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Appeal to Authority, a logical fallacy

Since this type of argument shows up so frequently on audio debates I'm posting an excerpt here taken from the Wiki page on the subject. This post is not intended to minimize anyone's education or expertise in some subject or another.

Example of the Appeal to Authority as a logical fallacy.

Proposition: the Intelligent Chip operates by quantum superposition.

Logical fallacy using the Appeal to Authority: I have taken many courses in quantum mechanics and even quantum superposition and I don't think the Intelligent Chip works.

OK, here's the excerpt:

"Argument from authority, also ad verecundiam and appeal to authority, is a common form of argument which leads to a logical fallacy.[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,[4][5][6][7] 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.[8]

The argument from authority can take several forms. As a syllogism, the argument has the following basic structure:[5][9]

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 define person or group A into inerrancy on any subject matter.[5][10]

One real world example of this tautological inerrancy is how Ignaz Semmelweis' evidence that puerperal fever was caused by a contagious agent, as opposed to the then-accepted view that it was caused mainly by environmental factors,[11] was dismissed largely based on appeals to authority. Multiple critics stated that they did not accept the claims in part because of the fact that in all the academic literature on puerperal fever there was nothing that supported the view Semmelweis was advancing.[12] They were thus effectively using the circular argument that "the literature is not in error, therefore the literature is not in error".[13]

Dismissal of evidence
The equally fallacious counter-argument from authority takes the form:[14]

B has provided evidence for position T.
A says position T is incorrect.
Therefore, B's 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.[14] This form is especially unsound when there is no indication that A is aware of the evidence given by B.[15]"

Geoff Kait
Machina Dynamica
We do artificial atoms right

geoffkait's picture
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Master List of Logical Fallacies

Logical fallacy master list, short version (thanks to University of Texas El Paso for the definitions of these logical fallacies). See how many of these master list logical fallacies you can spot on the various threads of this forum. Or any audio forum.

Ad Hominem Argument: Also, "personal attack," "poisoning the well." The fallacy of attempting to refute an argument by attacking the opposition’s personal character or reputation, using a corrupted negative argument from ethos. E.g., "He's so evil that you can't believe anything he says." See also "Guilt by Association." Also applies to cases where valid opposing evidence and arguments are brushed aside without comment or consideration, as simply not worth arguing about.

Appeal to Tradition: (also "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"). The fallacy that a standpoint, situation or action is right, proper and correct simply because it has "always" been that way, because people have "always" thought that way, or because it continues to serve one particular group very well. A corrupted argument from ethos (that of past generations). (E.g., "In America, women have always been paid less, so let's not mess with long-standing tradition."). The counterpart of this is "The Appeal to Novelty," e.g., "It's NEW, and [therefore it must be] improved!"

Argument from Consequences: The major fallacy of arguing that something cannot be true because if it were the consequences would be unacceptable. (E.g., "Global climate change cannot be caused by human burning of fossil fuels, because if it were, switching to non-polluting energy sources would bankrupt American industry," or "Doctor, that's wrong! I can't have terminal cancer, because if I did that'd mean that I won't live to see my kids get married!")

Argument from Ignorance: The fallacy that since we don’t know (or can never know, or cannot prove) whether a claim is true or false, it must be false (or that it must be true). E.g., “Scientists are never going to be able to positively prove their theory that humans evolved from other creatures, because we weren't there to see it! So, that proves the Genesis six-day creation account is literally true as written!” This fallacy includes Attacking the Evidence, e.g. "Your evidence is missing, incomplete, or even faked! That proves I'm right!" This usually includes “Either-Or Reasoning:” E.g., “The vet can't find any reasonable explanation for why my dog died. See! See! That proves that you poisoned him! There’s no other logical explanation!” A corrupted argument from logos. A fallacy commonly found in American political, judicial and forensic reasoning.

See also "A Priori Argument" and "Argumentum ex Silentio."

Argument from Motives (also Questioning Motives). The fallacy of declaring a standpoint or argument invalid solely because of the evil, corrupt or questionable motives of the one making the claim. E.g., "Bin Laden wanted us out of Afghanistan, so we have to keep up the fight!" Even evil people with corrupt motives sometimes say the truth (and even those who have the highest motives are often wrong or mistaken). A variety of the Ad Hominem argument. The counterpart of this is the fallacy of falsely justifying or excusing evil or vicious actions because of the perpetrator's purity of motives or lack of malice. (E.g., "He's a good Christian man; how could you accuse him of doing something like that?")

Big Lie Technique (also "Staying on Message"): The contemporary fallacy of repeating a lie, slogan or deceptive half-truth over and over (particularly in the media) until people believe it without further proof or evidence.. E.g., "What about the Jewish Question?" Note that when this particular phony debate was going on there was no "Jewish Question," only a "Nazi Question," but hardly anybody in power recognized or wanted to talk about that.

Blind Loyalty (also Blind Obedience, the "Team Player" appeal, or the Nuremberg Defense). The dangerous fallacy that an argument or action is right simply and solely because a respected leader or source (a President, expert, one’s parents, one's own "side," team or country, one’s boss or commanding officers) say it is right. This is over-reliance on authority, a corrupted argument from ethos that puts loyalty above truth, above one's own reason and above conscience. In this case a person attempts to justify incorrect, stupid or criminal behavior by whining "That's what I was told to do," or “I was just following orders." See also, "The Soldiers' Honor Fallacy."

Blood is Thicker than Water (also Favoritism, Compadrismo, "For my friends, anything."). The reverse of the "Ad Hominem" fallacy, a corrupt argument from ethos where a statement, argument or action is automatically regarded as true, correct and above challenge because one is related to, or knows and likes, or is on the same team as the individual involved. (E.g., "My brother-in-law says he saw you goofing off on the job. You're a hard worker but who am I going to believe, you or him? You're fired!")

Geoff Kait
Machina Dynamica

David Harper
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appeal to authority

The ultimate appeal to authority surely must be the arguments asserting the divinity of Jesus and the authority of the Bible.
Every time I have had the debate, the believer,in the end,falls back on the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible.
It is a position which requires no further proof or logical elucidation.
If the believer is faced with facts, they are ignored.
The burden of proof is forced upon the skeptic, instead of resting with the believer, where it belongs.

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The PhD fallacy

The Appeal to Authority can be subtle, too. For example a PhD in Microbiology might argue that he has a degree in Microbiology therefore his argument should win against an argument regarding electronics by someone with a lesser degree or even someone with no degree. While that might help convince onlookers that his argument is correct it actually doesn't prove it. That's the old I'm an Authority on Everything argument. Then there's the case of a PhD in Electronics who tries to swing the argument over to his side because he's an expert in the subject to hand. But this is also a Logical Fallacy, and does prove he's actually right in the electronics argument. By inspection even PhDs in Electronics can disagree. So the argument I'm a PhD in Electronics therefore I must be right is also a Logical Fallacy. Even if the guy he's arguing with is a high school graduate. That's just the old I'm a PhD in the Subject argument. Please note that I'm not saying the PhD will lose all electronics arguments and he may not lose very many. But he is not allowed to automatically win all arguments by virtue of his PhD status.

Geoff Kait
Machina Dynamica

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