Believe What I Say or Else! – Argumentum ad Baculum

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In a scenario played out thousands of times daily all over the world, a restless two year old eyes the toy of bigger child and goes to investigate. I want to play with that,” he announces. “No!,” he is told, in no uncertain terms. “It’s my toy.” The toy possessor may even advance an argument for why he alone should be able to play with it: “My Mommy and Daddy gave it to me for my birthday and I want to play with it.” The coveting child then thinks of a rebutting argument–a reason for the other child to give up the toy: “If you let me play with it, I’ll invite you to my birthday party.” Again the answer is “No, it’s MY TOY!” Having run out of arguments or valuables to offer in exchange, the covetous child gives up and leaves. In this schoolyard interaction lies an essential truth: In the absence of reason and truth, brute power will predominate.

The two boys who went on a killing spree at Columbine High School ran out of arguments for their superiority over Christians, athletes, blacks, etc., and got the attention they wanted by brute force. Every day, criminals of all sorts run out of reasons for competing within the rule of law and decide to take what they want by force, threat or intimidation.

It turns out that this phenomenon has a long and storied history, and has a Latin name: the Ad Baculum fallacy of logic. Baculum is Latin for “force,” and Argumentum ad Baculum is the Latin name for an argument made by the appeal to force rather than appealing to reason or evidence.

This fallacy is usually committed by those who have failed to persuade others by any other means and who finally resort to force or the threat of force to cause acceptance of their position. This is aptly put by the old saying, “might is right,” instead of “right is right,” as determined by an objective standard of morality.