Praises and Flattery are nice to receive as they stokes a person’s self worth. In his Praise of Folly, Erasmus commented “flattery raises downcast spirits, comforts the sad, rouses the apathetic, stirs up the stolid, cheers the sick, restrains the headstrong, brings lovers together and keeps them united.”
Adam Smith, after his seminal book “The Wealth of Nations”, publishes a second timeless masterpiece “The Theory of Moral Sentiment”. He recognizes that human actions are triggered and propelled by the desire for praise and praiseworthiness.
“As people mature, the desire for praise morphs into the desire of Praiseworthiness. People long to be praised for something they really did, even if nobody knows what they did“.
However, you can use the praise and flattery for winning an argument, not by the strength of the argument, but by the weakness of your interlocutor: profiting of his vanity, the flattering may help inducing your interlocutor into doing something he does not really want to do.
Some people are more susceptible to flattery and vanity than others, particularly those with a weaker self-image and who may be generally less confident. This vulnerability to flattery is called appeal to flattery bias (or appeal to pride fallacy).
A typical example is the flattering from a sales guy: “You should definitely buy this car. You look so good in it — you look at least ten years younger behind that wheel“
The comment about looking ten years younger just because of the car is obvious flattery and not a fact. This would not qualify as a valid reason for making such a purchase.
Another example: “Is there a strong man here who could carry this for me?“
A failure to demonstrate physical strength would imply weakness.
Brad J. Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University, said some people may even be addicted to self-esteem and praise.
“We’ve done some research showing some people would rather have a boost in self-esteem than get money or eat their favorite food or see their favorite friends,” Bushman said. “They just can’t stop seeking praise. It has this addictive quality.”
Two greek words are used to describes this fallacy:
- Sycophancy: insincere flattery given to gain advantage from a superior. A user of sycophancy is referred to as a sycophant, who feeds narcissists with insincere overpraise
- Narcissism: is the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one’s idealized self image and attributes. The term originated from Greek mythology, where the young Narcissus fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water.
In the Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri depicts flatterers wading in human excrement, stating that their words were the equivalent of excrement, in the second bolgia of 8th Circle of Hell.