[extropy-chat] Appeal to Authority

Ian Goddard iamgoddard at yahoo.com
Fri Mar 17 07:46:36 UTC 2006

--- gts <gts_2000 at yahoo.com> wrote:
> >  Are you saying that nonempirical arguments are a
> > special case wherein appellants do not invoke the
> > hypothesis: "Statements of authorities pertaining
> > to their fields are usually more accurate than the
> > statements of nonauthorities; therefore, they are
> > most likely more accurate in this case too"?
> No, I was only pointing out that you've emphasized
> empirical tests as perhaps the only measure of an 
> argument's validity, when in fact some possibly 
> valid arguments cannot be tested empirically. 

 In fact rules of logical syntax define criteria for
the evaluation of specified arrangements of empty
symbols into valid argument structures, or schemata,
without empirical reference. But appeal to authority
is allegedly a fallacy of informal, not formal, logic.
Authorities are empirical things that are referenced
for empirical reasons, such as they're usually
correct. I'd reference an authority on pure syntax if
necessary to persuade someone that some aspect of
syntax is the case, but even that wouldn't take the
appeal process out of an empirical context. 

> > ... experts are usually correct!
> Usually. But as I used to say as a kid, "The word
> 'almost' only counts in horseshoes and H-bombs." :)
> True and valid arguments are (presumably) exactly
> true no matter who makes them, every time.

 But appeal to authority is allegedly a fallacy of
informal, not formal logic. In informal logic,
argument structures are validated on the basis of
being correct more often than not, hence an argument
form that has been shown to lead to the truth most
often is considered valid. I'd argue that appeal to
authority likely points to the truth, most often, and
therefore is a valid informal argument structure. 

> >  Which isn't contrary to what I suggest, although
> > I'm not saying (and I don't think Hal is either) 
> > that the appeal is a 'fallacy,' it just doesn't 
> > help.
> Well, if it doesn't help then it must be a fallacy.

 I'm saying it doesn't help advance an argument on the
facts in a case; then making an appeal to authority
raises a failure to meet the burden of rejoinder, not
a fallacy. But sure, we could define fallacy as "not
useful." But Webster's does not define fallacy as
being unuseful...

> According to Webster:
> Main Entry: fal·la·cy
> Pronunciation: 'fa-l&-sE
> Function: noun
> Inflected Form(s): plural -cies
> Etymology: Latin fallacia, from fallac-, fallax
> deceitful, from fallere to  
> deceive
> 1 a obsolete : GUILE, TRICKERY b : deceptive
> appearance : DECEPTION
> 2 a : a false or mistaken idea <popular fallacies> b
> : erroneous character  
> 3 : an often plausible argument using false or
> invalid inference
> I'm looking at the second and third connotations.

  As per (2), an appeal to authority is not
necessarily "a false or mistaken idea" nor a matter of
"erroneous character." As per (3), it's not been shown
that appeal to authority uses "false or invalid
inference." Just citing the definition of a fallacy
does not make appeal to authority a fallacy. The
definition also doesn't define a fallacy as useless.

 And I have it on good authority that appeal to
authority is not a fallacy. ;) According to Copi &
Cohen: "When we argue that a given conclusion is
correct on the grounds that an expert authority has
come to that judgment we commit no fallacy. Indeed,
such recourse to authority is necessary for most of us
on very many matters." [*] Copi & Cohen do list
"Appeal to Inappropriate Authority" as a fallacy, and
then discuss how to chose appropriate authorities.

[*] Copi & Cohen (1990). "Introduction to Logic." New
York: Macmillian Publishing Co. p.95-6.


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