ve just committed.

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW

Photo credit (modified), Hassan Eslaiah/AP, fair use


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