[extropy-chat] Appeal to Authority

Lee Corbin lcorbin at tsoft.com
Fri Mar 17 04:49:59 UTC 2006

Keith writes

> [Lee wrote]
> > I thought that it was obvious why Ian was raising this
> > interesting question about Appeal to Authority. We were
> > just concluding a thread in which two thoughtful and
> > well-respected  :-)  writers, Hal and Robin, were in
> > essence encouraging us to believe the consensus of experts
> > in lieu of our own ruminations.
> I didn't get that from either Hal or Robin....
> While both of them said "this happens to be the consensus
> of experts" I did not get the impression they were using
> the experts as reasons to believe the consensus, rather it
> was the data that the experts presented that had the force
> of conviction.

In the postings in question, you're possibly right. But I do
know that a claim of Robin's for a long time has been that
---see item 14 in his list of wild ideas he likes

       On matters of fact or morality, honest rational
       truth-seekers cannot agree to disagree. Even if
       highly computationally constrained, they should
       not be able to anticipate the direction of others'
       opinions relative to their own. Yet virtually no
       pair of humans is like this. Thus virtually no
       humans are truth-seekers, and since most humans
       think they are truth-seekers, they are self-deceived.

...admittedly extreme (and probably an instance one's 
having to be wary of even the most logically tight reasoning).

Hal did say "What is the point of an argument?  Ideally,
it is not to convince the other guy that you are right.
After all, a priori given the symmetry of the situation
he is as likely to be right as you are."

Thus one realizes on some level that what he believes may
very possibly be untrue if sufficiently many other "rational
truth-seekers" disagree. I hope that you don't deny that 
there are instances where we should defer to others, and
especially to experts.

I explained my reasons for that earlier: argument from authority
may indeed be appropriate, but only on a separate level. It ought
not be used *within* the confines of the single level of objectively
weighed arguments. One must first use data, reasoning, and logic
just as though one were the only person in the world capable of
doing so.

Only afterwards does one then weigh properly the fact that your
own brain is just one among many, that the reason of the reasoner
is as suspect ultimately as the reasoner himself.

But, for instance, to *first* attack an argument on the grounds
that the arguer has improper credentials (or has been wrong about
other things) goes against everything all of us here believe
(and believe for good reason too).


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