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Inquiry: Critical Thinking Across the Disciplines

Volume 20, Issue 1, Fall 2000

Doug Walton
Pages 33-45

Evaluating Appeals to Popular Opinion

There is a tendency to swing to extremes in evaluating arguments based on appeal to popular opinion. Traditional logic textbooks have portrayed the argumentum ad populum, or appeal to popular opinion, as a fallacy. In contrast, many arguments based on appeal to public opinion in marketing of commercial products do not seem all that unreasonable. Three cases of commercial ads are studied. The problem posed is that of building an objective structure for evaluating such arguments that does not swing, without any objective basis for judging cases, to the one extreme or the other. This article provides such a structure. One part of it is the identifying of the argumentation schemes (forms of argtunent) for the various species of ad populum arguments involved. The other part of the structure is dialectical, referring to the conversational context in which two speech partners reason together in a collaborative goal-directed exchange.

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