There is no agreed-upon definition for "Appeal To Pity." Some define it as seeking clemency for breaches of duty on the grounds of "extenuating circumstances," (as when a driver claims forgiveness for violating the laws against speeding because his speed was motivated by some emergency). In practice, people seem to make a charge of "appeal to pity" when arguers recommend a certain course of action, C, solely on the basis that for reasons not inherent to C, it will relieve or avert suffering for someone or some group of people. The patterns for these two are:
- Person A may be wrong to do X, but enforcing the consequences of X on A would cause A harm.
- Therefore A is not wrong to do X.
- Course of action C will have the secondary effect of relieving or averting suffering.
- Therefore C is right.
This ad against prop. 8, "Mama Julie's daughter" commits the fallacy of appeal to pity.
This ad features the daughter of a lesbian couple. The girl says that being the child of a gay couple hasn't affected her negatively in any waym, that she loves having two mothers. She explains that her non-biological mother, "Mama Julie," couldn't legally have custody over her. We learn that Mama Julie was diagnosed with cancer and that the girl and her biological mother took care of her. Because neither the girl nor her biological mother are legally related to Julie, they were banned from her bedside in the hospital when she died. Julie's sister, her legal next of kin, won't allow them to see Julie because, as she puts it, their family is a "sin." After telling this sad story the girl begins to cry desperately, hugging her teddy bear. She cries for a solid 30 seconds while the camera still rolls. The video then asks you to think about who you're hurting when you vote no on Prop 8. This ad uses a very sad story and depressing imagery to appeal to pity.
The narrator appeals to the audience by evoking emotional pity, instead of using reason. This ad begins with short video clips of adorable, playful animals -- rabbits, monkeys, dogs . . . . The question appears on the screen, "If you knew the truth, would it make a difference?" The ad then shows another series of clips of animals, but this time in unsettling situations. The dogs, monkeys, bunnies and other animals are shown in cages; they are tortured by humans. Another flash of text announces, "It would to them." After a few more disturbing clips the the advertisement ends with the contact information of AnimalAid and the words: "Make A Difference" in bold underneath. All the while dramatic music plays in the background, emphasizing the gravity of the situation. The effect is to evoke a sense of pity in the audience. Guilt plays a major role in this advertisement along with pity, the two go hand in hand in commiting the fallacy of Ad Misericordium (Appeal to Pity)
This ad against prop. 8, "Protect THESE children," also commits the fallacy of appeal to pity.
This ad speaks to people who are undecided about how to vote on proposition 8. It claims that over 52,000 children being raised by gay or lesbian parents across California. The ad features still shots of adorable children. In the background we hear children in a playground. The narrator implores, "Think about THESE children, when you step in the voting booth." If you are voting yes on prop 8, you might as well have slapped these children across their innocent faces. A "yes" vote will show these children "loud and clear" that YOU think their family is "less than equal, less than worthy, less than yours." They claim your yes vote will deny these children of their "stability, dignity and a multitude of legal protections."...? I had no clue that all of these 5 year old's dignity were on the line here. At this point the video gets out of hand, when there is actually a shot of a baby, holding another even younger even more adorable baby feeding it's bottle, the ultimate appeal to pity. They close with this statement; "If you REALLY care about protecting children, then vote no.." to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry in California. (Committing another fallacy,Red Herring) the dramatic music and ambiance of children playing in the distance cuts, and the sound of a loud powerful drum kicks as they show a collage of ALL of the poor children at once. forcing you to believe that these children will be seriously negatively effected by your vote, therefore gay marriage should be legal.