Appeal-to-Flattery Fallacy

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Appeal-to-Flattery Fallacy?

The Quick Answer

In Critical Thinking, the appeal-to-flattery fallacy is unquestioningly adopting the same position as a flatterer.
The appeal-to-flattery fallacy, also known as apple polishing or the appeal to vanity, is a logical fallacy in which someone attempts to win favour or gain support for their argument by using flattery or compliments rather than providing valid reasoning or evidence.

So, the appeal-to-flattery fallacy occurs when someone tries to persuade or manipulate others by appealing to their vanity or ego rather than presenting sound arguments or evidence. Instead of offering valid reasons or evidence to support their position, they use compliments or flattery as a way to gain agreement or favour.

Here is a quick example:
If someone says, "You're so intelligent and insightful, so you must agree with my argument," they are using flattery to try to win support for their position. The flattery is unrelated to the actual merits of the argument and does not provide any valid evidence or logical reasoning.
The appeal-to-flattery fallacy is a form of emotional manipulation that seeks to exploit people's desire for recognition or positive affirmation. It is important to recognize that flattery does not contribute to the strength or validity of an argument and should not be considered a basis for accepting a claim.

To avoid falling for the appeal-to-flattery fallacy, it is essential to focus on the substance of the argument and evaluate it based on logical reasoning, evidence, and critical thinking. The use of flattery or compliments should not distract from the need to critically analyse the merits of the argument being presented.
What is 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.

Academic Definition of the Appeal-to-Flattery Fallacy

The appeal-to-flattery fallacy is an error in reasoning that 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: appeal flattery Abraham Lincoln
  • 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)
appeal flattery hank Ketcham 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 them they have been taken in and have committed the appeal-to-flattery fallacy.

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