Have you ever had someone tell you that you should do something because an authority figure said so?
Maybe a teacher told you that you should study for your test because “your grades matter.” Or maybe your parents told you that you should eat your vegetables because “that’s what grown-ups do.”
In each of these cases, the person giving you advice is using the appeal to authority fallacy. So what exactly is an appeal to authority?
Let’s take a closer look at this fallacy and how to avoid it.
What Is the Appeal to Authority Fallacy?
The appeal to authority is an informal logical fallacy that occurs when someone tries to convince you by appealing to an authority figure. The idea is that if this person is an expert, then their opinion must be correct.
So what’s wrong with the argument from authority? Don’t experts in the field deserve to be listened to?
The problem is that appeal to authority does not provide adequate reasoning for why something is correct. It only claims that something must be correct because an authority said so. Moreover, it uses this claim as evidence to support an argument.
However, such ‘evidence’ is not adequate, and can not reasonably support a point. The correct way to cite an authority is to explain how and why that authority reached that conclusion.
Appeal To Inappropriate Authority
Moreover, there is a type of appeal to authority known as “argumentum ad verecundiam.” This means an appeal to false authority. It occurs when you cite an authority for a topic outside the authority’s expertise.
Just because someone is an expert in one area does not mean they are correct about everything. For example, a doctor may be a medical expert, but that doesn’t mean they know everything there is to know about psychology. Similarly, an actor or celebrity can not be cited as an authority when discussing climate change.
People often employ appeal to authority and appeal to false authority wittingly and unwittingly. So you should always have your guard up against this fallacy.
How To Spot Appeal To Authority Fallacy
Although this fallacy is easy to detect, it is hard not to be swayed by it or to use it yourself. Why does appeal to authority work so well? Because people trust experts. We like to think we’re rational beings who make decisions based on logic, but our emotions heavily influence us.
And one of the emotions that has the biggest impact on our decision-making is trust. We’re more likely to believe something if we trust the person telling us about it.
Still, there can be legitimate and non-fallacious citations of authority in an argument. However, it needs to meet the following criteria to be considered legitimate:
- The authority is an expert on the topic under consideration.
- The statement of the authority is related to the authority’s area of expertise.
- The authority has done adequate research and provided sufficient reasoning for making the statement.
- Several experts in that field or discipline have a consensus on that point or at least espouse a similar view.
So whenever you see someone or yourself making a lot of references to authority, always look into the authority critically. If a reference to authority does not meet the above criteria, it is a fallacy.
Remember: To use authority as evidence, you must first establish the credibility of the person in the topic being discussed.
Appeal To Authority Fallacy Examples
Here are more examples of the appeal to authority fallacy. These examples will help you understand what this fallacy looks like in practice:
- The President says climate change is not real, so it must be true.
- I saw it on the news, so it must be true.
- My teacher said this was the correct answer, so it must be true.
- The celebrity said that adopting this new diet is the best way to lose weight, so it must be true.
- My favorite footballer said this new car is the best on the market, so I’m going to buy one.
- The world’s top psychologist claimed that the best cure for a stomach ache lies in the new formula he discovered. So you all should use it.
- The politician claimed that immigrants are taking all the high-paying jobs, so we should stop more immigration.
These are a few examples of the appeal to authority fallacy. Can you think of more? No doubt you have heard similar arguments on tv, social media, and even in real life. Perhaps, you yourself are guilty of making this fallacy.
However, now that you know what appeal to authority sounds like and why it is wrong, it’s time to learn how to avoid it.
How To Avoid Appeal To Authority
The first step to avoid this fallacy is to know and recognize it.
The best way to avoid being swayed by this fallacy is by doing your own research. If someone tells you to do something because an authority figure said so, take the time to look into the issue yourself. Always ask, “why did someone say that? What are their reasons?”
Remember, you should only be interested in reasons in an argument. You should ask “why,” rather than “who.”
See if other experts agree with the opinion being presented. This way, you can make up your own mind about what is true and what isn’t.
You should also avoid making this fallacy in your own arguments. When you are citing an authority, always focus on how and why that authority accepted that conclusion. This way, you can avoid appealing to authority.
In this blog, you learned about one of the most common logical fallacies. So, the next time you are arguing with someone, don’t weaken your argument by making an appeal to authority.
An experienced author and writing professional who graduated from the University of North Carolina. He has worked as a ghostwriter, editor, and content creator for various academic sites.