Project Logicality: Logical Fallacies | The Argument from Authority

This post deals with a common form of informal reasoning, a fallacy known as the Argument from Authority, also referred to as the Appeal to Authority, more broadly as the Appeal to Virtue.

This sort of argument attempts to assert a claim, using supposed – and often misleading, or irrelevant, sometimes even false – qualifications, virtues, or certifications of the cited authority to “prove” the claim true, despite the rules of good reasoning and strong evidence.

This argument, in both valid and fallacious usage, usually has the following shape:

A has qualifications Q.

A says that X is true.

So X is true.

The valid form of this argument, the Argument by Authority, or simply deferring to an authority, when qualifications and credentials are both real and relevant, attaches the qualifier “probably” to the asserted truth of claim X, since in most cases of real-world factual claims, the truth of the claim cannot follow necessarily or be known completely or with certainty.

Or to put it another way…

Dr. Von Blümrich is a great rocket scientist. Dr. Von Blümrich claims that the vision described in the Biblical book of Ezekiel was that of a visitation by ancient astronauts in a rocket-powered spacecraft. Therefore, despite a complete lack of any physical evidence of a spacecraft landing in the Middle East at around that time, it must be true that Ezekiel’s vision was literally a physical event, and described an alien rocketship, not Ezekiel hallucinating out of his tree in a mystical experience.

People, I sh*t you not. Someone actually used that argument on me, and it wasn’t convincing then either…

Another example of this style of argument, used on me by someone who otherwise has the intellectual resources to know better than to commit such an obvious fallacy, is…

“Time travel is impossible, because Professor so-and-so, at such-and-such University, whom I highly respect because he’s very intelligent, said that it is…”


There is a wide variety of supposed but false or irrelevant virtues invoked in this form of specious argument – itself a subset of genetic fallacy, an argument that uses the origin of a claim to assert its truth or falsehood, including such things as wealth, sincerity, intelligence, unconventionality, age (or youth), ancient wisdom (Appeal to Antiquity), wide social acceptance (Appeal to Popularity), celebrity (Appeal to Celebrity), newness (Appeal to Novelty), beauty, strength or power, social status, subjective personal experience, quotations by someone taken out of context or even fabricated (Quote-Mining), purity, virginity, charity, sincerity, claims of impending acceptance (a combination of Argument from Authority and Unstated Premise), piety, self-assumed but unsubstantiated credentials, claimed divine inspiration or origin, vague references to “experts,” “scientists,” “researchers,” or other authorities that cannot be followed up on, and even such normally non-advantageous things as poverty and persecution.

The list goes on, with many other sorts of alleged virtues being involved, of whatever sort can be mustered to fallaciously support the claim, ironically making it less credible, not more.

This fallacy attempts to deceive about the nature of the evidence it pretends to present, a gambit to disguise itself as valid reasoning and actual authority while presenting neither.

The Argument from Authority is always invalid when the authority it name-drops is considered to be necessarily correct. Its not-so-evil mirror universe twin, the Argument by Authority, or Deferring to Experts can be a valid form of argumentation.

This argument style can shade into its opposite, the ad Hominem fallacy, in that case, a Positive ad Hominem, with a fuzzy yet real division between then, and without a fine line separating them.

Often, those people in the best position to examine and assert the truth or falsehood of a claim or statement just happen to be those with experience, real expertise, and a vested interest along with personal involvement in the subject at hand. Credentials, when real and relevant, don’t make you all-knowing, but they do imply that you’re able to competently do the job you were trained and hired for.

Tf. Tk. Tts.

One thought on “Project Logicality: Logical Fallacies | The Argument from Authority

  1. Pingback: Logical Fallacies — the Argument from Authority [Repost] « The Call of Troythulu

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