Appeal to tradition

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Appeal to tradition 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".

The fallacy is the bastard child of the naturalistic fallacy and the appeal to authority, and is thus an informal fallacy.

Alternate names[edit]

  • Argumentum ad antiquitatem
  • Appeal to age/antiquity/antiquity
  • Appeal to common practice
  • Past practice
  • Traditional wisdom
  • Proof from tradition


This sort of reasoning has the following form:

  1. P has been done for a long time.
  2. (implied) Things that have been done for a long time are true/good.
  3. P is true/good.

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.
  • Appeal to nature can be thought of as the chthonic version of this.
  • Gay marriage is a bad idea because it has no historical precedent.
  • Women should stay at home, because women have always stayed at home.
  • Pedophilia apologists sometimes argue that the modern convention of age of consent should be abolished, because sex with children was a common practice in ancient Greece.

Obvious "fails" using appeal to tradition[edit]

  • Slavery has been around for a very long time. Legalize it already!
  • Geocentrism has been held as true for a long time.
  • The idea of the Flat Earth is much older than the idea that the Earth is round; let's see if it works.
  • Bloodletting, mercury, lead, and asbestos were used medicinally for millennia. Naturopaths should rediscover them.
  • Tobacco was part of indigenous American medicine for centuries, so it must be good, right?
  • Women have continuously been treated like second class citizens in certain parts of the world. They should continue to be treated this way.[note 1]
  • Human sacrifice has been a tradition in cultures all over the world; let's bring it back!
  • Birthwort — an herb that has been used since at least 300 BCE, whose extreme toxicity was not discovered until the end of the 20th century CE


  • Since false ideas tend to be rooted out over time, the persistence of an idea can provide some tentative evidence for its credibility. Tradition functions as a crude form of replication.
  • 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.[1][2] This phenomenon is surprisingly common in setting standards and technical development and is known as path dependency. As an interesting aside, in certain limited circumstances, it is actually more convenient to conceive of the current as a flow of positively-charged "holes", which are simply the absence of an electron.
  • In common law - and to a lesser extent in Civil Law derived from the Code Napoleon[note 2] - there is an emphasis on precedent, i.e. the way similar cases were handled by other equal ranking or higher courts. This system has obvious upsides, as can be seen by the Chinese law system that does not have any strong regard for precedent. In some cases the principle of stare decisis[note 3] and precedent are thrown out of the window as the circumstances have changed or the law is interpreted differently. If something like this happens "originalists" like Antonin Scalia howl.[note 4]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Though some feminist groups actually argue that there was some kind of matriarchy before any written records and the neolithic revolution — which makes it an appeal to a conveniently unfalsifiable "tradition"
  2. and thus ultimately the Roman law tradition
  3. keeping decided questions the ways they are
  4. Unless of course precedent was overturned in favor of the Republicans