Appeal to tradition

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Just because something is traditional is no reason to do it, of course. Piracy, for example, is a tradition that has been carried on for hundreds of years, but that doesn't mean we should all attack ships and steal their gold.
—Lemony Snicket

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". In general, if someone's main argument in favor of their propositions/ideas is "traditional values", they likely don't have any better or genuinely rational arguments for their position. "Caring about children" is a very, very old traditional value, yet people speaking up against child abuse usually don't resort to this rhetoric, instead choosing more practical and immediate arguments.

The fallacy is the bastard child of the naturalistic fallacy and the appeal to authority, and is thus an informal fallacy. Perhaps the people who most frequently fall victim to this fallacy are fundamentalists.

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. (Enthymeme) 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.


Obvious "fails" using appeal to tradition[edit]


  • 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.[2][3] 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]
  • Societies where graven images are frowned upon generally make do with line and colour, rather than skate too close to realistic rendering with all those shades of grey, which has led to some surprisingly creative and beautiful pieces of artwork being created.

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 way they are
  4. Unless, of course, precedent was overturned in favor of the Republicans.