Appeal to Pity (the Galileo Argument)

This strategy is an attempt to persuade someone to agree with you or give you what you want by making them pity or feel sorry for you. This fallacy can make the other person seem cruel or insensitive if they do not comply. The connection to Galileo refers to his trials and house arrest by the Inquisition as a result of his scientific views that branded him as a heretic.



"Your honor, in this case we ask that you suspend the recommended ten years of incarceration and sentence my client to supervised probation and electronic house-arrest. My client recognizes the seriousness of his offense and is remorseful for his involvement in the selling of classified information to the Chinese. This incident has had tragic personal and career consequences for him already. He has lost his job at NASA as well as his government security clearance, and he will be unlikely to ever work in the field of space research again.

The stress of the investigation and the trial has destroyed his marriage. And the financial pressures and the imposed fines have left him destitute. He will spend the rest of his natural life trying to pay those fines. To further punish him with incarceration will serve no purpose but to make creating a new life and making new start impossible. My client is not a threat to society. His crime was one of greed and not violence. We ask that you consider the consequences he has already suffered to be enough, and we ask the court for mercy."

NB: This example speaks for itself and is typical of appeal to pity proposals. While the individual may have suffered greatly, the real issue is whether the incarceration itself is the usual and customary penalty for the crimes he commited. The consequences of such court action is intended to be punitive, so excusing someone from the penalties so they don't have to suffer those consequences defeats the purpose of the trial.

Contemporary Media Examples
Return to the Fallacy List