Q:

What is ad misericordiam in rhetoric?

A:

Ad misericordiam is an appeal to pity and is used in rhetoric to argue a point based on an emotional response pertaining to unrelated evidence. The intended emotional response is pity, and the method is considered a logical fallacy.

Though it is classified as a fallacy, that is not to say that ad misericordiam is not practiced successfully at times. Examples may be found in political speeches, legal defenses and prosecutions, and any situation in which a person wishes to gain permission for something or to be rewarded a title or position.

A hypothetical example of ad misericordiam involves a man pulled over by a police officer for speeding. The offender tries to get out of paying a ticket by telling the officer he was speeding because his grandmother is dying in the hospital, and he is on his way to see her. Alternatively, he could say that he is sorry for speeding, but he really cannot afford a speeding ticket because he just lost his job. Both of these arguments are attempts to evoke a feeling of pity in the officer. Neither argument is a logical defense against the man's guilt. In fact, the man never denies being guilty. Instead, he uses unrelated factors to render the act excusable.


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