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Sentimental Appeals

Sentimental usually means something cheesy and overly emotional. In the context of the logical fallacy, however, sentimental means "pertaining to sentiment." In other words, a sentimental appeal pertains to human emotions. Sentimental appeals can be highly persuasive, although their logic can be dubious.

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Sentimental Appeals

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Sentimental usually means something cheesy and overly emotional. In the context of the logical fallacy, however, sentimental means "pertaining to sentiment." In other words, a sentimental appeal pertains to human emotions. Sentimental appeals can be highly persuasive, although their logic can be dubious.

Sentimental Appeals Definition

Sentimental appeals rely on the emotions of the listener or reader to be effective.

The sentimental appeal, also called the “appeal to emotion” or “emotional appeal,” is the attempt to persuade somebody based on an emotional hook.

This emotional hook might be humor, sadness, anger, compassion, guilt, or fear.

Yet another name for the sentimental appeal is pathos. Pathos is one of three persuasive appeals, alongside ethos (the appeal to trust and ethics) and logos (the appeal to logic).

Although emotional appeals have their place in argumentation, one should only include them in a limited capacity. This is because emotional appeals are not logical.

Thus, sentimental appeals are often logical fallacies. A fallacy is an error of some kind.

A logical fallacy is employed like a logical reason, but it is actually flawed and illogical.

Why are sentimental appeals often illogical, though?

Why Sentimental Appeals Are a Logical Fallacy

As a rule of thumb, sentimental appeals are fallacious when they stand alone without logic. If someone uses a sentimental appeal without logic, they present only part of the truth.

Here is a sentimental appeal lacking logical support.

Humans like you and me have caused massive damage to wetlands. We caused this. To help rectify this, donate to this fund today.

This appeal to emotion is an appeal to guilt and lacks evidence and logical support. For instance, it does not cite this “massive damage,” nor does it explain how donating to “this fund” will help. Further, this sentimental appeal does not explain why the reader is guilty as an individual.

Sentimental appeals are persuasive, but they are not logical. To rely purely on sentiment is to ignore the most important part of logical argumentation: logic. Thus, to rely on sentimental appeal in a logical argument is a logical fallacy.

Why People Use Sentimental Appeals Without Logic

It would seem a no-brainer to include logic alongside every sentimental appeal. Sentimental appeals are persuasive, and so is logic, right? So why would someone ever commit the fallacy of appealing strictly to emotions?

Someone with a logical argument would be a fool not to use both pathos and logos, yes. However, not everyone has a logical argument.

Take an advertiser attempting to hawk a bogus “wellness” product such as “psychic vampire repellent protection mist” (a real product). While someone could lightly disguise this product as logically functional, the true appeal of this “gem-infused repellant" is emotional. This is because such products sell on the basis of how you feel at the time you purchase them.

Those who hawk bogus wellness products appeal to people's fear, desperation, and need to feel special.

Sentimental appeals. A vintage ad describes how snake oil cures anything. StudySmarter.Fig. 1 - Phony snake oil poster. These products have sold for centuries and have become synonymous with fake cures.

Additionally, emotions act faster than logic. This makes sentimental appeals an easy shortcut for fearmongers, advertisers, and influencers.

Some sentimental appeals appear alongside bald-faced lies.

How to Identify Sentimental Appeals

You can identify a sentimental appeal with a simple two-step process.

  • First, does the argument engage your emotions? If it does, then it is halfway there.

  • Second, does the argument contain a logical appeal within it? If it doesn’t, then it is a purely sentimental appeal.

Even if the argument doesn’t succeed at engaging your emotions, gauge whether this was the intent of the author or speaker.

You will often find that sentimental appeals contain a visual element. Like the sentimental appeal itself, an image is a shorter way to reach someone than the written word.

Sentimental appeals. A successful person stands atop the world. StudySmarter.Fig. 2 - "Succeed and be atop the world with a little help from our investment services!"

This image of success primes the audience to see the world from a winner’s perspective. Using an appeal to desire, such an advertiser wants you to feel like that picture can be you.

Types of Sentimental Appeals

There are various kinds of sentimental appeals, as mentioned before. Here are several of them and how they work.

Humor as a Sentimental Appeal

Making someone laugh is a powerful way to earn favor and even trust. More than that, humor can make light of something serious and thus can undercut logic.

You make a good point about the state of the economy. It's messy. If only you'd apply that to the way you dress!

If someone uses a joke in their argument, try to avoid retorting with another joke. Logical argumentation should not be about who is more charismatic.

Sadness as a Sentimental Appeal

This is attempting to make someone feel sad. This might not seem like an appeal because sadness isn’t appealing, but that’s not how a sentimental appeal to sadness works. An appeal to sadness attempts to trigger a negative response, hoping they will respond to a suggestion. Appeals to sadness wear you down.

Today, yet another law passed that puts people like you and me on the brink of bankruptcy.

An appeal to sadness might include images of animals in cages, descriptions of children in poverty, or tragic elements from a person's life, among others. You can see how these might manipulate your emotions and actions.

Anger as a Sentimental Appeal

A sentimental appeal to anger attempts to make someone angry and vengeful. When someone is angry, they can easily be manipulated.

This president of ours is a loser. He's clueless, and he's frittering away not just your investment money, but the American spirit.

This type of appeal is common in partisan politics when one side presents something “the other side did or does” without further context.

Viral videos often appeal to anger and outrage. Before you get angry yourself, be sure you understand the entire situation.

Compassion as a Sentimental Appeal

Charities fostering animals or who help to heal the sick frequently use sentimental appeals to compassion. Unlike other sentimental appeals, this one is only harmful if those who use the appeal are lying.

If you can spare it, sponsor a dog in need. We are a no-kill shelter, but we need your support.

Sentimental appeals. Hands hold a heart. StudySmarter.Fig. 3 - Compassion is good!

Fear as a Sentimental Appeal

Fear is a widespread sentimental appeal and comes in many varieties, including the slippery slope logical fallacy and scare tactics logical fallacy.

If you sit down and listen to those criminals, you'll turn into one.

The sentimental appeal to fear attempts to scare someone into believing or doing something.

Sentimental Appeal Example

Here is how a sentimental appeal might appear in a passage. Try to identify all the sentimental appeals.

Counties and school districts have every right to ban certain books. Some of these books are truly outrageous and encourage the radicals to continue their campaign of anti-American evil. These books will encourage your children to be like those who disrespect our values—who disrespect us each and every day. Who would want to read a book called Lawn Boy, anyway, except someone so bored they like to watch the grass grow? So many books are spiritual cesspools, and allowing your children to read them is the same as locking them outside during a cold rainy day.

This passage contains examples of the sentimental appeal to anger, such as this one.

These books will encourage your children to be like those who disrespect our values— who disrespect us each and every day.

This passage contains a sentimental appeal to humor.

Who would want to read a book called Lawn Boy, anyway, except someone so bored they like to watch the grass grow?

This passage also contains a sentimental appeal to guilt.

So many books are spiritual cesspools, and allowing your children to read them is the same as locking them outside during a cold rainy day.

These sentimental appeals make the reader indignant, skirting around the potential issues of free speech.

Sentimental Appeals - Key Takeaways

  • The sentimental appeal, also called the “appeal to emotion” or “emotional appeal,” is the attempt to persuade somebody based on an emotional hook.
  • This emotional hook might be humor, sadness, anger, compassion, guilt, or fear.
  • Although emotional appeals have their place in argumentation, one should include them only in a limited capacity.
  • If someone uses a sentimental appeal without logic, they present only part of the truth.
  • Some sentimental appeals help cover up lying.

References

  1. Fig. 1 - Phony snake oil poster (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6d/Clark_Stanley%27s_Snake_Oil_Liniment.png) image in public domain. (Clark Stanley's Snake Oil Liniment, True Life in the Far West, 200 page pamphlet, illus., Worcester, Massachusetts, c. 1905,)

Frequently Asked Questions about Sentimental Appeals

The sentimental appeal, also called the “appeal to emotion” or “emotional appeal,” is the attempt to persuade somebody based on an emotional hook.

Yes. They are synonymous and both an appeal to pathos.

Humans like you and me have caused massive damage to wetlands. We caused this. To help rectify this, donate to this fund today.

No. A sentimental appeal appeals to emotions.

Sentimental appeals rely on the emotions of the listener or reader to be effective. Although emotional appeals have their place in argumentation, only in a limited capacity. This is because emotional appeals are not logical, and logical argumentation is based in logic.


Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

Which of these is not another name for the sentimental appeal?

What are the three persuasive appeals?

As a rule of thumb, sentimental appeals are ____ when they stand alone without logic. 

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