Accused of a fallacy? Suspect a fallacy? Ask Dr. Bo and the community!

Quickly register to comment, ask and respond to questions, and get FREE access to our passive online course on cognitive biases!
Register!

one moment please...



Appeal to Authority

argumentum ad verecundiam

(also known as: argument from authority, ipse dixit)

Description: Insisting that a claim is true simply because a valid authority or expert on the issue said it was true, without any other supporting evidence offered. Also see the appeal to false authority.

Logical Form:

According to person 1, who is an expert on the issue of Y, Y is true.

Therefore, Y is true.

Example #1:

Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist and perhaps the foremost expert in the field, says that evolution is true. Therefore, it's true.

Explanation: Richard Dawkins certainly knows about evolution, and he can confidently tell us that it is true, but that doesn't make it true. What makes it true is the preponderance of evidence for the theory.

Example #2:

How do I know the adult film industry is the third largest industry in the United States? Derek Shlongmiester, the adult film star of over 50 years, said it was. That's how I know.

Explanation: Shlongmiester may be an industry expert, as well as have a huge talent, but a claim such as the one made would require supporting evidence. For the record, the adult film industry may be large, but on a scale from 0 to 12 inches, it's only about a fraction of an inch.

Exception: Be very careful not to confuse "deferring to an authority on the issue" with the appeal to authority fallacy. Remember, a fallacy is an error in reasoning. Dismissing the council of legitimate experts and authorities turns good skepticism into denialism. The appeal to authority is a fallacy in argumentation, but deferring to an authority is a reliable heuristic that we all use virtually every day on issues of relatively little importance. There is always a chance that any authority can be wrong, that’s why the critical thinker accepts facts provisionally. It is not at all unreasonable (or an error in reasoning) to accept information as provisionally true by credible authorities. Of course, the reasonableness is moderated by the claim being made (i.e., how extraordinary, how important) and the authority (how credible, how relevant to the claim).

The appeal to authority is more about claims that require evidence than about facts. For example, if your tour guide told you that Vatican City was founded February 11, 1929, and you accept that information as true, you are not committing a fallacy (because it is not in the context of argumentation) nor are you being unreasonable.

Tip: Question authority -- or become the authority that people look to for answers.

References:

Hume, D. (2004). An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Courier Corporation.



Registered User Comments

C. Loftus
Saturday, September 29, 2018 - 02:57:36 PM
Would it be considered appeal to authority if you referred to a consensus among multiple authorities?
Example:
Most experts in the field of Y agree that X is true, so X is true.

login to reply
1 reply
0 votes
 
Reply To Comment
working...
 

Bo Bennett, PhD
Saturday, September 29, 2018 - 03:33:04 PM
Yes. However, it would not be fallacious if the conclusion were slightly different:

Most experts in the field of Y agree that X is true, so X it is reasonable to accept X as true.

Of course, the expertise has to be properly established. For example, if most experts in Tarot card readings think the cards tell the future, it is NOT reasonable to accept it as true. Basically, expert opinion is (or should be) a shortcut for obtaining legitimate evidence. So the assumption is that the experts obtained their evidence for their expert opinion legitimately.

login to reply
 
0 votes
 
Reply To Comment
working...

Lars C
Saturday, June 02, 2018 - 10:12:20 AM
Is it an appeal to authority fallacy if someone argues that X is how the state of things should be because it says so in the law or in the constitution?

login to reply
3 replies
0 votes
 
Reply To Comment
working...
 

Bo Bennett, PhD
Saturday, June 02, 2018 - 10:14:44 AM
That certainly could be argued. The real argument would be is if the Constitution is the legitimate authority on the state of things.

login to reply
 
0 votes
 
Reply To Comment
working...
 

Lars C
Saturday, June 02, 2018 - 10:55:53 AM
@Bo Bennett, PhD:

One example:

In paragraph 4 of the Norwegian constitution it says this about our kings:
"The king must always confess to/follow the evangelical-Lutheran religion"

So one could argue:
the king of Norway must follow the evangelical-lutheran religion (in other words be a Christian) because it says so in the constitution.

Wouldn't that be an appeal to authority fallacy?

I think it does. If I were king I would need a better reason than "it says so in a law book". What if I didn't want to follow the evangelical-lutheran religion? I can't be forced to a lutheran.

login to reply
 
0 votes
 
Reply To Comment
working...
 

Bo Bennett, PhD
Saturday, June 02, 2018 - 11:38:19 AM
@Lars C: I don't know anything about Norwegian constitutional law, but it would seem to me that this is a pretty legitimate authority for this issue from what you wrote (so not fallacious). Is the Norwegian constitution a legitimate authority on the king's religion? Should it be? These are two good questions that need to be asked and debated.

login to reply
 
0 votes
 
Reply To Comment
working...

Phil Wick
Friday, May 18, 2018 - 03:48:22 PM
I have a friend that is a computer programmer. She states that since she deals in logic issues all day, and logic is her job, that there is no way that she commits logical fallacies. Would that statement in itself be an appeal to authority?

login to reply
1 reply
0 votes
 
Reply To Comment
working...
 

Bo Bennett, PhD
Friday, May 18, 2018 - 05:37:56 PM
As one who programs an average of 5 hours a day for the last 25 years, I can confidently say that while understanding computer logic is helpful to real world logic, it certainly does not prohibit one from logical errors. But, no, that wouldn't be an appeal to authority; it would simply be a claim. Perhaps even a non sequitur.

login to reply
 
0 votes
 
Reply To Comment
working...


Become a Logical Fallacy Master. Choose Your Poison.

Logically Fallacious is one of the most comprehensive collections of logical fallacies with all original examples and easy to understand descriptions; perfect for educators, debaters, or anyone who wants to improve his or her reasoning skills.

Get the book, Logically Fallacious by Bo Bennett, PhD by selecting one of the following options:


Not Much of a Reader? No Problem!

Enroll in the Mastering Logical Fallacies Online Course. Over 10 hours of video and interactive learning. Go beyond the book!

Enroll in the Fallacy-A-Day Passive Course. Sit back and learn fallacies the easy way—in just a few minutes per day, via e-mail delivery.

Have a podcast or know someone who does? Putting on a conference? Dr. Bennett is available for interviews and public speaking events. Contact him directly here.


About Archieboy Holdings, LLC. Privacy Policy Other Books Written by Bo
 Website Software Copyright 2018, Archieboy Holdings, LLC.