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Argument from authority

Argument from authority (Latin: argumentum ab auctoritate), also authoritative argument and appeal to authority, is a common form of argument which leads to a logical fallacy when misused.[1]
In informal reasoning, the appeal to authority is a form of argument attempting to establish a statistical syllogism.[2]
The appeal to authority relies on an argument of the form:[3]
A is an authority on a particular topic
A says something about that topic
A is probably correct
Fallacious examples of using the appeal include any appeal to authority used in the context of logical reasoning, and
appealing to the position of an authority or authorities to dismiss evidence,[2][4][5][6] as authorities can come to the
wrong judgments through error, bias, dishonesty, or falling prey to groupthink. Thus, the appeal to authority is not a
generally reliable argument for establishing facts.[7]


The argument from authority can take several forms. As a syllogism, the argument has the following basic structure:[4][5]
A says P about subject matter S.
A should be trusted about subject matter S.
Therefore, P is correct.
The second premise is not accepted as valid, as it amounts to an unfounded assertion that leads to circular reasoning
able to dene person or group A into inerrancy on any subject matter.[4][5]


Dismissal of evidence

The equally fallacious counter-argument from authority takes the form:[8]

B has provided evidence for position T.
A says position T is incorrect.
Therefore, Bs evidence is false.
This form is fallacious as it does not actually refute the evidence given by B, merely notes that there is disagreement
with it.[8] This form is especially unsound when there is no indication that A is aware of the evidence given by B.[9]


Appeal to non-authorities

Fallacious arguments from authority often are the result of citing a non-authority as an authority.[4] First, when the
inference refers to an inexpert authority, it is an appeal to inappropriate authority, which occurs when an inference
relies upon a person or a group without relevant expertise or knowledge of the subject matter under discussion.[5][10]
However, it is a fallacious ad hominem argument to argue that a person presenting statements lacks authority and thus
their arguments do not need to be considered. As an appeal to a perceived lack of authority, it is fallacious for much
the same reasons as an appeal to authority.[11]



Use in logic

It is fallacious to use any appeal to authority in the context of logical reasoning. Because the argument from authority
is not a logical argument in that it does not argue somethings negation or armation constitutes a contradiction, it is
fallacious to assert that the conclusion must be true.[4] Such a determinative assertion is a logical non sequitur as the
conclusion does not follow unconditionally, in the sense of being logically necessary.[12][13]
The only exceptions to this would be an authority which is logically required to always be correct, such as an omniscient
being that does not lie.[14]


Argumentum ad verecundiam

The phrase argumentum ad verecundiam is sometimes used synonymously to mean argument from authority. While
it is linked, it does not have the same meaning . The Latin noun verecundia means modesty or "shame". It attempts
to make those who lack authority feel shame about discussing issues they lack credentials of expertise in, and back
out of an argument.[15]

Notable examples


Inaccurate Chromosome Number

In 1923, leading American zoologist Theophilus Painter declared based on his ndings that humans had 24 pairs of
chromosomes. From the 1920s to the 1950s, this continued to be held based on Painters authority,[16] despite subsequent counts totaling the correct number of 23.[17] Even textbooks with photos clearly showing 23 pairs incorrectly
declared the number to be 24 based on the authority of the then-consensus of 24 pairs.[17]
As Robert Matthews said of the event, Scientists had preferred to bow to authority rather than believe the evidence
of their own eyes.[17] As such, their reasoning was an appeal to authority. [18]


The Tongue Map

Another example is that of the tongue map, which purported to show dierent areas of taste on the tongue. While it
originated from a misreading of the original text, it got taken up in textbooks and the scientic literature [19] for nearly
a century, and remained even after being shown to be wrong in the 1970s[20][21] and despite being easily disproven
on ones own tongue.[22][23]

Psychological basis

An integral part of the appeal to authority is the cognitive bias known as the Asch eect.[24] In repeated and modied
instances of the Asch conformity experiments, it was found that high-status individuals create a stronger likelihood
of a subject agreeing with an obviously false conclusion, despite the subject normally being able to clearly see that the
answer was incorrect.[25]
Further, humans have been shown to feel strong emotional pressure to conform to authorities and majority positions.
A repeat of the experiments by another group of researchers found that Participants reported considerable distress
under the group pressure, with 59% conforming at least once and agreeing with the clearly incorrect answer, whereas
the incorrect answer was much more rarely given when no such pressures were present.[26]

See also
Argumentum ad hominem

Ipse dixit
Logical fallacy
Manifesto of the Ninety-Three

[1] Logical Fallacies. Fall 2008. Retrieved 2014-01-25.
[2] Salmon, M. H. (2006). Introduction to Critical Reasoning. Mason, OH: Thomson Wadsworth. pp. 1189.
[3] Gootendorst, Rob. Some Fallacies about Fallacies. Argumentation: Across the lines of discipline. p. 388.
[4] Gensler, Harry J. (2003). Introduction to Logic. New York, NY: Routedge. pp. 3334.
[5] Baronett, Stan (2008). Logic. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall. p. 304.
[6] Walton 2008, p. 89.
[7] Walton 2008, p. 84.
[8] Walton 2008, p. 91.
[9] Walton 2008, p. 92.

[10] See generally Irving M. Copi (1986). Introduction to Logic (7th ed.). Macmillan Publishing Company. pp. 9899.
[11] Van Eemeren, Frans; Grootendorst, Rob (1987). Fallacies in pragma-dialectical perspective.. Argumentation 1 (3):
[12] Foster, Marguerite H.; Martin, Michael L., eds. (1966). Probability, Conrmation, and Simplicity: Readings in the Philosophy of Inductive Logic. Odyssey Press.
[13] Peirce, Charles Sanders et al. (1883) [Digitized Jun 15, 2007]. Studies in logic. By members of the Johns Hopkins university.
Little, Brown. ISBN 978-1-236-07583-3. (available as a free google eBook)
[14] Wierenga, Edward. Omniscience. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University.
[15] Fischer, D. H. (June 1970), Historians fallacies: toward a logic of historical thought, Harper torchbooks (rst ed.), New
York: HarperCollins, p. 283, ISBN 978-0-06-131545-9, OCLC 185446787
[16] O'Connor, Clare (2008), Human Chromosome Number, Nature, retrieved April 24, 2014
[17] Matthews, Robert (2011), The bizarre case of the chromosome that never was, Fortune City, retrieved May 14, 2011
[18] Grootendorst 2008, p. 158.
[20] Midura, Margaretta. On the Road to Sweetness: A Clear-Cut Destination?". Yale Scientic Magazine.
[24] Grootendorst, Robert (1992), Argumentation, Communication, and Fallacies: A Pragma-dialectical Perspective, p. 158
[25] McLeod, Samuel (2008), Asch Experiment, Simply Psychology
[26] Webley, Paul, A partial and non-evaluative history of the Asch eect, University of Exeter


Gensler, Harry J. (2003). Introduction to Logic. New York, NY: Routedge. pp. 3334.
Baronett, Stan (2008). Logic. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Works cited
Walton, Douglas (2008). Informal Logic. London: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-71380-3.

External links
The dictionary denition of ad verecundiam at Wiktionary
The dictionary denition of auctoritas at Wiktionary


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