Appeal to Tradition Fallacy (29 Examples + Definition)

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

Ever felt like someone's argument was shaky, but you couldn't put your finger on why? You've come to the right place. Here, you're about to get a solid grip on one type of flawed reasoning people use, often without realizing it.

An Appeal to Tradition Fallacy is flawed reasoning that assumes something is good, correct, or beneficial simply because it has been done that way for a long time.

Understanding this fallacy will not only help you spot weak arguments but also build stronger ones yourself. So let's get going and learn all about the Appeal to Tradition Fallacy.

What is an Appeal to Tradition Fallacy?

grandma cooking

To better grasp the concept of the Appeal to Tradition Fallacy, let's consider a relatable scenario. Imagine you're sitting at the dinner table, and your grandma insists that her way of making mashed potatoes is the best. Why? Because that's how it's always been done in your family. It's a family tradition.

Sounds harmless, right? Well, this is a textbook example of an Appeal to Tradition Fallacy. In essence, the appeal to tradition fallacy occurs when someone claims that if something is old or has been done a certain way for a long time, it must be good or correct, especially if it's the only evidence they have.

Think of it as being stuck in a loop of the past. You're not looking at whether the old way is better; you're just sticking with it because it's familiar. Maybe it's one of your traditions or seen as the "right and only option."

This might seem like a small issue regarding family recipes, but it can have more serious implications. Fallacies are logical errors, usually in arguments, that people make, which lead to inconsistent reasoning.

For example, when making important decisions like voting or choosing medical treatments, relying solely on "tradition" can be misleading and potentially harmful.

Similar Logical Fallacies:

  • Appeal to Authority: Trusting someone’s word just because they are considered an expert, without questioning it.
  • Appeal to Popularity: Believing something is correct or good because many people think so.
  • Slippery Slope: Arguing that one event will inevitably lead to other events without providing evidence.
  • Straw Man: Misrepresenting someone’s argument to make it easier to attack.
  • Circular Reasoning: A statement or argument that assumes the very thing it aims to prove.

Other Names for This Fallacy:

  • Argumentum ad Antiquitatem
  • Appeal to Age
  • Appeal to Antiquity
  • Appeal to Common Practice

"Appeal to Tradition" is derived from Latin, where "Argumentum ad Antiquitatem" means an argument directed to antiquity or tradition. This reasoning has existed for centuries, often used to uphold social norms or laws.

The actual naming and categorization of it as a logical fallacy have roots in the study of philosophy and rhetoric, particularly gaining attention during the Enlightenment era when scholars began challenging traditional ways of thinking.

29 Examples

1) Handwritten Letters

handwritten notes

"People still value handwritten letters over emails because they've been around for centuries."

This is an Appeal to Tradition fallacy because it argues that handwritten letters are better simply because they are older. It disregards the benefits of emails, like speed and convenience, to uphold tradition.

2) Marriage Proposals

marriage proposal

"Men should propose to women because that's how it's always been done."

This example uses the Appeal to Tradition to maintain a gender norm without questioning whether it's the most equitable or meaningful way for a proposal to happen. Not to mention the argument for legalizing gay marriages!

3) Bloodletting in Medicine

"Bloodletting has been a traditional medical practice for thousands of years; it must be effective."

Ignoring factual evidence from modern medical science and continuing a harmful practice just because it's old or based on "traditional wisdom" is a clear instance of the Appeal to Tradition fallacy.

4) Corporate Hierarchy

"Our company has always had a strict hierarchy; we shouldn’t change it."

Just because a company has done something for years doesn't mean it's the most efficient or fair management method.

5) Educational Systems

"Our educational system has worked for decades; there's no need for reform."

Suggesting that older methods are better simply because they're traditional overlooks the need for updated, more effective educational techniques that suit individual children based on evidence and logic.

6) The Electoral College

"The Electoral College has been part of U.S. elections for centuries; it’s the best system."

Relying on tradition to validate a system doesn't consider whether the system is still equitable or effective. It also ignores that so many people have new ideas.

7) Print Newspapers

"Print newspapers are more reliable because they've been around longer than online news."

The longevity of print media doesn’t necessarily make it more accurate or reliable than digital sources. The assumption that an article in a print paper is accurate is flawed because the same article probably appears on the paper's website too.

8) Homeopathy

herbalist table

"People have been using homeopathic remedies for centuries; they must work."

Ignoring scientific evidence favoring tradition is a flawed way to justify a healthcare choice. Alternative medicine also falls into this category, though that's not to say that modern remedies always work. But herbal medicine or one of a long tradition of ways to treat diseases might be a better or healthier option.

9) Coal Mining

"Coal has powered our country for years; why switch to renewable energy?"

Valuing a traditional practice solely because it's traditional dismisses the potential benefits of newer alternatives, like environmental sustainability.

10) Grass Lawns

"Lawns have always been a sign of prosperity; everyone should have one."

Using tradition to uphold the concept of lawns overlooks issues like water usage and environmental impact.

11) Gender Roles

"Women should stay home because they've traditionally been the caregivers."

This argument perpetuates gender roles without considering whether they're beneficial or fair to everyone involved. Male family members might enjoy staying home too!

12) Jury System

"The jury system is perfect; it’s been part of our legal system forever."

Just because something is traditional doesn't mean it's the most effective or fairest method.

13) Seniority in Employment

"Senior employees deserve higher pay just because they've been with the company longer."

Prioritizing seniority just because it's traditional can overlook the skills and contributions of newer employees.

14) Attire at Formal Events

"Men should wear suits, and women should wear dresses at formal events; it’s tradition."

Enforcing traditional attire neglects personal comfort and freedom of expression.

15) Corporal Punishment

"Corporal punishment worked on previous generations; it should be fine now."

The idea that something must be good just because it's traditional fails to consider potential harm or ineffectiveness.

16) Meat Consumption

"People have been eating meat for millennia; it must be the natural diet for humans."

Ignoring current health studies favoring a historical practice is a classic Appeal to Tradition fallacy.

17) Music Formats

record player

"Vinyl is the best way to listen to music because it’s the original format."

This argument neglects the quality and convenience of modern music formats.

18) Professional Sports Rules

"The rules shouldn’t change; they’ve been the same for years."

Resisting rule changes that could improve the game or make it safer just because "that's the way it's always been" is a fallacious argument.

19) Textbooks

"Textbooks are better than digital resources because they’re traditional."

Overlooking the benefits of digital educational resources to uphold tradition is not logical.

20) Monarchy

"Monarchies have governed for centuries; they're the best form of government."

Using tradition to validate a form of governance doesn’t consider its effectiveness or fairness.

21) Shaving

"Men should be clean-shaven because it's a sign of professionalism."

Here, tradition dictates social norms without questioning their obvious current relevance.

22) Religious Practices

"People have been doing these religious practices for centuries; they must be the right way."

Appealing to historical preferences and tradition to justify religious practices without critical examination is unreasonable.

23) Language Usage

"We should use language the way it's always been used; new slang terms corrupt it."

Ignoring language evolution to uphold traditional usage overlooks the dynamic nature of language.

24) Agricultural Practices

"Traditional farming methods are best because they’ve been tested over time."

This argument doesn't consider advancements in sustainable farming.

25) Business Models

"If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Our business model has been effective for 50 years."

Failing to adapt or innovate because the old ways "worked" can be a severe limitation for a business.

26) Smoking

"People have been smoking for years; it can’t be that bad for you."

Ignoring health data in favor of tradition is a flawed argument.

27) Public Transportation

"Buses have been around forever; there's no need for new forms of public transport."

Disregarding innovation in favor of tradition can hinder progress.

28) Painting Styles

"Classical painting techniques are the only ‘real’ art; modern art doesn’t count."

This is an Appeal to Tradition that devalues new forms of artistic expression.

29) Office Work

"People have been working 9 to 5 jobs for decades; it’s the most effective work schedule."

Upholding a traditional work schedule overlooks the potential for more flexible, balanced work-life approaches.

The Psychological Mechanisms Behind It

The human brain loves shortcuts, often relying on quick ways to process information. This is known as heuristic thinking. One of these shortcuts is the Appeal to Tradition fallacy.

Your brain tells you that if something has been done a certain way for a long time, it must be good. After all, why fix something if it isn't broken? This thought process provides comfort and stability, making it easier for you to make decisions without analyzing every tiny detail.

This reliance on tradition is also tied to our social instincts. Humans are inherently social creatures who thrive in groups. Traditions often serve as the glue that holds these social groups together, whether a family, a community, or even a nation.

Therefore, questioning tradition might feel like disrupting social harmony, causing you to cling even more tightly to the "way things have always been." These psychological mechanisms make the Appeal to Tradition fallacy incredibly potent and pervasive.

The Impact of the Appeal to Tradition Fallacy

The Appeal to Tradition fallacy can have a broad range of impacts, some subtle and others quite significant.

On a personal level, sticking to tradition can prevent you from trying new experiences or adopting more effective methods. For instance, if you believe traditional classroom learning is the only valid form of education, you might miss out on the benefits of online courses, interactive apps, or real-world experience.

On a larger scale, this fallacy can perpetuate harmful social norms and inequalities. For example, traditional gender roles have been used to justify unequal pay, limited career opportunities for women, and even discriminatory laws.

When society clings to tradition for tradition's sake, it risks stifling innovation, promoting inequality, and ignoring the potential for improvement in all areas of life.

How to Identify and Counter It

Spotting an Appeal to Tradition fallacy involves a keen awareness of the reasoning being used in an argument. Listen or read carefully, and if you find that the primary justification for a claim is "that's how it's always been," you've likely encountered this fallacy.

It's crucial to distinguish between respecting traditions and blindly adhering to them as a form of lazy reasoning.

Countering this fallacy involves asking critical questions and using critical thinking. Why has this tradition been followed? Are there any data or empirical evidence to support its continued practice? What are the potential benefits of alternative approaches?

By demanding more substantial reasoning and considering the available evidence, you can construct a more balanced view. This doesn't mean you should reject all traditions, but you should examine them critically rather than accept them without question.

Reference this article:

Practical Psychology. (2023, October). Appeal to Tradition Fallacy (29 Examples + Definition). Retrieved from

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