How do you deal with Appeal to Authority fallacies?

48Tentacles

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Imagine you are in a conversation with someone about X topic, and you make them a question and they respond with something among the lines of "Well, I have a degree on X, so I understand this stuff" and they keep moving on... without responding to your question with evidence.
Or they respond with something similar to "Well I heard from Kawushon James P. Pullo* that X is good, he's famous so we should trust him" without providing further evidence that X is good.
*Note: Kawushon James P. Pullo is a fictional name I've made up for this example. Don't take this name too seriously.

The appeal to authority fallacy, also known as argument from authority, is a type of logical fallacy that refers to the different ways of fallaciously using the statements or opinions of authority figures in order to support a conclusion. For instance, someone may assume that something must be true if a so-called expert believes it to be true, and no other evidence is needed.
Source: Fallacy In Logic

I've been in heated discussions and sadly received this frustrating treatment, "My friend's in this X profession, therefore I know", "I am an expert on X, so you should shut up" and I can imagine this sort of phrases being used to reduce others' voices to avoid debate, or worse yet, create a new form of aristocracy to legitimate silencing others who have new perspectives to put on the table of a given topic.

I personally have an answer prepared for specific responses but it doesn't work for all responses. I reply with something like "Look, I'm sure and I admit that there are people smarter than us in any topic. Point is there is always someone smarter than you and me. It's you and me with our arguments on their own merits."

If you have experienced with replies like these, how do you deal with them?
 

lianderson

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I just drop the conversation.

Ironically, I've seen more of the opposite to appeal to authority. The whole, everyone's opinion is equally valid, even when they're not.
 

TheAM-Dol

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"Well, I have a degree on X, so I understand this stuff" and they keep moving on...
Yeah, here in the trade we call that being an *******. No one likes that kind of person.
I suppose it depends on the context. If you're just out with some friends, and this is one of the people in the group - really - I mean, it's all so inconsequential. Just ignore it and move on. Making a big deal out of it makes both parties look like an *******. Try to leave it at only 1 *******. They stink bad enough as is, and 2 is going to make it unbearable.
If it's something going on in your work place....well, actually, bosses and managers are just *******s, so it's better to nod your head and say, "Yessir, no need to prove your argument."
I always had a boss shut down any complaint I or other employees had with "I have 20 years experience so I know what I am talking about", which may or may not be true, but there were a lot of disgruntled employees there, so either she needed to explain herself better so we could understand and "appreciate her years of experience" or she really should have actually not just shut down our complaints. But, oh well. You want to keep your job, so keep your head down and agree, then go out to the bar later and complain about what a dick the boss is. Don't do like me and start **** - it just ends up in a lawsuit.

Anyways, I guess the tldr is; people get stuck in their fallacies and they can be really stubborn to move out of it. Unless it's high stakes where we NEED them to understand, it's not doing any damage. Just move on and ignore them too. It's conversation best avoided because otherwise it's just going to end in someone being pissed off, and it's likely not going to be the hardheaded guy who started it.

edit:
guess I should have realized there would be profanity filters. Well, I'm not going to change it, you can use your imagination what I actually said.
 
Last edited:

SigmaSuccour

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It could be true, that the authority that person appeals to, is mostly right. And by mindlessly following that authority, the follower sees benefit in their day to day life.
(I appeal to specific authorities myself. As I can't spare the time to look into every topic.)

- How do I respond to the appeal to authority fallacy?
I approach it, as if I want to learn about the authority they are appealing to. So I can appeal to them too. (Because if I can get a good source of information and ideas, that I can mindlessly follow and benefit from. It would be great for me, and save me more time.)

So I ask the person questions about that authority:
  1. "What are they specifically experienced at? And what are they specifically knowledgeable about?"
  2. "They a doctor? What specifically are they a doctor of? Nutrition? Psychology? A dentist?"
  3. "20 years of experience? Can you break that down year by year summary? And how much time they spent on their skill/profession daily? Like in game-making, people spend a month-worth of time every year for 5 years. And then say they have 5 years of experience! Is that what they mean by 20 years?"

And lots more.
-> If they don't know much about that authority. Then... it shows. (They may keep saying... "I... don't know." or, "They just... are the authority.")
-> If they know a lot about that authority. Then... there's something I usually learn. And I start looking more into them, and appealing to them myself.

I hope this makes sense.
 

Tai_MT

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Ah, this one is easily destroyed.

"I'm an authority on X!".

Then, you go out on the internet and look up the actual answer to your question and then accuse them of being very terrible at their job and being utterly incompetent. Or, you accuse them of being liars.

I had one of these debates with someone who was like, "I'm a physicist, so I know all about why you can't travel the speed of light! This theory of relativity proves you can't!"

To which I looked up the theory and the formula they were using and went, "Uh... my dude... the reason this formula says you can't go faster than the speed of light is because the formula itself is using the speed of light as a constant. If you changed the speed of light in the formula into a variable, the formula effectively falls to pieces." I then also stated, "Besides, the formula doesn't actually disprove that 'nothing can go faster than the speed of light'. It's actually a formula designed to simply explain a 'time dilation' effect. Or, 'the theory of relativity'. It has nothing to do with traveling faster than the speed of light. You're a pretty crap physicist if a 30 second google search proves you're an idiot. Or, maybe you're just a liar."

The "appeal to authority" only works, so long as you allow that person to HAVE the authority. "Elon Musk says, blah blah blah". "Oh, really? Well, Elon Musk has dozens of failed companies, lots of grifts, outright cons, and frequently markets nothing. He's famous for SOUNDING smart, but being functionally stupid. Here's all the relevant links to his wrongdoing."

On and on.

People who use "appeal to authority" are basically destroyed most often by 30 seconds of research on Google. They aren't counting on anyone "doing the legwork" to prove them wrong. They're counting on you to just take what they said as fact and argue that. Even if what they said isn't fact at all.

It's also a frequently used argument on these forums ;) Right up there with "appeal to popularity". The notion that "just because a lot of people like something, it means it's right."

The bane of existence for all liars and the misinformed is someone who just does a bit of research and puts together a well-structured argument. Namely, using logic and facts, and ignoring any argument from the place of "feelings".

Of course, there's also the caveat:

If you do the research and find out that the person claiming to be an authority is actually correct... just admit they are. Maybe think about your own opinion after that and change it if the evidence is sufficient that you're wrong.
 

dogmari

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I work at Dispensary in a very rural old town adjacent to my college so I have far too much experience with this- especially with customers who want to argue with me about politics for some reason.

I think that when responded to with one of said responses you provided you are given the opportunity to transition the conversation to somewhere more meta. Obviously the semantics of a conversation vary drastically and I think your prepared response is a healthy and mature one and all I would suggest is that when I'm approached with a response like that I become confrontational (not that you don't) - I just simply ask something like: "why are we having this conversation then?" At least from my experiences these responses usually come out when some degree of depth has been generated in the conversation and as a result I shed light on that when conversational road blocks like these become present.

"If you already knew X had this opinion or X about this then why are we here to converse? You clearly have said opinion- were you expecting me to not have one or to educate me?" etc etc the possibilities are endless. My point is to just shift the conversation from something of butting heads to a discussion of purpose. This ultimately just makes the conversation drop or develop further - hopefully in a good way.

With the specifics of "My X is ______ on this topic or a doctor or whatever" I honestly just let that **** ride out- let them state their point and move forward - maybe they are talking out their ass maybe they aren't; go home and fact check it if you're so hellbent. If it's a hill I do wanna die on then so be it I will be pulling up references and ready for the argument. This would be more similar to Tai_MT's method however, with your post it seems you want to conversation to continue and when it comes to going lengths just to get the last word- while fun and satisfying isn't really worth it. As I've stated before I have no idea the people or situations in your reference but, if I was to go home just to disprove my co-worker's brother who he swears is scripture and the handiest man around, it would probably make our 9 hour shift awkward and besides: I already know he's talking out his ass, I am getting the last word.

Sorry was a bit of tangent but I hope this was helpful in some way
 

Arthran

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I usually just try not to engage in those types of conversations. This probably sounds kinda pompous, but I usually try to judge whether or not somebody is "worth arguing with" before I put forth the effort to argue with them about something, unless the topic itself is particularly important to me. There is no shortage of people who are unreasonable, unobjective, flat out delusional, etc, and it's a complete waste of time to try to use logic against said people. But there are also a couple things worth noting on this subject.

Firstly, "appealing to authority" isn't *always* a fallacy. The truth is, if somebody spent 8 years getting a Doctorate Degree on a specific subject... they probably actually *do* know some stuff about that subject. And conversely, there is a good chance that a total rando who has absolutely no background in that subject actually *isn't* really in a position to be arguing about it. Honestly, if I were a physicist (which I'm not), and some rando wanted to argue about physics with me, there's a good chance that I actually would just fall back on the "trust me, I'm a physicist" argument.

Why? Well, because if that person doesn't have a sufficient mathematics and physics background to understand my reasoning, then there's no point in trying to explain it to them. I doubt I'd wanna have to spend the time to backtrack and teach a bunch of prerequisite knowledge to them, and I doubt they'd really have the patience and open-mindedness to sit there and learn it. So it'd be easier (for everybody) to just tell them to appeal to your authority, and then move on.

I'm not saying that you should just blindly trust everything you hear, just because the person who's saying it is "an authority". I'm just saying that you also shouldn't just flat-out assume that a person's authority holds no value either, and that you shouldn't assume that their refusal to explain their reasoning to you is simply because they don't actually have any reasoning. Rather than expecting them to argue with you about it, you should do your own thinking, and your own research, while objectively keeping whatever they said to you in mind. And also it's best to try to avoid overestimating how qualified you are to interpret that research meaningfully--there is no shortage of people who go to their doctor, dead certain that they've got some specific ailment or another, because they read about it on the internet, when they really have something completely different.

The second thing worth noting is that appealing to authority is kinda unavoidable. Even as you accuse somebody else of this fallacy, there's a good chance that you're also doing it yourself. If you go home and "fact check" somebody by searching on Google, you're appealing to the authority of the internet. You're just assuming that whoever wrote whatever article, or made whatever video, you found on the internet is somehow more of an authority than whatever authority the other person was appealing to. And that's honestly probably not a very safe bet to make, considering how easy it is for unqualified people to spout BS on the internet, and also considering how the primary goal of most websites is to attract traffic (rather than to give you objective information). Even setting the internet aside, if you go read a textbook or something, you're still appealing to the authority of the author. So honestly, it's probably best to just avoid pointing fingers about this kind of thing.
 

Iron_Brew

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To be fair, citing sources isn't necessarily appealing to authority, however if someone isn't actually a source and they're just saying "x famous person believes this" then you can usually just deal with it by disputing their authority and pointing out the fallacy.
 

gstv87

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"My friend's in this X profession, therefore I know"
I'm sure there's a correct Philosophy term for this solution, but I'd like to call it a Riegel Disambiguation, as used by Sam Riegel in Critical Role.
Marisha Ray: "I thought maybe as a fish it'll be easier to go in the water."
Sam Riegel: "Yeah but fish are not *magnetically attracted* to the water. You still have a 1000 feet drop to the base of the cliff!"

"My friend knows, therefore I know!"
"Yeah, but merely *being* with someone doesn't inherently mean you *absorb* any knowledge from them!"

upon the presentation of authority, give it for valid, but still refer to the current problem and how that authority can do nothing to change it.
I know it *is* actually a case used in logical thinking: if A = B and B -> C, then invariably C -> A (or rather, the opposite) but I don't know what's the equivalent in Philosophy.
....or, English even. I know it in Spanish.

I know all about why you can't travel the speed of light! This theory of relativity proves you can't!
that kind of people has to be the worst of the bunch.
one thing is "I know because I know someone who knows!" and another thing is "I know! But don't take MY word for it!"
if I know about something, I lay it out detailed and deconstructed as it comes.
if we're talking physics, I can make you envision subatomic particles, and the forces that hold them together.
but it serves no purpose (to me, at least) to drop that dump of information on someone who can't use it to solve the problem at hand.
 

Pixel_Maiden

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To be fair, citing sources isn't necessarily appealing to authority, however if someone isn't actually a source and they're just saying "x famous person believes this" then you can usually just deal with it by disputing their authority and pointing out the fallacy.
A problem with this arises with social/political topic. There are compelling authoritative sources for both opposing ideologies and each with critics against them.
Take for example, the notion of capitalism. Marx argues that system of capitalism is a system of oppresion and thus should be abolished, however, Friedrich Hayek argued that a system of socialism, as Marx would describe it, would invariably lead to totalitarianism. Both sides make compelling argument, and both sides provide proof for their works.(to understand Marx and where his argument is coming from, you should read Das Kapital not Communist Manifesto).

So both sides will spout Authoritative sources each with proof and research. So citing "sources", as in experts on the respective topic, would not work in this case.

So the best bet against authoritative source is unbiased transparent empirical data.
 

eomereolsson

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Well, if your arguement is not
1. Person X is an Authority
2. Person X stated A
=> Therefore A is true
but rather you are pointing to a person's research you are no longer in logical fallacy territory, but rather in standard scientific process area.

This is actually a bit of a pet peeve of mine. Some people on the internet seem to believe if they spot anything that vaguely looks like a "named" fallacy if you squint at it hard enough they can just "call it out" as an "I win this discussion"-button, when in reality it just means that a single arguement does not actually logically follow from its premise. It doesn't even necessarily mean that the conclusion reached is wrong.
Otherwise I could point at probably any statement, find some authority-ish figure that said it and that would be proof that the statement is false.

So both sides will spout Authoritative sources each with proof and research. So citing "sources", as in experts on the respective topic, would not work in this case.

So the best bet against authoritative source is unbiased transparent empirical data.
But like ... how would that work? How are you getting your empirical data if not by citing research done by experts? Do you conduct a scientific study yourself every time you have a discussion? Who peer reviews and controls your study by trying to reproduce results?

Even more so, empirical data can never show causation, only correlation.
 

Pixel_Maiden

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Well, if your arguement is not

but rather you are pointing to a person's research you are no longer in logical fallacy territory, but rather in standard scientific process area.

This is actually a bit of a pet peeve of mine. Some people on the internet seem to believe if they spot anything that vaguely looks like a "named" fallacy if you squint at it hard enough they can just "call it out" as an "I win this discussion"-button, when in reality it just means that a single arguement does not actually logically follow from its premise. It doesn't even necessarily mean that the conclusion reached is wrong.
Otherwise I could point at probably any statement, find some authority-ish figure that said it and that would be proof that the statement is false.


But like ... how would that work? How are you getting your empirical data if not by citing research done by experts? Do you conduct a scientific study yourself every time you have a discussion? Who peer reviews and controls your study by trying to reproduce results?

Even more so, empirical data can never show causation, only correlation.
Correlations does not imply causation doesn't necessarily mean all correlations are never causation. It can certainly help in narrowing down possible causal events if we apply occam's razor, and research the remaining plausible events thoroughly.
So empirical data from unbiased sources can certainly be a show of authority.

And for the "how do you know [subject]"? I apply dialectic reasoning, research opposing data or views, and their sources, research on how my source got their information, research on other topics about the same subject, the trivial stuff they state about it sometimes gets a lot helpful here, and then come to my conclusion on a particular subject.

I also allow room for correction for my errors. So i don't mind being corrected about something by newer data/information.
 

Pixel_Maiden

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@Pixel_Maiden I just cannot follow your logic. How did we get from this:

To this:
My bad, i meant it as an "iron beats iron" concept.

Considering that in the context of a civilized debate, appeal to authority is probably the most lethal (to the opposing side) of all fallacies; if, and only if, the appeal happens to be a fallacy, you can only counter it by providing unbiased empirical data and sources, which is not necessarily a fallacy. Simply stating anything otherwise would make you a "scapegoat" of 'not accepting facts as is' and you will probably lose the argument. Any other argument would more or less be "Trust the science!" or "Because God said so!".

At least, when you provide empirical data, you make the other team seem either a idiota or a bad sport in debates for not counteracting. The only way out of it is to so "The source is biased!" but it's not that convincing to outsiders. Of course, it may still annoy you but in the end a bad sport will never concede or admit he's wrong.
 

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