Friday, March 4, 2011

Friday Fallacy-Argumentum ad antiquitatem

In English, that’s the argument from antiquity or tradition.  This one is easy.  Just think back to a time when you asked why something was done in your family or community.  If the person you asked responded with, “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it,” you got smacked with the argument from tradition.  This is what people respond with when they don’t know the reasons or history behind an activity or ritual or whatnot.  Instead of researching and finding out why something is done, people just go with the flow. 

Tradition may not necessarily be a bad thing.  There are lots of community and family traditions that bring people together and provide social value and sometimes entertainment value. 

However, it can become a problem when a tradition becomes outdated, dangerous, or detrimental to the progress of a people.  There are many examples I can think of involving gender roles or the traditional roles of women in our society.  Once upon a time, it was traditional for a woman to stay at home and make babies.  Women were also not expected to be as educated as men.  These are obviously traditions that can infringe on a woman’s ability to live her life the way she sees fit.  Many folks still use these traditions as a means to keep women oppressed or at least to make women feel bad for not following these traditions. 

It can also be a problem when people assume a long-standing tradition when there is none.  The first example that comes to mind is the American Pledge of Allegiance.  Nearly every person I come across assumes the pledge has always been stated as it is now.  However, the original pledge was different and has been altered many times, the most recent alteration occurring in the 1950s. 

Here are a couple lists that include this fallacy:

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