Thursday, June 4, 2015

Appeal to Authority

An appeal to authority is an argument that something is true because someone of authority says it is true. The basic form of the argument is:

P1. Person X has asserted claim P
P2. Person X is an authority on subject K
C. Therefore P is acceptable

In practice, there are many instances where it is reasonable to accept inductive arguments where an authority is used to to support a claim. This is something I believe most would find intuitively true given that we rely on the advice and counsel of experts all the time.

The difference between a legitimate appeal to authority versus one which is fallacious is generally dependent on whether the authority being cited is an expert on the matter under consideration, whether there is general agreement among experts in the area of knowledge under consideration and whether the area of knowledge under consideration is credible.

Govier provides the following form of an acceptable appeal to authority:

1. Expert X has asserted claim P
2. X is a reliable and credible person in this context 
3. P falls within area of specialization K
4. K is a genuine area of knowledge
5. X is an expert, or authority, in K. 
6. The experts in K agree about P 
7. P is acceptable

Given that the above guidelines provide for acceptable appeals to authority, then a violation of one or more of these conditions would lead to what is commonly referred to as a fallacious appeal to authority. Some ways an appeal to authority can go wrong or be weakened include:

1. The authority cited is not really an expert or is not an expert in the area pertaining to the issue at hand.
2. The authority is an "expert" in an area which is not a genuine area of knowledge (An "expert" in homeopathy promoting a treatment does not carry weight as homeopathy is not a genuine area of knowledge).
3. The authority's opinion is unrepresentative of what the majority of experts believe to be true about the subject.
4. There is widespread disagreement among experts on the subject.

Introduction to Logic and Critical Thinking 
A Practical Study of Argument
Fallacy Files: Appeal to Authority

To review later:

No comments:

Post a Comment