What exactly is the argument from authority fallacy?

As you might already know, a fallacy is a mistake in reasoning for an argument. An argument, specifically but not limited to Philsoophy is: 

1. If x then y
2. x
3. Therefore y 

To see a definition of fallacy by example(s), see my previous posts. 

An argument from authority in it’s simplest form is saying that a claim is true because x person said so. So one could say, “It’s true that it’s going to rain tomorrow because the weatherman said so.” Obviously it doesn’t follow that it will most certainly rain just because the weather man said so. The weatherman could be wrong. However, our claim does have more credibility and plausibility when we have sources like the weatherman, telling us that it will likely rain tomorrow. 

The argument form authority in the second sense, is often misunderstood. When people cite authorities, they aren’t always endorsing the claim to be true because someone said so. So the fallacy of appealing to authority is when we appeal to a questionable authority. 

So really, the fallacy should be called appeal to questionable authority. 

What are some examples of this? 

An example would be if I appealed to the President in terms of him endorsing a quantum mechanics theory. Certainly, the president is credible in a lot of areas. But at the same time, the President is a questionable authority when it comes to quantum mechanics because he doesn’t know much about it. At the same time, it’s not always stupid or ethically wrong to speak on a subject which you are not an expert in. It’s just when you’re citing someone for evidence, that person should be established. 

Certainly, it’s possible that the President could be right in what he says. But more times than not, a person is not a reliable source because there answer will most likely be more wrong than right in virtue of them not knowing a lot about the thing in question. 

What’s another example of the appeal to questionable authority? 

Well an example would be to cite a Biologist’s opinion on the subject of ethics. Certainly, science has ethical guidelines for behavior in the field. And certainly a scientist is entitled both rationally and legally to hold to a particular view of ethics. However, a biologist is not an expert in the field of Ethics. An Ethicist is some who is well versed in the area. And certainly a Philosopher in general will probably know more about the subject than a Biologist in virtue of ethics being a branch of Philosophy. 

The point is, if I’m going to cite a Biologist’s opinion in a paper or a debate, I’m probably going to be called out on it, and rightfully so. The audience will be skeptical and you want to avoid that if you want people to hear out your arguments. 

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