Explanation

An appeal to consequences is an attempt to motivate belief with an appeal either to the good consequences of believing or the bad consequences of disbelieving. This may or may not involve an appeal to force. Such arguments are clearly fallacious. There is no guarantee, or even likelihood, that the world is the way that it is best for us for it to be. Belief that the world is the way that it is best for us for it to be, absent other evidence, is therefore just as likely to be false as true.

Examples

Appeal to Good Consequences:

(1) If believe in God then you’ll find a kind of fulfilment in life that you’ve never felt before.
Therefore:
(2) God exists.

Appeal to Bad Consequences:

(1’) If you don’t believe in God then you’ll be miserable, thinking that life doesn’t have any meaning.
Therefore:
(2) God exists.

Both of these arguments are fallacious because they provide no evidence for their conclusions; all they do is appeal to the consequences of belief in God. In the case of the first argument, the positive consequences of belief in God are cited as evidence that God exists. In the case of the second argument, the negative consequences of disbelief in God are cited as evidence that God exists. Neither argument, though, provides any evidence for Santa’s existence. The consequences of a belief are rarely a good guide to its truth. Both arguments are therefore fallacious.

Real-World Examples

Each of the arguments above features in real-world discussions of God’s existence. In fact, they have been developed into an argument called Pascal’s Wager, which openly advocates belief in God based on its good consequences, rather than on evidence that it is true.

Another example occurs in the film The Matrix. There Neo is asked whether he believes in fate; he says that he doesn’t. He is then asked why, and replies, “I don’t like the thought that I’m not in control.” This is not an appeal to evidence, but to the unpleasantness of believing in fate: Fate would imply that the world is a way that I don’t want it to be, therefore there is no such thing.