[extropy-chat] Appeal to Authority

Lee Corbin lcorbin at tsoft.com
Fri Mar 17 04:19:52 UTC 2006

Gordon (gts) writes

> Surely these authorities on argument have presented  
> valid arguments as to why appeals to authority are
> fallacious.

Well, I'm not really disputing their arguments! But even
if I were, do note irony upon irony here that you aren't
quoting or referring to their arguments; you're simply
suggesting that *surely* these authorities didn't err!

Ahem, let's step back from ironies within ironies for a
while (I did like Ian's first one).

> Personally I am not very interested in this subject,
> per se. Arguments from authority seem clearly
> fallacious to me, even if I am not immune from
> sometimes presenting them.  

Now that's agreeable candor!  :-)  But consider again
Rafal's example: (slightly edited here)

   ### If [I've concluded that] my parents are dumb
   alcoholics and the other kid's parents are highly
   financially successful MD/PhD/JDs, he can reasonably
   tell me to... accept the opinions about biotechnology
   patent law that he learned from them...

There are any number of examples like that. An especially
revealing one is this:

   Suppose you are the only mathematician who has calculated
   that the orbit of a dangerous asteroid sure to strike Earth
   will pass through a particular point, there being dozens
   and dozens of other astrophysicists and mathematicians all
   of whom have reputations for competence and accuracy at
   least as good as your own. If the decision suddenly is
   yours, would you go with their calculations, or the one
   that you have performed with your own hands?

Unless you can *explain* what special circumstances are
causing them to be wrong, you are defying probability not
to accede to their authority. The same is true of Rafal's
and many other examples: often we simply *must* rely on

> More interesting to me, and the reason I mentioned your
> name, Lee, is the idea that even so-called valid logical
> arguments might sometimes be fallacious.

Hmm, I worry that some of the terms you're using here will
cause confusion. *Valid logical arguments* cannot be
fallacious on their own terms. By that I mean that they
are part of a closed system that can only be criticized
from outside. But you may have meant that too. *Certainly*
it is true that we cannot simply verify that an argument
is logically correct and then conclude that it is valid
in the sense of accurately pertaining to the world.

> This idea comes to me from evolutionary epistemology,
> especially this essay that I found very illuminating:
> Cracking the Dogmatic Framework of Thought
> http://www.the-rathouse.com/bartdogmatic.html

Thanks for that. It's a pretty good essay, though the first
half is misleading. The writer fails to emphasize the
*evolutionary* nature of Pan-Critical Rationalism. He also
doesn't strike at the root of "justificationism", namely
does not mention early on that the whole impulse to
"justify" something is inferior to criticizing its alternatives.
I didn't see a clear portrayal of the PCR evolutionary process,
namely that our best beliefs have not been justified, rather
that they've withstood a lot of criticism aimed at them for a
long time.


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