Argument from Authority

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narnia4
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Argument from Authority

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Post by narnia4 » Fri Mar 16, 2012 7:18 pm

I have a few thoughts on this, but I'll wait to mention them. What do you guys think of the argument from authority? Inherently flawed and should never be used? If it should be used, in what context and how far? What do you think of the way its used today, in the internet or professionally or just in general?
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Re: Argument from Authority

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Post by Canuckster1127 » Fri Mar 16, 2012 7:49 pm

Technically, the logical fallacy is more correctly referred to as a Fallacious Appeal to Authority. If a person is legitmately qualified to speak authoritatively on a subject then an appeal to authority can be legitimate. More often than not however the appeal is either fallacious or overstated.
Dogmatism is the comfortable intellectual framework of self-righteousness. Self-righteousness is more decadent than the worst sexual sin. ~ Dan Allender

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Re: Argument from Authority

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Post by Echoside » Fri Mar 16, 2012 8:34 pm

narnia4 wrote:I have a few thoughts on this, but I'll wait to mention them. What do you guys think of the argument from authority? Inherently flawed and should never be used? If it should be used, in what context and how far? What do you think of the way its used today, in the internet or professionally or just in general?
just depends

"You are wrong because Dr. <insert name here> says otherwise." That's fallacious. But it's not always that black and white. I certainly think I would trust the judgement of an expert on the subject rather than average joe.

If your Doctor tells you to take a medicine, and some guy on the street says you shouldn't take it you probably will listen to your doctor. The guy on the street could be correct, but without good evidence I see no reason to believe him.

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Re: Argument from Authority

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Post by narnia4 » Fri Mar 16, 2012 8:48 pm

Canuckster1127 wrote:Technically, the logical fallacy is more correctly referred to as a Fallacious Appeal to Authority. If a person is legitmately qualified to speak authoritatively on a subject then an appeal to authority can be legitimate. More often than not however the appeal is either fallacious or overstated.
Yes, this was what I was going to get at. That there is a difference between fallacious appeals to authority or argumentum ad populum and legitimate arguments from authority. To paraphrase Feser paraphrasing Aquinas, appeal to authority may be the weakest of arguments, but its still an argument.

The reason I brought it up is because I often see it misused as an "appeal to smart people". How many internet skeptics have rattled off names of reputedly brilliant people and concluded "Professor X or Dr. Y doesn't believe in God, so why should we believe these less intelligent Christians"? But it isn't just internet skeptics either, you see a huge number of physicists trying their hand at philosophy with no experience and being embarrassed in debates by apologists who have actually trained and studied and prepared in all the relevant areas (theology, philosophy, etc.) for a debate about God, Christianity, morality, etc. And yet because these are smart people, we can't say that they don't know what they're talking about when they say silly things like science is the only thing that can really answer our questions.

So the above is really the capacity that I usually see appeals to authority being used, but I brought it up because of some reading I did in the past at the blog of the aforementioned Ed Feser and more recently at Prosblogian (can link if somebody wants). Both blogs brought up different surveys of philosphers and graduate students in philosophy. The former brought up a Philpapers survey that revealed what many know, that the majority of philosophers "lean toward" atheism rather than theism, only about 12-13% are theists. The Prosblogian survey was divided somewhere are 42% each with the rest inclined to agnosticism.

The interesting thing, however, was that the results in both surveys showed that the a little over 70% of the subset whose area of expertise was philosophy of religion were theists. So to get down to my point, I'm suggesting that appeal to authority only works when you are appealing to the correct authority. Are analytic philosophers or philosophers who specialize in philosophy of mind or random scientists with little to no philosophical/theological training the correct authority? No. But I think you could make the case that philosophers of religion are the "correct authority" to make such an appeal to.

Now the obvious counterpoint would be that Christians/theists would be more inclined to specialize in philosophy in religion. Point taken, but that doesn't negate the point that the majority of those who are most likely to have a deep and complete understanding of the arguments for and against the existence of God are theists. Also, the same point stands for those who profess no religious belief entering other fields, you can bring up cultural factors and presupposed worldviews into the equation for those people as well.

Here's a few general ideas I want to advance-

1. The argument of authority should be a modest argument that deals with probability rather than proving your case. The more you study and understand a topic, the less sway an argument from authority should have. For example, I don't believe its a coincidence that those who actually have taken the time to study history that time period almost universally acknowledge that Jesus existed. If someone has no knowledge of the arguments or proof or level of evidence required to determine He existed, then that person should probably avoid making bold, sensationalist claims. On the other hand, someone who spends years and years studying philosophy of mind need not adhere to physicalism just because other philosophers don't accept it. Or to use Echoside's example, I would feel more comfortable not following another doctor's advice if I were a doctor with years and years and training who understood why the doctor recommended the medicine he did, while if I were average Joe it would be much smarter to believe what the doctor says.

2. Adding to point #1, if you're having a higher level discussion appealing to authority is *almost* useless. And the vast majority of appeals to authority you'll find on the internet are indeed fallacious.

3. A theist may have other reasons for doubting arguments from authority, spiritual reasons. To a Christian it seems almost necessarily that he would hold the words of humans in lower regard. With that said, however, many atheists would deny the existence of free will or consciousness. To me, this would throw any appeal to authority on their part into doubt, because I could find no "reason" to trust that there is such a thing as rationality or that they used reason to reach a sound, truthful conclusion rather than atoms just happening to fire in a certain direction to shape their beliefs.

4. Building on the previous four points, it seems to me that a non-fallacious appeal to authority, in light of the surveys that reveal that philosophers of religion are likely to be theists, is a small argument in favor of the truth of theism. We should also keep in mind that many Christians may choose to become apologists, theologians, and pastors rather than philosophers, so it looks even more likely that those who actually understand the issue will be a theist. The argument probably doesn't mean as much to presuppositionalists (that's where I lean), but to evidentialists and those who base their arguments on probability (and possibly even percentages), its a decent little appeal that favors theism just a tad imo.

So that's the post I had in mind, might have been better off just putting it in the OP but there it is. Any thoughts on all that?
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