The authority-can-be-wrong fallacy

An ‘argument from authority’ or ‘appeal to authority‘ fallacy is when an authority figure is used to support a claim and that person is not a true authority on the subject.

Example:

  • Warren Buffett thinks we should raise tax rates on the wealthy!
  • Being a good business man does not automatically qualify one as authority on tax policy.

Appealing to authority is considered valid when the person is a legitimate authority on the subject.

I find this unsatisfying.

If we find two legitimate authorities who disagree with each other, where does the argument go?

Not far. You believe your authority, I’ll believe mine. No progress has been made on either side.

We all know of cases where authorities were wrong. There’s an example in the previous post where it appears what diet authorities recommended decades ago may be wrong.

I have innate lack of trust in authorities — even those I agree with.

When I agree with them, I still want to know their basis and reasoning to see if it strengthens or weakens my view.

Many times I’ve researched an authority I agreed with to learn their reasoning and was disappointed to not find it convincing.

For me, even appealing to a legitimate authority is a fallacy (or, at least, not convincing).

I propose a new fallacy: the authority-can-be-wrong fallacy.

That doesn’t mean we should automatically disbelieve everything authorities tell us. Many times they do know a lot about a subject.

But, just remember, they are human and fallible. I think it’s better that we learn from them and try to understand their reasoning, instead of just parroting whatever they say.

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One thought on “The authority-can-be-wrong fallacy

  1. Judge someone by the fruit of their ways. I think that is a biblical theme. Forest Gump’s momma said it best, stupid is as stupid does.

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