Argument from authority

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

An argument from authority, also called an appeal to authority, popularized by John Locke as the argumentum ad verecundiam[note 1], is a form of logical and persuasive argument using expert opinion to defend the likelihood of the reliability of a claim. It is well known as a fallacy, though it is most often used in a valid form.[4]

Structure[edit]

The argument is a defeasible argument and a statistical syllogism taking the form:

  • X is an expert on subject Y,
  • X claims A. (A is within subject Y.)
  • Therefore, A is probably true.[5]

History[edit]

John Locke, in his 1690 Essay Concerning Human Understanding, was the first recorded to identify argumentum ad verecundiam as a specific category of argument.[6] He noted that it can be misused by taking advantage of the "respect" and "submission" of the reader or listener to persuade them to accept the conclusion.[7] Over time, logic textbooks started to adopt and change from Locke's terminology to refer more specifically to fallacious uses of the argument from authority.[8]

By the late 20th century, logic textbooks had shifted to a less blanket approach to these arguments, often referring to the fallacy as the "Argument from Unqualified Authority"[9] or the "Argument from Unreliable Authority".[10] Some works, however continue to eschew any distinction between the fallacious and sound version. A 2012 guidebook on philosophical logic describes appeals to authority not merely as arguments from unqualified or unreliable authority, but as arguments from authority in general. In addition to appeals lacking evidence of the authority's reliability, the book states that arguments from authority are fallacious if there is a lack of "good evidence" that the authorities appealed to possess "adequate justification for their views."[11]

With the rise of the internet, sites focused on the subject of fallacies began to appear. Among them, the The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Bradley Dowden states that "Most reasoning of this kind is not fallacious, and much of our knowledge properly comes from listening to authorities. However, appealing to authority as a reason to believe something is fallacious whenever the authority appealed to is not really an authority in this particular subject, when the authority cannot be trusted to tell the truth, when authorities disagree on this subject (except for the occasional lone wolf), when the reasoner misquotes the authority, and so forth."[12] The "Fallacies" entry by Hans Hansen in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy similarly states that "Fundamentally, the fallacy involves accepting as evidence for a proposition the pronouncement of someone who is taken to be an authority but is not really an authority. This can happen when non-experts parade as experts in fields in which they have no special competence—when, for example, celebrities endorse commercial products or social movements. Similarly, when there is controversy, and authorities are divided, it is an error to base one’s view on the authority of just some of them."[13]

In the context of law, opinion on the appeal to authority has historically been listed as a valid argument as often as a fallacious argument.[14]

Appeal to non-authorities[edit]

Fallacious arguments from authority are frequently the result of citing a non-authority as an authority.[15] An example of the fallacy of appealing to an authority in an unrelated field would be citing Albert Einstein as an authority for a determination on religion when his primary expertise was in physics.[15] The body of attributed authorities might not even welcome their citation, such as with the "More Doctors Smoke Camels" ad campaign.[16]

It is also often a fallacious ad hominem argument to argue that a person presenting statements lacks authority and thus their arguments do not need to be considered.[17] Similarly to the appeal to authority, the ad hominem is not always fallacious, such as when the argument points out that an authority being appealed to is not an expert in the subject at hand.[5]

Other related fallacious arguments assume that a person without status or authority is inherently reliable. For instance, the appeal to poverty is the fallacy of thinking that someone is more likely to be correct because they are poor.[18] When an argument holds that a conclusion is likely to be true precisely because the one who holds or is presenting it lacks authority, it is a fallacious appeal to the common man.[19]

However, these are still not the only recognized forms of appeal to authority. For example, a 2012 guidebook on philosophical logic describes appeals to authority not merely as arguments from unqualified or unreliable authority, but as arguments from authority in general. In addition to appeals lacking evidence of the authority's reliability, the book states that arguments from authority are fallacious if there is a lack of "good evidence" that the authorities appealed to possess "adequate justification for their views."[20]

The "Fallacies" entry by Bradley Dowden in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy states that "appealing to authority as a reason to believe something is fallacious when authorities disagree on this subject (except for the occasional lone wolf)"[12] The "Fallacies" entry by Hans Hansen in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy similarly states that "when there is controversy, and authorities are divided, it is an error to base one’s view on the authority of just some of them."[21]

Examples[edit]

Valid forms[edit]

The valid form of argument is one in which a recognized and knowledgeable authority on the relevant subject is appealed to by citing a statement by that authority. This is a form of inductive reasoning in that the conclusion is not logically certain, but likely.[22] Examples include following the treatments prescribed by a medical doctor, or citing a respected author to establish claims of fact in a written work.[22]

Fallacious forms[edit]

When misused, the argument typically forms an informal fallacy.[23] This form of the argument occurs when the presumed authority appealed to is compromised in some way; such as being an expert in the wrong subject or is giving views from one side of an active controversy.[22] Some examples of this are citing a popular astrophysicist for claims about molecular biology; an Olympic athlete's endorsement of a product they do not use;[24][25] or a long retired professor's claims about a current debate in their field. This forms an informal fallacy because the first proposition is untrue.[22]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "Argumentum ad verecundiam" is translated from Latin as argument to modesty or respect.[1][2] "Verecundiam" directly translates as "shame".[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Worcester, Joseph Emerson (1910). Worcester's academic dictionary: a new etymological dictionary of the English language. Lippincott. p. 661. Retrieved 16 April 2017. 
  2. ^ Walton, Douglas (1 November 2010). Appeal to Expert Opinion: Arguments from Authority. Penn State Press. p. 32. ISBN 0-271-04194-3. Retrieved 16 April 2017. 
  3. ^ Verecundiam. Charlton T. Lewis and Charles Short. A Latin Dictionary on Perseus Project.
  4. ^ Coleman, Edwin (1995). "There is no Fallacy of Arguing from Authority". Informal Logic. 17 (3): 366–7. Retrieved 12 January 2016. 
  5. ^ a b 1942-, Walton, Douglas (Douglas Neil), (2008-01-01). Informal logic : a pragmatic approach. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521713801. OCLC 783439050. 
  6. ^ Hamblin, C. L. (1970). Fallacies. London: Methuen Publishing. p. 171. ISBN 0416145701. 
  7. ^ Walton, Douglas (1997). Appeal to Expert Opinion. Penn State University Press. p. 53. ISBN 0271016957. 
  8. ^ Walton, Douglas (1997). Appeal to Expert Opinion. Penn State University Press. pp. 54–55. ISBN 0271016957. 
  9. ^ Hurley, Patrick (2012). A Concise Introduction to Logic (12th ed.). Cengage Learning. pp. 138–9. ISBN 1285196546. 
  10. ^ Layman, Charles (1999). The Power of Logic. Mayfield Publishing Company. p. 178. ISBN 0767406397. 
  11. ^ Nolt, John; Rohatyn, Dennis; Varzi, Achille (2012). Schaum's Easy Outline of Logic. The McGraw-Hill Companies. p. 115. ISBN 0071777539.
  12. ^ a b Dowden, Bradley. "Fallacies". The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. IEP. ISSN 2161-0002. Retrieved 27 August 2016. 
  13. ^ Hansen, Hans. "Fallacies". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2015 ed.). The Metaphysics Research Lab, Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford University. ISSN 1095-5054. Retrieved 3 September 2016. 
  14. ^ Underwood, R.H. (1994). "Logic and the Common law Trial". American Journal of Trial Advocacy: 166. 
  15. ^ a b Carroll, Robert. "Appeal to Authority". The Skeptic's Dictionary. 
  16. ^ https://csts.ua.edu/files/2016/09/1983-When-More-Doctors-Smoked-Camels-Cigarette-advertising-in-the-Journal-NYSJM.pdf
  17. ^ Williamson, Owen. "Master List of Logical Fallacies". The University of Texas at El Paso. 
  18. ^ Ruggiero, Tim. "Logical Fallacies". 
  19. ^ Bennett, B. "Appeal to the Common Man". Logically Fallacious. 
  20. ^ Nolt, John; Rohatyn, Dennis; Varzi, Achille (2012). Schaum's Easy Outline of Logic. The McGraw-Hill Companies. p. 115. ISBN 0071777539.
  21. ^ Hansen, Hans. "Fallacies". The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2015 ed.). The Metaphysics Research Lab, Center for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford University. ISSN 1095-5054. Retrieved 3 September 2016. 
  22. ^ a b c d H., Salmon, Merrilee (2013-01-01). Introduction to logic and critical thinking. Wadsworth. ISBN 9781133049753. OCLC 898667923. 
  23. ^ J., Gensler, Harry (2010-01-01). The A to Z of logic. Scarecrow. ISBN 9780810875968. OCLC 901202870. 
  24. ^ Hansen, Hans, "Fallacies", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2015/entries/fallacies/.
  25. ^ "Fallacies | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy". Iep.utm.edu. Archived from the original on 30 Mar 2017. Retrieved 16 Apr 2017. 

External links[edit]