, Volume 9, Issue 5, pp 769–784

Appeal to pity: A case study of theargumentum ad misericordiam

  • Douglas Walton
Dimensions of Critical Reasoning: Expanding the Horizons

DOI: 10.1007/BF00744757

Cite this article as:
Walton, D. Argumentation (1995) 9: 769. doi:10.1007/BF00744757


The appeal to pity, orargumentum ad misericordiam, has traditionally been classified by the logic textbooks as an informal fallacy. The particular case studied in this article is a description of a series of events in 1990–91 during the occupation of Kuwait by Iraqi forces. A fifteen-year-old Kuwaiti girl named Nayirah had a pivotal effect on the U.S. decision to invade Kuwait by testifying to a senate committee (while crying) that Iraqi soldiers had pulled babies out of incubators in a hospital in Kuwait, and left them to die. Subsequent investigations revealed no basis for this claim, and that it was part of a public relations campaign, financed mainly by Kuwaitis, to get support for the invasion. The normative question studied in this case is whether or not the argument in it can correctly be evaluated as a fallacious appeal to pity. Part of the general issue is what is meant by the key word ‘fallacious.’

Key words

argumentation fallacy appeal to emotion conversation analysis informal logic bias dialectical shift 

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Douglas Walton
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of WinnipegWinnipeg, ManitobaCanada

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