What Is the "Appeal to Flattery Fallacy"? (Cognitive Fallacy)

The "Appeal to Flattery Fallacy"

Easy Definition of the Appeal to Flattery Fallacy: Don't be tricked into adopting someone's point of view after they've been nice to you. You might have committed the Appeal to Flattery Fallacy if you do.

Geeky Definition of the Appeal to Flattery Fallacy: The Appeal to Flattery Fallacy is an error in reasoning which occurs when someone adopts a position due to flattery or a compliment presented within the argument.

Examples of the Appeal to Flattery Fallacy

Think what I think and I'll think you're great

Here are some examples of the Appeal to Flattery Fallacy:
  • Someone with your intellect must know that the pay freeze was necessary.
  • As an expert, you must know that the pay freeze was necessary.
  • In your position, it should be obvious that the pay freeze was necessary.
The person presenting these lines wants the person they're targeting to adopt a position that supports the pay freeze. The target feels some pressure to adopt that position because he wants the first part of the argument (the flattery) to be true.

Sometimes, the "flattery" is more subtle, and it's presented in a way that pressures you into not wanting to disappoint the speaker:
  • It was great to hear you accepted the pay freeze.
  • I am so pleased you have been able to accept the pay freeze.
  • Thank you for taking the time to consider and accept the pay freeze.
Sometimes, they come at it from the other direction, and it's not flattery at all:
  • Only an idiot would think the pay freeze wasn't required.
  • You would have to live in a bubble to think the pay freeze wasn't required.
And, sometimes, it's not as clever as any of the above examples, i.e., there is no link between the first part of the argument and the second. Sometimes, it's just a blatant compliment to butter you up before trying to sell the position they want you to adopt.
  • I love your suit and those shoes. You are a real role model for me. Can we talk about this pay freeze?

A Practical Example of Appeal to Flattery Fallacy

Defend against flattery and attack with flattery

Don't let people use this technique on you. It is always worth bearing these two quotes in mind:

"Flattery looks like friendship just like a wolf looks like a dog."
(Anon)

"Flattery is like cologne water, to be smelt of, not swallowed."
(American humorist Josh Billings, 18181885)

Bear in mind that these arguments don't have to be played out over the time span of one or two uttered sentences. They can be played out over any time span and with great subtlety. So, if your boss suddenly starts being nicer to you or sends you on an away-day to a theme park, be mindful that he might have a longer-term agenda.

Also, be aware that an appeal to flattery is often used in a work context to offload work. For example:

"You're great at PowerPoint presentations. Will you put one together for me please?"

If this is aimed at you, you'll know whether it's right for you to do the presentation or not. Just recognize the flattery so you don't feel you're being made a fool of.

"Of course. Flattery will get you everywhere, boss."

or

"No chance. Flattery will get you nowhere, mate."
Summary of Appeal to Flattery Fallacy: If you think someone has adopted a position due to a bout of flattery, tell him he's been taken in and has committed the Appeal to Flattery Fallacy.
The information on this page is taken from
"How To Get Your Own Way"
by Craig Shrives and Paul Easter.


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