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The Appeal to Ignorance is a logical fallacy that occurs when an individual asserts that…
(1) something is true because there is a lack of evidence to suggest that it is false. Or, that (2) something is false because there is a lack of evidence to suggest that it is true.
In Latin, the term Appeal to Ignorance translates to Argumentum Ad Ignorantiam. The fallacy was first coined in the 17th century by the English philosopher and physician John Locke.
A real life example: “Ghosts exist all right. Researchers have spent years trying to disprove their existence, they’ve failed every time.”
In this example, the arguer assumes the existence of Ghosts because of the lack of evidence to suggest that they don’t, making their argument fallacious.
Arguments which commit the appeal to ignorance fallacy have the following structure:
X is true because nobody has proven not X.
Or, X is false, because nobody has proven X.
Appeal to Ignorance Fallacy Examples in Real Life
- “I should start looking for another job. They didn’t call me.”
- “You seem to be a skeptic about the idea of Extra Sensory Perception (ESP). Can you prove that it’s not real?”
- “I don’t recall her saying anything that might indicate that she doesn’t like you. She may be interested. Call her!”
- “I think the employees favor my style of management. After all, in more than a decade managing this branch, I’ve never heard a single complaint.”
In his book ‘How to Win Every Argument,’ Madsen Pirie writes:
“The ad ignorantiam forms the semblance of a cloak to cover the otherwise naked beliefs of those who are predisposed to give credence to extraordinary things. Under its comforting warmth shelters a widespread popular belief in telepathy, poltergeists, demonic possession, magic pyramids, Bermuda triangles and the innocence of tobacco.”
Appeal to Ignorance Fallacy in Politics:
Here are a few more examples of appeals to ignorance in the political scenario:
- “After all the controversy, the senator has still refused to comment against the bill regarding abortion. Clearly, he is pro-choice.”
- “Politician X won the majority of the votes because the elections were rigged. Can you prove otherwise?”
Note that arguing from ignorance is fundamental to the judicial system. In the courtroom, it is the prosecutor’s task to convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. If they fail, the individual remains innocent since no evidence has been provided to suggest that he is not innocent (guilty). Therefore, in this instance, it is not fallacious.
People tend to make outrageous claims and get away with it all the time, their justification being the lack of evidence of the contrary. The next time someone argues along the lines of “I am right because you can’t prove me wrong,” and with some critical thinking on your part, you’ll be able to spot this error in reasoning and enlighten them.