Appeal to Force Fallacy (Description + 9 Examples)

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Published by:
Practical Psychology
Kristen Clure
Reviewed by:
Kristen Clure, M.A.

Every day, in conversations, debates, and negotiations, humans use various tactics to persuade one another. But not all tactics are created equal. Some lean on logic and evidence, while others resort to more aggressive means.

Appeal to force is a rhetorical strategy where one attempts to persuade another by using threats, intimidation, or any form of implied harm instead of presenting valid arguments.

Understanding the dynamics of this tactic not only equips you with the awareness to identify it in action but also empowers you with the knowledge to navigate discussions where force replaces reason.

What is the Appeal to Force Fallacy?

strong fist

When trying to persuade someone, you might use logic, evidence, or appeal to their emotions. But sometimes, in the heat of an argument or a passionate discussion, you might notice a different tactic coming into play.

This is the definition of the appeal to force. In Latin, this is called "argumentum ad baculum," which translates literally as "argument to the cudgel" or "appeal to the stick."

Now, imagine you're on a playground, and one kid says to another, "Agree with me, or I'll take away your toy." It sounds childish, right? Yet, this tactic isn't limited to the playground. It’s an age-old method that sneaks into adult conversations too.

An appeal to force sidesteps a genuine discussion. Instead of relying on solid reasoning, it relies on threats and intimidation.

Here’s a simple breakdown: it’s like trying to win a race not by running faster but by tying your opponent’s shoelaces together. You’re not winning based on your ability; you’re manipulating the situation to force an outcome.

You’ll find that this tactic is surprisingly common. From boardrooms to political arenas, many have used the appeal to force as a tool to achieve their objectives. It's just one of many fallacious arguments people use.

And while it might seem effective in the short term, it often comes with long-term consequences. Relationships can sour, trust can erode, and genuine consensus becomes harder to reach.

Origins and Evolution of Argumentum ad Baculum

The appeal to force isn't a modern invention. Its roots stretch far back into history, shaping conversations and decisions of great importance.

The idea came as early as Aristotle's Rhetoric, where he described how people make arguments.

Imagine ancient empires and kings using sheer power and might to make their subjects comply. It wasn’t always about the strength of their arguments but the strength of their armies and threats.

In ancient Rome, for example, senators would sometimes influence decisions not just by eloquent speeches but by rallying armed supporters outside the Senate house.

This show of force was a clear message: agree with me, or face the consequences. And while the literal army isn't always present in modern scenarios, the underlying strategy remains the same.

Fast forward to the medieval period. The appeal to force took a slightly different form. Monarchs and church leaders would issue decrees and excommunications to bend people to their will.

Disagreeing with certain viewpoints could lead to dire consequences, including banishment or worse. Here, the power of position and spiritual authority was used to silence disagreement and truth.

The methods have evolved, but the principle remains consistent. Whether it’s a business leader hinting at layoffs if certain terms aren't met or a politician subtly suggesting repercussions for non-compliance, the appeal to force is alive and well.

But as you'll see, understanding its history gives you a more refined ability to spot it in the present. And knowing where it's been can offer clues about where it might go next.

Why A Fallacy Occurs

Understanding the psychology of why people appeal to force can be likened to understanding why someone might resort to shouting in a heated argument.

When you raise your voice, it's often not because you believe your argument gets stronger with volume, but rather it stems from an emotional, often instinctive, reaction. The appeal to force taps into this instinctive side of human nature.

First, there’s the element of control. At times, when individuals feel they are losing grip on a situation or a debate, they might instinctively use force or intimidation to regain control.

It’s a primal response, like how an animal might growl or hiss when cornered. By turning to threats, the individual tries to establish dominance in the conversation.

Then there's the aspect of fear. For many, the fear of potential harm or loss is a powerful motivator. It can often overshadow logical reasoning.

When someone uses the appeal to force, they're betting this fear will make you do what they want. They're not trying to persuade you that their viewpoint is correct; they're persuading you of the potential consequences of not agreeing with them.

Lastly, there’s an element of desperation. Sometimes, when individuals realize their argument lacks solid footing, they might resort to the appeal to force as a last-ditch effort to have their opponent accept their conclusion.

By understanding the psychological triggers behind forceful arguments, you're better equipped to recognize them when they surface.

Most of the time, the person making the argument might not even realize they've made a personal attack or a veiled threat. The arguer believes it's a valid argument.

Difference Between Persuasion and Coercion


In discussions, debates, and arguments, persuasion and coercion often get interchanged. But they're as different as night and day.

While both aim to change someone's mind or behavior, the methods and underlying intentions can vary drastically.

Persuasion is like a friend gently nudging you to try a new dish at your favorite restaurant. They present reasons, share experiences, and appeal to your curiosity. It’s a mutual exchange where the final choice rests with you.

Persuasion operates on the foundation of mutual respect. It's about compellingly presenting arguments and allowing the listener to make an informed decision.

Conversely, coercion feels like someone forcefully feeding you that new dish without your consent. There's no choice, only an implied consequence if you resist.

Coercion involves pressure, often taking the form of threats or intimidation. The essence of coercion isn't to convince but to compel.

The differences are clear when laid out side by side:

ApproachAppeals to logic, emotions, and shared values.Relies on fear, threats, and force.
Respect for the ListenerRespects the autonomy of the listener.Seeks to strip it away.
Nature of ConversationA two-way street, inviting discussion.One-directional, demanding compliance.

Common Places Where Appeal to Force Emerges

In the workplace or our jobs, some bosses might say things like, "Sell more stuff, or you might lose your job." They use fear to make workers do better.

Next, there's the government. Some leaders use threats to keep power or get people to agree. They might scare others to make sure they get their way.

This also happens in the home. This is about close relationships. Sadly, in some families or between friends, someone might use threats like, "Do this, or I won't be your friend anymore." Threats can be personal and hurtful.

On TV, we see ads or commercials. Some ads make you feel like you must buy something now or you'll miss out. This is a kind of threat that makes you worried you won't get something good.

Finally, there's the school. Here, a teacher might say, "Think this way, or you'll get a bad grade." Students might feel they have to agree, even if they think differently.

How to Respond to Appeal to Force Fallacies

When someone tries to use threats to make you do something, it can feel scary and confusing. But remember, you have the power to choose how you react.

Here are some steps you can take when this happens:

  1. Stay Calm: Instead of panicking, take a deep breath. If you stay calm, you can think better and decide what to do next.
  2. Listen Carefully: Make sure you understand what the person is saying. Sometimes, people don't mean to threaten, but it sounds that way. Ask questions if you're not sure.
  3. Think Before Speaking: Don't answer quickly. Take a moment to think about what you want to say. This helps you respond in a way that feels right for you.
  4. Ask for Time: It's okay to say, "I need time to think about this." This allows you to step back and decide what you want to do.
  5. Talk to Someone You Trust: Share what happened with a friend, family member, coworker, or teacher. They might have good advice or help you see things differently.
  6. Stand Up for Yourself: Remember, you have the right to your feelings and thoughts. It's okay to say, "I don't agree," or, "I don't like being threatened."
  7. Avoid Harm: If someone's threat makes you feel unsafe, escape that situation. Look for help if you need it.
  8. Learn About It: The more you know why people use threats, the better you can handle it. Reading about it or talking to someone knowledgeable can help.

Knowing how to handle threats gives you more control in situations.

How Appeal to Force Affects Our Decisions

Aztec pyramid

Imagine your brain like a computer. When it gets different pieces of information, it processes them to help you make choices. But what happens when someone throws a big, scary warning into your computer? It can make the whole system go a bit wacky!

Why Threats Change Our Choices

Our brains have a special part called the amygdala. Think of it like the alarm in your house. When something seems dangerous, the amygdala rings loudly, telling us to be careful.

If someone uses threats or force, our amygdala becomes active. We might feel scared or anxious. Because of this alarm, we sometimes make choices to stop the feeling.

The Long-Term Effects

If people use threats on us often, it can change how we make decisions in the long run. If someone often threatens you, you might always be on the lookout for danger.

You might start avoiding things you love or people you like just because you fear more threats.

Finding Balance in Our Choices

The good news is that even if our brain's alarm goes off, we can learn to calm it down and think clearly. Taking deep breaths, talking to someone we trust, or even taking a break can help.

Remember, you're in control of your choices. Even if someone tries to scare you into deciding something, you can always stop, think, and choose what's best for you.

Famous Examples of Appeal to Force

History is like a giant storybook. And just like any story, there are heroes, villains, and many lessons to learn.

Over the years, many people have used scare tactics and threats to get their way. Let's peek into the pages of history to see some famous examples.

The Emperor's New Rules

In the first century BCE, in ancient Rome, there was an emperor named Julius Caesar. He wanted more power and didn't like people saying no to him.

So, what did he do? He used force and threats to make others agree with him. People were scared, so they did what he wanted. But this choice had a big effect on Rome's history.

Before Caesar, Rome was a republic, which meant people had a say in the government. But when Caesar took control, he made himself the ultimate leader or a dictator.

This shift marked the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire. The way the government worked, the power structure, and even daily life in Rome changed because of this.

Later on, because some people didn't like the power he had, Caesar was betrayed and killed by those close to him. This event led to more fighting and changes in leadership in Rome.

So, Caesar's choice to use force to get power not only changed how Rome was run but also set off a chain of events that shaped the future of one of the most famous empires in history.

The King Who Wanted All the Gold

In the 1500s, Europe buzzed with tales of distant lands filled with unimaginable riches. King Ferdinand of Spain, intrigued by these tales, was eager to expand Spain's territories and fill its coffers.

He dispatched several explorers to claim these distant realms for the Spanish crown.

One of these explorers was Hernán Cortés. He set his sights on the vast and mysterious Aztec Empire in what is now Mexico.

The Aztecs, led by their emperor Montezuma II, had built a magnificent city called Tenochtitlán, adorned with grand temples and busy markets. Most alluring were the tales of rooms filled with gold.

However, instead of trying to make alliances or trade, Cortés chose a path of deceit and force. He captured Montezuma and used him as a puppet to control the empire.

This strategic move gave Cortés an advantage, as the Aztecs hesitated to attack while their leader was in captivity.

World War II and the Atomic Bomb

The 1900s saw one of the deadliest conflicts in human history: World War II. It was a war that involved most of the world's nations, including all the great powers.

The war's final stages saw intense battles between the United States and Japan. Both nations suffered heavy losses.

While this was happening, the United States had been working secretly on a project that would change the face of warfare forever: the Manhattan Project. This project aimed to create the world's first atomic bomb, a weapon with an explosive power unimaginable at the time.

In August 1945, the decision was made to drop atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The devastation was immediate and horrific.

The decision to use the atomic bomb was heavily debated then and remains controversial today. Some argue it was necessary to bring a swift end to the war, potentially saving countless lives that would have been lost in a prolonged conflict.

Others believe it was a show of force to assert dominance, especially in the emerging Cold War scenario with the Soviet Union.

What followed was Japan's surrender and the end of World War II. However, the bombings brought on the atomic age, leading to an arms race and the Cold War—a period marked by tension and the constant threat of nuclear annihilation between the world's superpowers.

So what?

While these statements are not examples of appeal to force between individuals, they are examples of the fallacious argument on a large scale. You can see the impact this kind of reasoning can have.

Let's look at some examples you might encounter in your daily life.

Examples of Appeal to Force in Everyday Life

atomic bomb mushroom cloud

Sometimes, big ideas like the "appeal to force" might seem far away, like they only belong in history books or on news channels. But you'd be surprised how often this tactic appears daily!

At School or Work

Remember when a classmate said, "Agree with me, or I won't be your friend anymore!"?

Or maybe a co-worker hinted, "If you don't support my idea, I'll make things difficult for you."

These are not-so-subtle examples of using threats to influence decisions. It's not about convincing with logic or kindness; it's about using fear.

At Home

Parents sometimes fall into the trap of using threats, even if they have the best intentions. Phrases like, "If you don't clean your room, no video games for a month!" might sound familiar.

It's a way of getting quick results, but it doesn't teach understanding or cooperation.

Shopping and Business

Ever seen those sales signs that scream, "Buy now or regret later!"?

Or maybe a salesman told you, "This offer ends today. Miss it, and you'll be out of luck!"

They're putting pressure on you to decide, not based on the product's value, but out of the fear of missing out.

Online and in Media

The internet and social media platforms are full of forceful appeals.

From clickbait titles like "You won't believe what happens next!" to email warnings stating, "Your account will be locked unless you act now!", they're all trying to push you into action using a pinch of panic.

Similar Logical Fallacies

The appeal to force is just one type of logical fallacy. Let's look at a couple of the other more informal logic fallacies too.

Circular Reasoning

Imagine you're on a merry-go-round, going in circles, and no matter how long you ride, you always end up where you started. That's what circular reasoning feels like in an argument. It's when someone tries to prove a point by simply restating it differently.

For instance, someone might say, "I believe this book is popular because everyone likes it."

Well, that's just saying the same thing twice! It doesn't give a real reason why the book is popular, just that it is. This kind of logical argument goes around in circles without providing any solid proof.

False Analogy

Life is full of comparisons. "Life is like a box of chocolates," someone once said. But sometimes, these comparisons, or analogies, can lead us astray.

A false analogy is when someone compares two things that aren't alike in the important ways that matter.

Imagine someone saying, "Birds can fly because they have wings. Planes have wings, so they can fly for the same reasons birds do."

While both birds and planes can indeed fly, the reasons and mechanisms behind their flight are vastly different. By oversimplifying or making incorrect comparisons, false analogies can mislead and muddy the waters of a clear argument.

Ad Hominem

Ever been in an argument where instead of addressing the topic, the other person starts attacking you personally?

That's an ad hominem fallacy. It's a way of sidestepping the discussion by targeting someone's character or personal traits.

Example: "Of course, you'd support that viewpoint; you're not educated enough to know better."

Slippery Slope

The slippery slope fallacy argues that small action will create a chain reaction leading to major and often negative consequences without providing evidence for why this cascade would happen.

"If we allow students to use calculators in class, they'll just rely on machines for everything and never learn anything on their own!"

Red Herring

A red herring attempts to divert the listener or reader by introducing another topic unrelated to the original issue.

It's like when you ask someone why they didn't finish their homework, and they respond, "Do you know how much pollution is destroying our planet right now?"

Straw Man

The straw man fallacy is when someone misrepresents an opponent's position or argument, making it easier to attack or refute.

If one says, "I think we should have better public transport systems," a straw man response might be, "So you're saying everyone should just give up their cars entirely? That's ridiculous."

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Appeal to Force

1. What is the appeal to force?

The appeal to force fallacy is a logical fallacy where one person tries to get their way or win an argument by using threats, intimidation, or some form of force rather than providing valid reasoning.

2. Are all forms of force or threat considered an appeal to force?

Not necessarily. The appeal to force specifically relates to debates or arguments. Using force outside of a debate context doesn't fall under this logical fallacy, although it may be problematic for other reasons.

3. How is circular reasoning different from an appeal to force?

Circular reasoning is a logical fallacy where the conclusion is used as final proof of a premise without any new evidence, essentially going in circles. It doesn't involve any threats or intimidation, unlike the appeal to force.

4. Can you give an example of a false analogy?

Yes! "Birds can fly because they have wings. Planes have wings, so they can fly for the same reasons birds do." This analogy oversimplifies the intricate details that differentiate bird flight from airplane flight.

5. Is the appeal to force always wrong or bad?

In logical arguments and debates, it's seen as a fallacy because it avoids addressing the actual issue. However, understanding why people resort to it can provide insights into human behavior and communication.

6. What's a red herring in debates?

A red herring is when someone introduces an unrelated or off-topic point to divert attention from the discussed issue. It's like answering a question with another, unrelated question.

7. How can I improve my arguments or debates?

Understanding and recognizing logical fallacies is a great start. This allows you to craft clearer arguments and avoid being swayed by faulty reasoning. Additionally, active listening and open-mindedness can foster more productive discussions.

8. How does the appeal to force play out in real-world scenarios?

Throughout history, leaders, politicians, and even everyday individuals have sometimes used force or threats to get their way, from personal relationships to global politics. Recognizing these tactics can help in understanding the motivations and strategies at play.

9. Are all logical fallacies equally problematic in arguments?

All logical fallacies can weaken an argument, but their impact might vary based on context, audience, and the nature of the discussion. Still, understanding them ensures clearer, more effective communication.


The art of effective communication is a journey, one where understanding and recognizing various tactics, like the appeal to force, plays an important role.

While it might seem complex initially, breaking down these logical fallacies into their core elements makes them more accessible and easier to spot in day-to-day discussions.

By being aware of these patterns, not only do you become a more discerning listener and communicator, but you also foster an environment where open, honest, and productive conversations thrive.

Remember, the goal isn't just to "win" an argument but to understand, be understood, and move forward together.

Reference this article:

Practical Psychology. (2023, October). Appeal to Force Fallacy (Description + 9 Examples). Retrieved from

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