Have You Ever?

Have you ever gotten something just because it was new? Maybe you were one of hundreds of people who waited in line for the latest smartphone release despite already owning a serviceable phone. Maybe you bought the newly available gaming system even though you previously praised your old one’s graphics and speed. Maybe you were swayed by a marketing campaign whose product was “on the cutting edge of technology.” When asked about your purchases, you validate them by saying, “they’re new, so they must be better.”

Here’s Why

Your justification is an appeal to novelty. You equate newness to superior quality, but the two terms aren’t actually synonymous.

Appeal to Novelty

An appeal to novelty is a logical fallacy in which a proposal is claimed to be better because it is new(er). This is mainly achieved in two ways. The first is that the alternative is mocked or argued to be inferior because it is older than the newer proposal. The old is undervalued simply because it is old. The second is that the proposal itself is heralded as superior because of its modernness. The new is overvalued simply because it is new. Oftentimes these techniques are used together, but only one needs to be used for the argument to be an appeal to novelty. These assertions are made without any supporting evidence or investigation, which is why an appeal to novelty is a fallacy.

How It Works

Appeal to novelty is also called argumentum novitatis or argumentum ad antiquitatis. This logical fallacy can seem very persuasive, especially in Western and STEM oriented fields and cultures. This is because we assume that people will try to improve upon what came before them. Thus, when we hear about something that’s “revolutionary” or “cutting edge,” it can be tempting to think that this new product is better.

However, technology is about filling a need. Companies and corporations might make a new version of product for a multitude of reasons that doesn’t have to do with overall quality (e.g. they found a cheaper method of production). Furthermore, sometimes these motives actually clash with making something objectively better. Progress isn’t universally defined and is rarely linear. There could very well be trade-offs, like a new device having faster wi-fi but less storage for data.

The simple fact is that a lot of the time age isn’t relevant and doesn’t inherently speak to the quality of an idea or object. Even if subsequent research proves a particular instance of an appeal to novelty to be true, the appeal is still a fallacy because it prematurely concludes that novel is good.

Of course, sometimes age is very relevant to a claim. The old molding fruit in the fridge is indeed inferior to the new, freshly picked fruit. If you can explain why novelty is beneficial, then it’s not a case of argumentum novitatis but a genuine claim.

Why Care?

Appeal to novelty is used constantly in marketing, politics, engineering, and other fields. It can be particularly dangerous because it not only has people draw incorrect conclusions about a particular product or candidate but also gets you stuck in a dangerous mindset of always seeking novelty. This constant search for the next new thing can have you overlook perfectly good solutions that are older. An appeal to novelty leads to more appeals to novelty.

If you think someone else is using an argumentum ad antiquitatis, ask them to explain why new is better. Either they’ll actually provide concrete evidence in favor of their claim and define what exactly they believe makes their claim superior or they’ll restate that new just means better and demonstrate that they’re committing a logical fallacy. Similarly, if you think you may be committing an argumentum novitatis, force yourself to answer why this new idea or product is better without pointing to its newness. 

Being open minded to new ideas isn’t bad. It’s obsessing over new ideas and insisting that new is always better that’s an “outdated” way of behaving.

    Learn More

    1. Jang, SooCheong (Shawn) and Ruomei Feng. “Temporal destination revisit intention: The effects of novelty seeking and satisfaction.” Tourism Management, vol 28, issue 2, April 2007, pp. 580-590. Doi: 10.1016/j.tourman.2006.04.024.
    2. LaBossiere, Michael C. “Appeal to Novelty”. 42 Fallacies, Createspace Independent Pub, 2010, pp. 16-27.
    3. Schummer, Joachim. “On the Novelty of Nanotechnology: A Philosophical Essay.” In Pursuit of Nanoethics, June 2013, pp. 15-29.

    Think Further

    1. When did you last use an appeal to novelty? Why?
    2. What are some other phrases beyond “cutting edge” that imply the idea that new is better than old?
    3. Why do you think someone might use an appeal to novelty, either knowingly or unknowingly?

    Teacher Resources

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