Appeal to tradition

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Appeal to tradition is the fallacy that something is good or correct because it is old.

"Such ancient babbling still passes for "wisdom"; because it is old, however, and smells musty, therefore is it the more honoured. Even mould ennobles."

Friedrich Nietzsche



  • Many people attend the church their parents attended, perhaps carrying through several generations, and when asked to defend their beliefs use the fact that it is a family tradition to argue its validity. "I believe it because my parents believed it."
  • Those opposed to gay marriage often argue that since marriage was originally a bond between a man and a woman exclusively, it should now be defined in law to require a similar heterosexual relationship.
  • Some people believe the United States electoral system should be changed to reflect current social standards, while others (making an appeal to tradition) say it should be kept as-is. "It has worked for over 200 years, so we shouldn't change it."
  • "There was nothing written before the Old Testament" [1]


The mere fact that something is old does not mean that it is good: throughout most of human history, people have kept slaves, but slavery is now universally recognized as being evil. On the other hand, people have lived in houses for thousands of years as well, but that does not mean that we should stop building houses: old ideas can be good as well.

Changing conditions

Sometimes, conditions change so that the reasons that originally supported an idea no longer hold. For instance, in the 17th century when the US constitution was ratified, travel was difficult and news traveled slowly, so it made sense for voters to elect a representative who would travel to the capital, learn about the presidential candidates, and vote on behalf of the people in his state. With the advent of mass media, however, individual voters can easily learn about the candidates, so this particular justification for the electoral college no longer holds.

See also


  1. Atheist Experience #600

v · d Logical fallacies
v · d Formal fallacies
Propositional logic   Affirming a disjunct · Affirming the consequent · Argument from fallacy · False dilemma · Denying the antecedent
Quantificational logic   Existential fallacy · Illicit conversion · Proof by example · Quantifier shift
Syllogistic   Affirmative conclusion from a negative premise · Exclusive premises · Necessity · Four-term fallacy · Illicit major · Illicit minor · Undistributed middle

v · d Faulty generalisations
General   Begging the question · Gambler's fallacy · Slippery slope · Equivocation · argumentum verbosium
Distribution fallacies   Fallacy of composition · Fallacy of division
Data mining   Cherry picking · Accident fallacy · Spotlight fallacy · Hasty generalization · Special pleading
Causation fallacies   Post hoc ergo propter hoc · Retrospective determinism · Suppressed correlative · Wrong direction
Ontological fallacies   Fallacy of reification · Pathetic fallacy · Loki's Wager
v · d False relevance
Appeals   Appeal to authority · Appeal to consequences · Appeal to emotion · Appeal to motive · Appeal to novelty · Appeal to tradition · Appeal to pity · Appeal to popularity · Appeal to poverty · Appeal to spite · Appeal to wealth · Sentimental fallacy · Argumentum ad baculum
Ad hominem   Ad hominem abusive · Reductio ad Hitlerum · Judgmental language · Straw man · Tu quoque · Poisoning the well
Genetic Fallacies   Genetic fallacy · Association fallacy · Appeal to tradition · Texas sharpshooter fallacy
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