An Appeal To The Consequences Of A Belief is a logical fallacy which often relies on emotions to sway someone from a particular belief. An Appeal To Consequences “is an argument that concludes a premise (typically a belief) to be either true or false based on whether the premise leads to desirable or undesirable consequences” (wikipedia).
The basic form of the Appeal To Consequences fallacy is this:
If Belief X is true, then Consequence Y will happen.
Consequence Y is good.
Therefore Belief X is true.
The way I most often see this fallacy in action is in support of the disease concept. As one paper in the Journal Neuroethics noted, disease proponents have often argued that the disease view is useful because:
the language makes room for individuals living with addiction to receive the same level of compassion and access to healthcare services as individuals living with other medical diseases, and promotes enlightened social and legal policies.
In other words, we should accept the disease model because it will lead to “enlightened” consequences. It has often been said that we should stifle all of our objections to the disease model, and simply accept it so that people can be free of shame and stigma, and just get the help they need. We should accept it because it will lead to “compassion.”
What if I said ‘getting a failing grade on a math test is a disease,’ and then I tried to convince you this was true because ‘believing it’s a disease will lead to compassion for students who fail math tests.’ Wouldn’t be nice if every time a student failed a math test they got to spend a day in the hospital, and all their friends and relative brought them flowers, balloons, chocolates and a teddy bear? Sure, but it’d be better to just get them a tutor. There’s no difference between this argument, and the claim that we should believe the disease theory of addiction because it will lead to compassion. Neither support the claim that the condition in question is a disease, and neither bring us closer to a solution to the problem because they sidestep the responsibility of coming to a proper conclusion about the nature of the problem.
These arguments are often the first and last ones heard in any disease debate. When all other points have proven to be invalid, we’re simply asked to accept the disease belief because it would lead to compassion and troubled people coming forward to get help. Even if that were the case (which it isn’t, but that’s another discussion), it has no bearing on whether or not addiction actually is a disease. Further, it has no bearing on all the disease related premises – such as loss of control, powerlessness, or the expectation of “relapse.”
NOTE: This fallacy is often part of a more complex and insidious fallacy called The Argument From Intimidation.
The Tricky Part
This is a tricky fallacy when it comes to addiction, and the trickiness comes down to the basic question at hand. If addiction is a real disease, then beliefs are almost meaningless in its course – that is, if it is a disease, then medicine is needed to cure it, and biological changes which go beyond the realm of belief are the only thing that matters – beliefs don’t matter a whole hell of a lot, except to the degree that they cause you to get the proper medical care. If it’s not a real disease, then it’s a psychological matter, all wrapped up in what people value, what they think will make them happy, what they think are good choices, etc. – but most importantly, what they believe they’re capable of and what they expect of their future. Ultimately, your beliefs about addiction determine your approach to overcoming it.
I happen to believe addiction is just a pattern of freely chosen behavior. I have often argued that if you believe addiction is an incurable lifelong relapsing disease, then you will proceed to relapse for life, unnecessarily struggling with a psychological boogieman. So, am I using a fallacious argument when I say that? It depends on what purpose I’m using that claim for. If I were holding up a life of living up to the disease view (repeated relapse, daily struggle, etc) as the reason that the disease view is false, then I would be engaging in the fallacy. I am not doing that though. When I make this claim, I’m simply warning people of the danger that can result from an erroneous belief, and making them aware of what may hinge upon it. I offer plenty of other carefully reasoned arguments against the disease view – starting from the basic point of defining disease, and questioning whether the “evidence” shows that addiction fits the model. You should not believe or disbelieve the disease model of addiction based on what results it may bring – you should judge it on the scientific evidence, and logical conclusions which can be drawn from that evidence.
The bottom line is, that if addiction is a psychological rather than medical matter, then the probable outcomes of the disease model beliefs are wholly relevant to those experiencing substance use problems – but this wouldn’t be an issue if so much fallacious propaganda for the disease model hadn’t been hoisted upon us in the first place.