Appeal to Authority

Appeal to Authority:
Authority is evoked as the last word on an issue.
Appeals to authority cite prominent figures to support a position idea, argument, or course of action.

This sort of reasoning is fallacious when the person in question is not an expert. In such cases the reasoning is flawed because the fact that an unqualified person makes a claim does not provide any justification for the claim. The claim could be true, but the fact that an unqualified person made the claim does not provide any rational reason to accept the claim as true. Since people have a tendency to believe authorities, this fallacy is a fairly common one.

  • "Albert Einstein was extremely impressed with this theory." (But a statement made by someone long-dead could be out of date. Or perhaps Einstein was just being polite. Or perhaps he made his statement in some specific context. And so on.)

To justify an appeal, the arguer should at least present an exact quote. It's more convincing if the quote contains context, and if the arguer can say where the quote comes from. A variation is to appeal to unnamed authorities .

Appeal To Anonymous Authority:
An Appeal To Authority is made, but the authority is not named.

For example, "Experts agree that ..", "scientists say .." or even "they say ..". This makes the information impossible to verify, and brings up the very real possibility that the arguer himself doesn't know who the experts are. In that case, he may just be spreading a rumor. The situation is even worse if the arguer admits it's a rumor.

Appeal To False Authority:
A variation on Appeal To Authority, but the Authority is outside his area of expertise. A variation is to appeal to a non-existent authority.  Another variation is to misquote a real authority. There are several kinds of misquotation. A quote can be inexact or have been edited. It can be taken out of context. The quote can be separate quotes which the arguer glued together. Or, bits might have gone missing.

is commonly used in advertisements. It is similar to the Plain Folks technique. However, instead of ordinary people, famous people are pictured in print ads or appear on television endorsing products. The advertiser hopes that those who admire this person will buy the products thinking that they will be more like their idol if they use products he or she uses. Testimonial is another form the false authority fallacy.

Argument From Authority:
the claim that the speaker is an expert, and so should be trusted. There are degrees and areas of expertise. The speaker is actually claiming to be more expert, in the relevant subject area, than anyone else in the room. There is also an implied claim that expertise in the area is worth having.

Argument From False Authority: 
A strange variation on Argument From Authority. For example, the TV commercial which starts "I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV." Just what are we supposed to conclude ?

Statement Of Conversion:
The speaker says "I used to believe in X". This is simply a weak form of asserting expertise. The speaker is implying that he has learned about the subject, and now that he is better informed, he has rejected X. So perhaps he is now an authority, and this is an implied Argument From Authority.

A more irritating version of this is "I used to think that way when I was your age." The speaker hasn't said what is wrong with your argument: he is merely claiming that his age has made him an expert. "X" has not actually been countered unless there is agreement that the speaker has that expertise. In general, any bald claim always has to be buttressed.

It is also very important to note that expertise in one area does not automatically confer expertise in another.

If there is a significant amount of legitimate dispute among the experts within a subject, then it will fallacious to make an Appeal to Authority using the disputing experts. This is because for almost any claim being made and "supported" by one expert there will be a counterclaim that is made and "supported" by another expert.

If an expert is significantly biased then the claims he makes within his are of bias will be less reliable. Since a biased expert will not be reliable, an Argument from Authority based on a biased expert will be fallacious. This is because the evidence will not justify accepting the claim. Experts, being people, are vulnerable to biases and predjudices. If there is evidence that a person is biased in some manner that would affect the reliability of her claims, then an Argument from Authority based on that person is likely to be fallacious. Even if the claim is actually true, the fact that the expert is biased weakens the argument. This is because there would be reason to believe that the expert might not be making the claim because he has carefully considered it using his expertise. Rather, there would be reason to believe that the claim is being made because of the expert's bias or prejudice.

Certain areas in which a person may claim expertise may have no legitimacy or validity as areas of knowledge or study. Obviously, claims made in such areas will not be very reliable. The general idea is that to be a legitimate expert a person must have mastery over a real field or area of knowledge.

A common variation of the typical Appeal to Authority fallacy is an Appeal to an Unnamed Authority. This fallacy is also known as an Appeal to an Unidentified Authority. This fallacy is committed when a person asserts that a claim is true because an expert or authority makes the claim and the person does not actually identify the expert. Since the expert is not named or identified, there is no way to tell if the person is actually an expert. Unless the person is identified and has his expertise established, there is no reason to accept the claim.

  • Gordon Brown
  • Tony Blair
  • Brian Kennedy
  • Sir Richard Branson
  • CEOP
  • the Pope
  • "the trip to Washington" etc.

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