Further exception to appeal to tradition?

I think there could be an expansion of the exception to the appeal to tradition fallacy, namely that if something has worked fine so far and there's no compelling reason to change it or no indication that doing so would make any difference then that may be a valid argument against the change. Essentially it's the 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it' argument.

asked on Monday, Jun 07, 2021 07:01:43 AM by Philip

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Bo Bennett, PhD

You are now providing a reason. Recall the form:

We have been doing X for generations.

Therefore, we should keep doing X.

You are arguing that we should keep doing X because X is working just fine , not because it what was always done.

answered on Monday, Jun 07, 2021 07:21:01 AM by Bo Bennett, PhD

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Rationalissimus of the Elenchus

Nice to see the influx of posts! First, we'll parse both logical forms of the argument:

Appeal to tradition (Fallacious)

P) X has always been done (it is a tradition)

Implicit P) Things that have always been done should continue to be done

C) We should continue doing X.

This is in argument form, but the premises supplied are not reasons; "it has always been done" is a fact of action, not a justification of action. We know that X is the status quo; we are asking whether we should continue doing it or not.

Appeal to Tradition Exception

P) We have always done X, and

P2) X has worked fine so far

Implicit P) If it ain't broke, no need to fix it!

C) We should continue doing X.

This is now a fair argument with a reasoned defence of X. We've said that it 'works', that is, it does what it needs to. 

The argument could do with some buttressing to make it sound. Perhaps consider whether we could improve X to make it work even better (so, we could tackle the implicit premise). However, since these are premise-based issues rather than inference-based issues, there are no fallacies.

answered on Monday, Jun 07, 2021 08:30:05 AM by Rationalissimus of the Elenchus

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As presented, it's not clear if the preference for the status quo is a position held by a significant portion of the population or just the personal preference or opinion of the one making the statement.  Setting aside the lack of clarity around how widely held the tradition is, the argument seems to be:

Premise 1: Doing X has produced acceptable results (in someone's view – don't know who), presumably over time.

Premise 2: Someone (don't know who) sees no reason to think a change would make a difference.

Conclusion: Therefore, avoiding change is the best way to go.

If the aim is to uphold the position that a particular tradition should remain without change, a few additional "strengths" need to be injected into the argument:

  1. For premise 1, it would help to provide two forms of evidence:  some showing how the status quo really is "acceptable" and some demonstrating how changes would make things worse – and none would make things better or keep things the same.
  2. For premise 2, it would help to create individual arguments, each addressing a particular change.  Then, by identifying each specific change(s) proposed, it would be possible to provide evidence of how it would produce results that would be better, worse, or the same.  (If there are only 3 possible changes; 1 of which would make things worse, 1 that would leave things about the same, and 1 that would make things better, demonstrating how the bad change is bad doesn't prove that one shouldn't make a change ... just that one shouldn't opt for that particular "bad" change.) 
  3. As with many debates, it would seem important to identify what constitutes an acceptable result.  Without agreement on what makes an outcome good (or bad), there is not likely to be agreement on whether a change would be better or worse.

It would be easy to discredit premise 1 by identifying ways in which the current situation is less than totally desirable or could be better – I suspect few traditions are absolutely perfect in all respects.  It would be easy to discredit premise 2 by locating individuals who think an alternative approach would be better (or at least different).  I don't mean to suggest that discrediting premises necessarily makes the conclusion invalid or wrong – just that the more one discredits premises, the weaker an argument becomes.  Another way to keep an argument weak is to base it on opinion rather than fact.

If the only reason for following a course of action is that "it's tradition", it seems to me that appeal to tradition would apply.  On the other hand, if one were to offer evidence to show that the results of the tradition aren't necessarily ideal or that different (and presumably better) results could be obtained by acting non-traditionally, they it doesn't seem to be an exception to the appeal to tradition; rather, it's a reasoned approach that provides sound rationale to demonstrate how non-traditional actions would produce equivalent or better results.

answered on Tuesday, Jun 08, 2021 10:50:48 AM by Arlo

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