Appeal to tradition
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Appeal to tradition (also known as: proof from tradition, appeal to common practice, argumentum ad antiquitatem, a kind of false induction) is a common logical fallacy that occurs when it is assumed that something is better or correct simply because it is older, traditional, or “always has been done.”
This sort of reasoning has the following form:
- P has always been done. Therefore P is right.
People often prefer to stick with things that they are familiar with, things they have grown up with, or things that society says "we have always done".
Individuals may believe that "time tested" means "factual" and that "better people than I" were the ones who originally decided a thing, and "if it were wrong, it would have been challenged by now". Tradition is often linked quite closely with "authority".
The opposite of an appeal to tradition is an appeal to novelty, claiming something is good because it is new.
- Alternative medicine uses this extensively - a common argument in favor of a practice is that it has an extensive history.
- Gay marriage is a bad idea because it has no historical precedent.
- Women should stay at home, because women have always stayed at home.
Obvious "fails" using appeal to tradition
- Slavery has been around for a very long time. Legalize it already!
- The idea of the Flat Earth is much older than the idea that the Earth is round, let's see if it works.
- In some theological contexts, a belief in the importance of tradition is axiomatic, and so an appeal to tradition is not strictly fallacious.
- Since false ideas tend to be rooted out over time, the persistence of an idea can provide some tentative evidence for its credibility.
- An appeal to common practice can be valid if the cost of abandoning the practice or switching to an alternative outweighs the benefits of doing so. For example, re-defining the direction of the flow of current in electrical circuits to match the direction of the flow of electrons might aid education by reducing confusion, but doing so would come with the significant cost of re-writing text books and translating any scientific material that covered the topic.