If it is a fallacy to suppose that age is a guide to correctness, it is also fallacious to suppose something to be more right simply because it is new. The argumentum ad novitam makes the mis-take of thinking that the newness of something is a factor contributing to its soundness. To hear support urged for something because it is new is to hear the ad novitam being used.
These new tower-blocks are the coming thing. We should build some ourselves.
(Their newness did not stop them brutalizing the landscape of cities or the lives of their tenants.)
Some people are surprised to find that both newness and oldness can be used fallaciously in support of a contention. In fact they appeal to contradictory traits in all of us. We like the security of the traditional, and we like to be fashionable and up-to-date. Either of these can be used as fallacies if we try to make them support claims which should stand or fall on their merits. The ad novitam, like its antiquitam counterpart, introduces the irrelevant fact of the age of the proposition as a means of influencing its acceptance. Because the newness does not, in fact, contribute to its Tightness, a fallacy is committed by appealing to it.
There was a time when the ad novitam found as welcome a home with progressive reformers as its sibling, ad antiquitam, did with conservatives. Those were the days of constructing a brave new world. Times change, however, and the ad novitam now builds its nest amongst conservatives. It settles down comfort-ably amid calls for the rejection of ‘the old ways which have failed’ and for ‘looking truly fit for the twenty-first century’.
Meanwhile the argumentum ad antiquitam stirs uneasily as it sees progressives looking back to the good old days of social reform.
Advertisers have used the word ‘new’ as a reflex appeal to the ad novitam for many years. Assuming that the public equated new products with new progress, everything from washing-powder to toothpaste has been ‘new, improved’. Breakfast cereals were forever new, with the main innovation being the increasing resemblance of the contents to the cardboard of the packet. Great were the shock-waves in the advertising world when cereals started to appear which were positively old in style. In faded brown packets, they promised old-fashioned goodness, and rapidly gained sales. The bold attack of the ad antiquitam sent the ad novitams back on the ropes. All kinds of products came out with old-fashioned presentation, ‘just as it used to be’ was the slogan, with sleepy scenes and pictures of cobwebs on the packets. In Britain, Hovis bread, instead of being new and improved, featured sepia-tinted ads of rural simplicity.
Both fallacies have powerful appeal, but ad novitam had gone too far. Now there is a balance between the two. The simplest country boy wears clothes looking roughly like a space-suit, while those brought up in Glasgow tenements now look back on entirely false childhood memories of country smells and fresh brown eggs.
When using the ad novitam, remember the conflicting appeal of the two fallacies, and confine it to areas where the ad antiquitam is unwelcome. You cannot support housing because it is new, since people will prefer the old. But you can support economic theories because they are new. After all, what good ever came of the old ones?
Just as yours is the ‘new economies’, so are your social and moral convictions part of the ‘new awareness’. An audience would much prefer to be brought up-to-date and given new information, rather than being hectored to change their minds.
Are we to continue in the ways of the old acquisitiveness by allowing commercial development on the site, or are we to respond to a new awareness of social needs by building a modern community centre for the unemployed?
(With arguments like this, you’ll win easily. You’ll get a community centre for those who would have been employed by the commercial development.)