Appeal to (Irrelevant, Misleading, Inappropriate) Authority

Appeal to (Irrelevant, Misleading, Inappropriate) Authority

Postby mtbturtle on March 16th, 2014, 1:44 pm 

Appeal to Authority - Argument from Authority - Argumentum ad Verecundiam

Fallacy Files Appeal to Authority


We must often rely upon expert opinion when drawing conclusions about technical matters where we lack the time or expertise to form an informed opinion. For instance, those of us who are not physicians usually rely upon those who are when making medical decisions, and we are not wrong to do so. There are, however, four major ways in which such arguments can go wrong:

An appeal to authority may be inappropriate in a couple of ways:
It is unnecessary. If a question can be answered by observation or calculation, an argument from authority is not needed. Since arguments from authority are weaker than more direct evidence, go look or figure it out for yourself.
It is impossible. About some issues there simply is no expert opinion, and an appeal to authority is bound to commit the next type of mistake. For example, many self-help books are written every year by self-proclaimed "experts" on matters for which there is no expertise.

The "authority" cited is not an expert on the issue, that is, the person who supplies the opinion is not an expert at all, or is one, but in an unrelated area. The now-classic example is the old television commercial which began: "I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV...." The actor then proceeded to recommend a brand of medicine.

The authority is an expert, but is not disinterested. That is, the expert is biased towards one side of the issue, and his opinion is thereby untrustworthy.
While the authority is an expert, his opinion is unrepresentative of expert opinion on the subject.

Critical Thinking:
A Student's Introduction - 4th Edition
Gregory Bassham

Inappropriate Appeal to Authority

All of us depend on things that other people tell us. Children rely on their parents and teachers for basic guidance and instruction. Scientists rely on other scientists to report their fi ndings accurately. Historians depend on primary sources and other historians for reliable information about the past. Indeed, it is hard to see how any stable and cohesive society could exist without a great deal of shared trust in its members’ basic honesty and reliability. For that reason, trust in authority has aptly been described as “the very foundation of civilization.” 1
Too often, however, people rely uncritically on the authority of others. Throughout history blind faith in authority has bred superstition, intolerance, and dogmatism. Consequently, it is of great importance to be able to distinguish legitimate appeals to authority from those that are fallacious.
The fallacy of inappropriate appeal to authority is committed when an arguer cites a witness or authority who, there is good reason to believe, is unreliable. But when, in general, is it reasonable to believe that a witness or an authority is unreliable? Here are some relevant circumstances:
• when the source is not a genuine authority on the subject at issue
• when the source is biased or has some other reason to lie or mislead
• when the accuracy of the source’s observations is questionable
• when the source cited (e.g., a media source, a reference work, or an Internet source) is known to be generally unreliable
• when the source has not been cited correctly or the cited claim has been taken out of context
• when the source’s claim confl icts with expert opinion
• when the issue is not one that can be settled by expert opinion
• when the claim is highly improbable on its face (page140-141)

Stephen's Guide to Logical Fallacies Appeal to Authority
While sometimes it may be appropriate to cite an authority to support a point, often it is not. In particular, an appeal to authority is inappropriate if:
the person is not qualified to have an expert opinion on the subject,
experts in the field disagree on this issue.
the authority was making a joke, drunk, or otherwise not being serious
A variation of the fallacious appeal to authority is hearsay. An argument from hearsay is an argument which depends on second or third hand sources.

Nizkor Project Fallacies - Appeal to Authority

An Appeal to Authority is a fallacy with the following form:

Person A is (claimed to be) an authority on subject S.
Person A makes claim C about subject S.
Therefore, C is true.

This fallacy is committed when the person in question is not a legitimate authority on the subject. More formally, if person A is not qualified to make reliable claims in subject S, then the argument will be fallacious.

Appeal to Authority

An appeal to authority is an argument from the fact that a person judged to be an authority affirms a proposition to the claim that the proposition is true.

Appeals to authority are always deductively fallacious; even a legitimate authority speaking on his area of expertise may affirm a falsehood, so no testimony of any authority is guaranteed to be true.

However, the informal fallacy occurs only when the authority cited either (a) is not an authority, or (b) is not an authority on the subject on which he is being cited. If someone either isn’t an authority at all, or isn’t an authority on the subject about which they’re speaking, then that undermines the value of their testimony.

Attacking Faulty Reasoning
A Practical Guide to Fallacy-Free Arguments 6th Edition
T. Edward Damer
Appeal to Irrelevant Authority

Definition Attempting to support a claim by appealing to the judgment of one who is not an authority in the field, the judgment of an unidentified authority, or the judgment of an authority who is likely to be biased.

An authority in a particular field is one who has access to the knowledge that he or she claims to have, is qualified by training or ability to draw appropriate inferences from that knowledge, and is free from any prejudices or conflicts of interest that would prevent him or her from formulating sound judgments or communicating them honestly.

There is nothing inappropriate about appealing to the judgment of qualified authorities in a field of knowledge as a means of supporting some particular claim related to that field. When the “authority” on whose judgment the argument rests fails to meet the stated criteria, however, the argument should be regarded as fallacious.

The fallacious appeal to authority occurs most frequently in the form of a transfer of an authority’s competence in one field to another field in which the authority is not competent. An entertainer or athlete, for example, is appealed to as an authority on automobile mufflers or weed-killers; a biologist is called on to support a religious claim; or a politician is treated as an expert on marriage and the family. Indeed, the judgment of a famous and highly respected person is likely to be indiscriminately invoked on almost any subject.

An unidentified authority is questionable because there is no way for us to determine whether the unnamed authority is in fact qualified. If we do not know who the authority is, we are not in a position to know whether his or her testimony should count in favor of the claim being defended.

Another type of improper authority is a biased one. Some people may be qualified in a particular field by training, ability, and position, yet they are so vitally “interested” in or affected by the issue at stake that there would be good reason to treat their testimony with suspicion.

If an arguer appeals to an unqualified, unidentified, or biased authority to support a particular thesis, then he or she has appealed to a factor that provides no support for the conclusion. When there is contradictory testimony from what appear to be equally qualified and unbiased authorities, the proper response would be to accept the testimony of neither authority, unless you have some independent evidence for accepting the testimony of one and not the other.(page102-103)

Introduction to Logic
Irving M. Copi, Carl Cohen & Kenneth McMahon
Fourteenth Edition 2014

The argument ad verecundiam is committed when someone argues that a proposition is true because an expert in a given field has said that it is true. This fallacy is predicated upon the feeling of respect that people have for the famous. An expert’s judgment constitutes no conclusive proof; experts disagree, and even when they are in agreement they may be wrong. However, reference to an authority in an area of competence may carry some weight, but it doesn’t prove a conclusion. Ultimately, even experts need to rely upon empirical evidence and rational inference. The fallacy of the appeal to inappropriate authority arises when the appeal
is made to parties who have no legitimate claim to authority in the matter at hand. Thus, in an argument about morality, an appeal to the opinions of Darwin, a towering authority in biology, would be fallacious, as would be an appeal to the opinions of a great artist such as Picasso to settle an economic dispute.
In every instance, an argument must be judged upon its own merits.
Whenever the truth of some proposition is asserted on the basis of the authority of one who has no special competence in that sphere, the appeal to inappropriate authority is the fallacy committed.
This species of the argumentum ad verecundiam is an appeal to one who has no legitimate claim to authority. Even one who does have a legitimate claim to authority may well prove mistaken, of course, and we may later regret our choice of experts. However, if the experts we chose deserved their reputation for knowledge, it was no fallacy to consult them even if they erred. Our mistake becomes a fallacy when our conclusion is based exclusively upon the verdict of an
authority (133-134).
Last edited by mtbturtle on December 4th, 2014, 4:40 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Reason: added reference
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