The Art of Phony Persuasion Through the Post Hoc Fallacy

Updated on February 18, 2020
Rupert Taylor profile image

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

In simple terms, the post hoc fallacy states that if A happens before B; therefore A is the cause of B. Let’s take a ridiculous example. Suppose you have a boiled egg for breakfast. Later, the letter carrier delivers a cheque. The post hoc fallacy says eating boiled eggs brings cheques. Most of us can see the absurdity of that, but clever folks have learned to disguise this line of argument to make it more plausible.

Let’s have a little Latin, which is used to describe the whole concept; it’s not long and there is a translation. The concept is called “Post hoc ergo propter hoc.” It means literally, “After this and therefore because of this.”

The crucial part of that statement is “therefore.”


The Celebrity Endorsement

Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton is a pitchman for the Bank of Santander. There is no denying that Hamilton is an exceedingly accomplished racing driver but if he’s an expert in international finance it’s a skill that has so far gone undisclosed. What the bank is saying “If Lewis Hamilton (young, cool, highly talented) then Santander.”

But it’s a post hoc fallacy.

Here’s another one.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals used actor Alicia Silverstone to sell the idea of vegetarianism. There is the sleek and undeniably beautiful Silverstone without a stitch of clothing on. So, here’s the pitch―“Stop eating meat and you’ll look like me.” It works for men too―“Stop eating meat and you’ll be with drop-dead gorgeous women like me.”

There is no connection whatsoever between vegetarianism and the allure of Alicia Silverstone, whether clothed or unclothed. It’s a post hoc fallacy.

During the 2016 presidential election in the United States Hillary Clinton picked up celebrity endorsements by the bushel basket. Beyoncé, Jay-Z, George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Magic Johnson, and just about everybody else from the A-list of stars supported Hillary. But, the political acumen and government experience of the whole panoply of celebs could not fill a thimble. We all know how well their endorsements worked out for the candidate.

Example: Most people who are given the last rites die within minutes; therefore priests are killing people with fatal words.

Political Fallacies

Of course, we’d never expect a politician to use a phony argument. Hah!

These folks can straight-out lie without blushing, so the distorting of reality is meat and drink to them.

In November 2015, a gunman opened fire at a Planned Parenthood (PP) clinic in Colorado Springs, killing three people. PP had been the subject of criticism from anti-abortion activists.

Immediately after the shooting Senator Bernie Sanders jumped into a post hoc fallacy. In a statement he said “While we still do not know the shooter’s motive, what is clear is that Planned Parenthood has been the subject of vicious and unsubstantiated statements attacking an organization that provides critical health care for millions of Americans. I … hope people realize that bitter rhetoric can have unintended consequences.”

Sanders admitted he didn’t know why the gunman did what he did but that didn’t stop him from making a connection that wasn’t there.


But, step aside Bernie you’re in the presence of the king of Post hoc ergo propter hoc. During his presidential campaign Donald Trump broke the world record for post hoc fallacies (That’s hyperbole, because there is no such record, but if there was Trump would certainly hold it). Examples could, and probably will, fill a book. Here are a couple of his false equivalencies:

  • During the campaign he said “… almost 4,000 people have been killed in the Chicago area since he (President Obama) took office.” The post hoc fallacy here is that the election of Obama was the cause of all the violent deaths in Chicago. Nonsense, because the Windy City was already subject to massive street violence before the 2008 election. However, Trump achieved his goal; he planted a connection between violent crime and Barack Obama into minds that are not especially inquiring.
  • On another occasion, Trump claimed his get-tough-on-crime policies “will begin with safety at home, which means safe neighbourhoods, secure borders, and protection from terrorism.” The lapse of logic is that secure borders and safe neighbourhoods will do nothing to stop domestic violence within the home.

Example: The arms come down and the bells ring at a railroad crossing shortly before a train appears, therefore it’s the crossing that causes the train to come.

Religious Falsehoods

The Roman Catholic Church used the post hoc fallacy for centuries through its program of indulgences. The notion of the indulgence is that upon death a person will get a lesser punishment for his or her sins in exchange for certain services.

The action might be specific good works or saying particular prayers. There was a seamier side to this deal that involved selling indulgences. (It’s what got Martin Luther all hot under the collar, but that’s another story). Rich people paid the church to ensure a smooth passage to heaven. It was a great scheme because nobody could ever return and demand a refund.

Buying a place in heaven.
Buying a place in heaven. | Source

In New Zealand, atheists have latched onto the post hoc fallacy. In 2010, the No God organization in that country ran a billboard campaign. The ad uses the argument that more than one million New Zealanders do not believe in God, therefore there isn’t a god. That’s a rubbish conclusion. The existence or non-existence of God is not decided by a popularity contest, it’s a matter of faith.

The post hoc fallacy conceals itself cleverly; sharp eyes and a skeptical intellect are needed to ferret it out.

Example: George kept waking up with a hangover. Every night he drank ten beers and ate nachos. Suddenly, he understood why his head ached; it was the nachos.

Bonus Factoids

  • Of source, sometimes celebrity endorsements can backfire. Just ask the folks who hired Bill Cosby (Jello), Jared Fogle (Subway), and Tiger Woods (a ton of things).
  • In his 1956 book, Guides to Straight Thinking, Stuart Chase wrote that “Malaria was for centuries a baffling plague. It was observed that persons who went out at night often developed the malady. So, on the best post hoc reasoning, night air was assumed to be the cause of malaria, and elaborate precautions were taken to shut it out of sleeping quarters.” In reality, the malaria-carrying anopheles mosquito is active after dark.


  • “Fallacies in Advertising.” Michael Stock, Prezi, October 31, 2012.
  • “Sanders Statement on Colorado Planned Parenthood Shooting.” Bernie Sanders, November 28, 2015.
  • “Trump: Rhetorical Analysis.” Process Assignments, September 18, 2016.

© 2016 Rupert Taylor


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)