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logic: appeal to tradition

In this error in logic, the writer claims that a belief or method is valid because people have believed it or used it in the past, often for a long period: “We’ve always done things that way, and it works fine, so why change?”

If that were a valid reasoning process, then we should never have replaced handwritten manuscripts with typed ones, or typewriters with word processors!

Examples

  • My boss wants to introduce a new procedure. But the one we have been using has worked well for the last 20 years. Changing it would be a waste of time. [Even if the old procedure works well, the new one might work better.]
  • That country’s system of government has been in place for over two centuries. It must be good to have lasted that long! [The country’s system of government may be good, but the mere fact that it has been around for centuries isn’t automatic proof of its quality.]

Traditional ways of thinking or doing are not necessarily valid just because they are old—after all, the evil of slavery has existed as a traditional practice in one part of the world or another for thousands of years. And even when traditional ways are genuinely good, they can be capable of improvement!

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