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Argumentum ad Verecundiam

2004-10-28

Category: philosophies

Good morning boys and girls (and others). Today's topic is the logical fallacy called Appeal to Unqualified Authority, the so-called Argumentum ad Verecundiam. This one's important. No, really.

First of all, a logical fallacy is when you try to win an argument by saying something that sounds reasonable but it really doesn't make sense if really look at the details. It's like when beer commercials show attractive women hanging all over guys who happen to be drinking that brand of beer. The conclusion is that if a guy purchases that beer women will hang on him. That's a fallacy.

In the appeal to unqualified authority, you try to support your argument by pointing out that somebody else supports your opinion and that means your point is more likely to be right. The problem is, unless the somebody else is an expert on the topic, that person's opinion can be just as wrong as yours. Let's look at an example.

Person A says that the sun rises in the west. Person B says that the sun rises in the east. This example is kept simple to make the point clear. During the argument between A and B, person A says that person C agrees with him. Person B says that Scientist D agrees that the sun rises in the east. So, who has the better argument?

Scientist D is a person of knowledge. He or she is expected to have knowledge of the workings of the universe. If Scientist D says the sun rises in the East, his or her opinion counts for something. That suggests that person B has appealed to a Qualified Authority. This is NOT a fallacy.

Now let's say that person C is a Meth Head who hangs out down by the local garage. Person C never did well in school, dropped out in seventh grade, and sometimes thinks he is a stump. (The last bit is his hope to better himself.) There is a good chance that person C has no idea of what a sun is, let alone where one would be inclined to rise. Using person C as a support for your argument is not really a good idea.

That's the key to the fallacy. If you cite a source that isn't a good source, then your argument is not good.

You should keep track of this whenever you see advertising, especially political ads. If the spokesperson claims to not be an expert but only "plays one on TV" then that person is not an expert. The same applies to political ads. If the voiceover says that the candidate did something, maybe you should wonder if the person has verified all of their facts and presented them in an honest way.


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