An Appeal to Emotion is a fallacy with the following structure:
Favorable emotions are associated with X.
Therefore, X is true.
This fallacy is committed when someone manipulates peoples' emotions in order to get them to accept a claim as being true. More formally, this sort of "reasoning" involves the substitution of various means of producing strong emotions in place of evidence for a claim. If the favorable emotions associated with X influence the person to accept X as true because they "feel good about X," then he has fallen prey to the fallacy.
This sort of "reasoning" is very common in politics and it serves as the basis for a large portion of modern advertising. Most political speeches are aimed at generating feelings in people so that these feelings will get them to vote or act a certain way. in the case of advertising, the commercials are aimed at evoking emotions that will influence people to buy certain products. In most cases, such speeches and commercials are notoriously free of real evidence.
This sort of "reasoning" is quite evidently fallacious. It is fallacious because using various tactics to incite emotions in people does not serve as evidence for a claim. For example, if a person were able to inspire in a person an incredible hatred of the claim that 1+1 = 2 and then inspired the person to love the claim that 1+1 = 3, it would hardly follow that the claim that 1+1 = 3 would be adequately supported.
It should be noted that in many cases it is not particularly obvious that the person committing the fallacy is attempting to support a claim. In many cases, the user of the fallacy will appear to be attempting to move people to take an action, such as buying a product or fighting in a war. However, it is possible to determine what sort of claim the person is actually attempting to support. In such cases one needs to ask "what sort of claim is this person attempting to get people to accept and act on?" Determining this claim (or claims) might take some work. However, in many cases it will be quite evident. For example, if a political leader is attempting to convince her followers to participate in certain acts of violence by the use of a hate speech, then her claim would be "you should participate in these acts of violence." In this case, the "evidence" would be the hatred evoked in the followers. This hatred would serve to make them favorable inclined towards the claim that they should engage in the acts of violence. As another example, a beer commercial might show happy, scantily clad men and women prancing about a beach, guzzling beer. In this case the claim would be "you should buy this beer." The "evidence" would be the excitement evoked by seeing the beautiful people guzzling the beer.
This fallacy is actually an extremely effective persuasive device. As many people have argued, peoples' emotions often carry much more force than their reason. Logical argumentation is often difficult and time consuming and it rarely has the power to spurn people to action. It is the power of this fallacy that explains its great popularity and wide usage. However, it is still a fallacy.
In all fairness it must be noted that the use of tactics to inspire emotions is an important skill. Without an appeal to peoples' emotions, it is often difficult to get them to take action or to perform at their best. For example, no good coach presents her team with syllogisms before the big game. Instead she inspires them with emotional terms and attempts to "fire" them up. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. However, it is not any acceptable form of argumentation. As long as one is able to clearly distinguish between what inspires emotions and what justifies a claim, one is unlikely to fall prey to this fallacy.
As a final point, in many cases it will be difficult to distinguish an Appeal to Emotion from some other fallacies and in many cases multiple fallacies may be committed. For example, many Ad Hominems will be very similar to Appeals to Emotion and, in some cases, both fallacies will be committed. As an example, a leader might attempt to invoke hatred of a person to inspire his followers to accept that they should reject her claims. The same attack could function as an Appeal to Emotion and a Personal Attack. In the first case, the attack would be aimed at making the followers feel very favorable about rejecting her claims. In the second case, the attack would be aimed at making the followers reject the person's claims because of some perceived (or imagined) defect in her character.
This fallacy is related to the Appeal to Popularity fallacy. Despite the differences between these two fallacies, they are both united by the fact that they involve appeals to emotions. In both cases the fallacies aim at getting people to accept claims based on how they or others feel about the claims and not based on evidence for the claims.
Another way to look at these two fallacies is as follows
Appeal to Popularity
Most people approve of X.
So, I should approve of X, too.
Since I approve of X, X must be true.
Appeal to Emotion
I approve of X.
Therefore, X is true.
On this view, in an Appeal to Popularity the claim is accepted because most people approve of the claim. In the case of an Appeal to Emotion the claim is accepted because the individual approves of the claim because of the emotion of approval he feels in regards to the claim.
- The new PowerTangerine computer gives you the power you need. If you buy one, people will envy your power. They will look up to you and wish they were just like you. You will know the true joy of power. TangerinePower.
- The new UltraSkinny diet will make you feel great. No longer be troubled by your weight. Enjoy the admiring stares of the opposite sex. Revel in your new freedom from fat. You will know true happiness if you try our diet!
- Bill goes to hear a politician speak. The politician tells the crowd about the evils of the government and the need to throw out the peoople who are currently in office. After hearing the speach, Bill is full of hatred for the current politicians. Because of this, he feels good about getting rid of the old politicians and accepts that it is the right thing to do because of how he feels.