Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Argument from Authority

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now
Argument from Authority

You might be tempted to cite someone with more knowledge than you to support your opinion. For instance, "Dan's been in college for three years, and he says it's not what it's cracked up to be." You might use this as evidence that college isn't fun, but you would be committing an argument from authority. Instead of citing evidence for your opinion, you cite someone with more authority who shares that opinion. Keep reading to learn more about Arguments from Authority, different types, and how to avoid them.

Argument from Authority Definition

The argument from authority is a logical fallacy. A fallacy is an error of some kind.

A logical fallacy is employed like a logical reason, but it is actually flawed and illogical.

The argument from authority is specifically an informal logical fallacy, which means that its fallacy lies not in the structure of the logic (which would be a formal logical fallacy) but rather in something else.

Here's a simple definition of the argument from authority:

An argument from authority is when someone uses an authority's words and not their reasoning to justify an argument.

An argument from authority is also known as an appeal to authority. This is how that looks:

My friend's a lawyer, and she also said that fair-use law is a sham.

This person appeals to their lawyer friend to defend the claim that fair-use law "is a sham." However, several things make this argument a logical fallacy.

Why the Argument from Authority Is a Logical Fallacy

At first, appealing to the authority of someone knowledgeable on the topic seems like a strong argument. Here's why that isn't always the case.

  • When you appeal to an authority, you may not consider the context of their opinion. You could twist their words or misunderstand their stance.
  • When you make an argument from authority, you might credit someone incorrectly. The authority figure might not be an expert in the exact field you are discussing.

Take this lawyer example again.

My friend's a lawyer, and she also said that fair-use law is a sham.

The person's friend might not be a fair use lawyer. They might not have expertise in the field of copyright or creative property! They might be a personal injury lawyer or estate planning lawyer.

  • Someone might manipulate authority. Someone can use authority manipulatively to lie about something.

If any of these things happen, the appeal to authority is now a logical fallacy because the argument lacks truth. If logic lacks truth, then its conclusion will also lack truth.

  • Ultimately, an expert's opinion is still an opinion. Someone saying something is just an opinion, even if an authority figure says it. Only evidence supports fact.

Argument from Authority, Argument from Authority Definition, A lawyer stands ready, StudySmarterAn authority in one field might not be an authority in another.

The Legitimate Appeal to Authority

There are many legitimate appeals to authority. Legitimate arguments from authority occur when you provide evidence alongside the appeal.

Authorities are not the evidence; authorities merely provide evidence. Take this example.

A study conducted by over 100 scientists in vaccine research has concluded that Vaccine Z is safe for people of all ages.

In this example, the authority and their evidence create a strong appeal to authority and a strong appeal to logos (the appeal to reason).

Inductive Argument from Authority

At its core, an argument from authority (or appeal to authority) is an inductive argument.

Induction uses specific examples to draw a more general conclusion. It is the inverse of deduction.

An appeal to authority takes one or more authoritative opinions and draws a larger conclusion. Take this for example:

A chemist at Vancom University said that some fossil fuels could be cleaner. We agree with this. All fossil fuels can be cleaner, which is where Clean Coal comes into the picture.

This argument takes an authority figure's single vague opinion (some fossil fuels can be cleaner) and uses it to support "all fossil fuels can be cleaner" and then to Clean Coal. As you can see, the argument from authority uses individual opinions and statements to draw more significant conclusions.

Types Of Arguments from Authority

Here are three more types of appeals to authority.

Appeal to Anonymous Authority

This sounds as shady as it is.

An appeal to an anonymous authority does not specify the authority to which it appeals.

Here's how that appears:

Experts conclude that our product will increase your lifespan by 5 to 10%.

Who are these "experts," and how many are there? What is the evidence? These things need to be provided, or else the appeal is fallacious.

Appeal to Unqualified Authority

An unqualified authority doesn't have the credentials you think they do.

An appeal to unqualified authority attempts to persuade someone using a non-expert as an expert.

Well, that's no good.

I'm Dan. I suffered from anxiety once. Let me tell you how to fix yours.

Although Dan might have suffered from a disorder, this alone does not qualify him to provide psychotherapy or clinical advice. In this example, Dan appeals to his own authority on the subject.

Arguments from authority do not have to reference the authority. An authority can commit the fallacy by using the weight of their position to influence someone instead of using evidence and logic.

Appeal to Tradition

The appeal to tradition does not appeal to a person but rather to precedence.

An appeal to tradition attempts to persuade someone based on what has been the case before.

Here's an example.

We have been fishing this river for decades. No matter what environmentalists say, the fish will be fine.

This person attempts to appeal to the long-standing tradition of fishing in those parts. What this person fails to realize, however, is that things change. Entire populations have been hunted to extinction, so just because there were enough fish to catch in the past doesn't mean this is sustainable today.

Argument from Authority, Types of Argument from Authority, A boat trawls the waters, StudySmarterIn itself, tradition is not a justification for an argument.

Argument from Authority Essay Example

The argument from authority can appear in passages and essays like this one. Examine this passage and try to identify the arguments from authority. Then try to explain why it's a logical fallacy.

This is not a wild conclusion. While my words are small, others' words are not. Astronomers and scientists—including Dr. Zam Van Zap from the Astronomy Institute of Somewheresville—have often opened the gates to the possibility of alien existence. Aliens are out there. We simply haven't found them… or have we? Government insiders have long leaked the probable truth that high officials in the government know about aliens and UFOs. Enthusiasts and independent researchers have been following the case of aliens for over one hundred years. There is a long history of this for a reason. Yes, aliens are out there."

The following passages are appeals to authority.

Astronomers and scientists—including Dr. Zam Van Zap from the Astronomy Institute of Somewheresville—have often opened the gates to the possibility of alien existence.

This appeal to authority twists the words of an expert to appear broader than they are.

Government insiders have long leaked the probable truth that high officials in the government know about aliens and UFOs.

This appeals to an anonymous authority. "Government insiders" is not verifiable or useful in a persuasive argument. This writer needs to be more specific.

Enthusiasts and independent researchers have been following the case of aliens for over one hundred years. There is a long history of this for a reason. Yes, aliens are out there.

This final example appeals to tradition. However, just because something has been going on for a long time, it does not mean it makes logical sense now (or ever).

All these errors come down to one thing: a lack of evidence.

Avoiding Arguments from Authority

If you appeal to authority in your argument, you need to pair it with evidence. Authoritative evidence contains a symbiotic relationship between the authority and what that authority concludes. How? Because this kind of evidence contains the meat of the argument (the research evidence) and the person who understands it (an authority).

This is not to say that an authority who does not provide evidence is wrong. You must always look at each situation differently. Sometimes, an expert might not have the time to explain themselves fully. Often, someone using an authority will provide a link to the details of that authority's research, which is fine. Authorities help us learn things and trust things.

So here's the bottom line. Include as much information as you can so you don't invite unwarranted speculation. If you appeal to authority without evidence, somebody can discredit you or the authority, even if your statement is correct.

You want to create a sound line of reasoning in your argument.

Argument from Authority - Key takeaways

  • An argument from authority is when someone uses an authority's words, not their reasoning, to justify an argument.
  • The argument from authority is a logical fallacy because, at the end of the day, an authority's opinion is just an opinion. Evidence needs to be paired with opinion.
  • An argument from authority is a kind of induction. Induction uses specific examples to draw a more general conclusion.
  • Appeals to authority can include appeals to anonymous authority, unqualified authority, and tradition.
  • To avoid appealing to authority, always provide evidence and a line of reasoning.

Frequently Asked Questions about Argument from Authority

An argument from authority is when someone uses an authority’s words and not their reasoning to justify an argument. 

An example of argument from authority is: My friend’s a lawyer, and she also said that fair-use law is a sham.

When the argument from authority lacks evidence, yes it is a fallacy.

Yes. An appeal to authority takes one or more authoritative opinions and draws a larger conclusion.

Yes! An argument from authority is valid when evidence is provided alongside the authority who understands it.

Final Argument from Authority Quiz

Question

An argument from authority is a(n) _____.

Show answer

Answer

Informal fallacy

Show question

Question

 An argument from authority is when someone uses an authority’s words and not their _____ to justify an argument. 

Show answer

Answer

Reasoning

Show question

Question

What is another name for an argument from authority?

Show answer

Answer

Appeal to authority

Show question

Question

When you appeal to an authority, you may not consider the _____ of their opinion.

Show answer

Answer

Context

Show question

Question

When you make an argument from authority, you might _____.


Show answer

Answer

Credit someone incorrectly

Show question

Question

Can an authority's word be manipulated?

Show answer

Answer

Yes, which can lead to a logical fallacy.

Show question

Question

"An expert's opinion is still an opinion." 


True or false?

Show answer

Answer

True.

Show question

Question

What is a legitimate appeal to authority?

Show answer

Answer

Legitimate arguments from authority occur when you provide evidence alongside the appeal.

Show question

Question

Should authorities be dismissed from arguments?

Show answer

Answer

By no means. However, you should understand the full context of their thought-process, including the evidence that led to their stance.

Show question

Question

Which kind of argument is the argument from authority?

Show answer

Answer

Inductive

Show question

Question

What is induction?

Show answer

Answer

Induction is the inverse of deduction. It uses specific examples to draw a more general conclusion.

Show question

Question

An _____ does not specify the authority to which it appeals.


Show answer

Answer

Appeal to anonymous authority

Show question

Question

An _____ attempts to persuade someone based on what has been the case before.


Show answer

Answer

Appeal to tradition

Show question

Question

An _____ attempts to persuade someone using a non-expert as an expert.


Show answer

Answer

Appeal to unqualified authority

Show question

Question

If you appeal to authority in your argument, you should pair that with what?


Show answer

Answer

Evidence. Authoritative evidence contains a symbiotic relationship between the authority and what that authority concludes. How? Because, this kind of evidence contains the meat of the argument (the research evidence) and the person who understands it (an authority).

Show question

Question

We've never had a problem with smallpox here before, so clearly, this isn't smallpox.


What kind of argument from authority is this?

Show answer

Answer

Appeal to tradition

Show question

Question

My best friend says I have acne instead of smallpox. She watched a video about it, so I believe her.


What kind of argument from authority is this?

Show answer

Answer

Appeal to unqualified authority

Show question

Question

Scientists have said that smallpox doesn't exist anymore, so I can't have smallpox.


What kind of argument from authority is this?

Show answer

Answer

Appeal to anonymous authority

Show question

Question

Studies have shown that orchids can understand human language.


What kind of argument from authority is this?

Show answer

Answer

Appeal to anonymous authority

Show question

Question

Yesterday, Dani said hello to an orchid, and it waved back at her. I, along with her, take this as evidence that the orchid understood her greeting.


What kind of argument from authority is this?

Show answer

Answer

Appeal to unqualified authority

Show question

Question

Some communities have spoken to orchids for centuries. Why would they have done this for so long if the orchids couldn't understand them?


What kind of argument from authority is this?

Show answer

Answer

Appeal to tradition

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Argument from Authority quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.