Sunday, November 04, 2007

Because I said so

In response to a statement about arguments from authority and how Aquinas employed them I replied....


Douglas Walton, in Informal Logic: A Handobook for Critical Thinking, discusses the argumentum ad verecundiam and concludes that it is not always fallacious or weak (p. 179 - 197). Its merit should be judged from within the "context of dialogue" and can be seen as a valuable way to put the burden back on to your opponent. Walton is recognized as one of the most respected authorities, a breaker of new ground (he even argues that not all circular argumentation is fallacious!) in informal logic. Walton's work should be concluted before one goes throwing around this fallacy in a haphazard way. The argumentum ad verecundiam was so dubbed by John Locke and means "the argument from modesty." But even Locke did not claim all such appeals to be fallacious (see Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 159-160).

I answer that the argument is fallacious when you try to silence the opposition. In the context of dialogue - especially a persuasion dialogue, there are rules of procedure expected of both sides. If you are in a dialogue, and try to silence the other dialoguer, then you show you are not in a dialogue. It shows that you're not trying to come to an understanding, or even persuade your disputer. A dialogue is not a monologue; to state the obvious. Hence, in the context of a dialogue, when authority is appealed to to shut down your opponent, that is an instance of the fallacious use of the argument because once the dialogue is begun, both parties are expected to finish it.

But obviously such appeals are not always fallacious. It would seem foolhardy and irrational to tell your doctor that you refuse to heed his advice because to do so would engage in taking his conclusions on his authority. Or, when we investigate something we cannot very well investigate everything required, hence we will appeal to some authority. If our cognitive authority is regarded as a means of supplementing experimental investigation, when such investigation is impractical, it may not be wrong to appeal to said authority.

Also, in court cases juries are expected to listen to authorities. They have no time to investigate what was said. Are all such court proceedings shams? Travesties of justice based on fallacious decisions handed down by jurors?

No doubt the above can be question. The opposing side in a court case will no doubt invoke his own authority.

The question that concerns us is are arguments from authority weak arguments, or fallacies? The answer we have sought to prove is no, not always. We must look at the context of dialogue and ask critical questions about how the appeal was invoked. In some cases we may say that the appeal validly threw the burden of proof back on to the other party(ies). If every single Greek scholar in the world translated some word in a certain way, and someone, especially one unfamiliar with the Greek language - or only partly so - dissented, I think our mere appeal to authority (given that we don't understand Greek too) would be appropriate here and would force our interlocutor to have the burden of proof. Our appeal, though, obviously doesn't *necessitate* his being wrong about the translation. it just throws the burden on him.

I see no objections, but in case they say, "but such an appeal does not necessitate that you are correct," I agree. But I never intended to convey that it did. That would try to squeeze too much juice out of the authoritative fruit. But certainly even our objector does not dilly dally after the doctor has prescribed some course of action. To do so would be foolish. Surely our objector would not hang every jury he was a part of because he didn't have the time, means, or education to personally investigate the issues discussed by the authority.

So, we shouldn’t go too far on either end of the spectrum. We should try to find some mean. I submit that Aquinas, being the good Aristotelian that he was, would appreciate the nod towards moderation, towards means. Excess in either direction is potentially foolhardy.


  1. "...he even argues that not all circular argumentation is fallacious!..."

    That tells me all I need to know about this "authority."

  2. Right. How very faithful of you. "I don't want to look at the counter arguments, they just can't be right." Hmmmm, seesm like what people say the presuppositionalist does in some cases. So, you try to avoid the presuppositionalists having a point by giving them another point. "Don't bother me with the facts, my mind is made up!"

  3. Bodger, I'm an atheist, and so is Douglas Walton, btw. I think you're giving away too much. Don't we rightly condemn the fundy Christian for not even looking at the scientific evidence which contradicts his holy book? But, you're acting like one of those fundies right now. At least Paul Manata got something right when he pointed that out to you. Take care, and keep fighting the good fight of Reason.

  4. I'm paul manata
    and I'm on the mike
    gonna hip to the hop
    thro gods holy reich

    If yo' diss my god
    say he ain't all that
    gonna convince ya'
    with my base ball bat

    my rythms smooth
    and my chin is high
    if you dis my god
    your teeth will fly

    I'll knock you down
    my tail will wag
    as I nail yo' punk
    with a well placed "TAG"

    coz I believe in my god
    the big fai-ry
    due to the impossibility
    of the con tra ry

    my x-ian rhymes gonna
    be so sweet
    they make no sense
    byt I'll have you beat

    if you dare to question
    and I lose my faith
    my fist will quickly
    find your face

    so don't you dare
    disturb my cool
    coz without god
    I'm a raving fool!

  5. Too cool Paul! Is that another O.C. tune?
    So, my question(s) is:

    Does TAG squeeze "too much juice" out of the authoritative fruit?

    Has TAG become too much of a monologue?

    Has it "stopped the mouths of the obstreperous" too much?

    Shouldn't we allow their mouths to be filled with their own feet/authority, till they puke it out of their nostrils- before we toe TAG them?


  6. vaberean,

    The all star rapper isn't me.

    He's an atheist. He's one of the teenagers from I think he's the one whose avatar of himself was the fat kid with all those zits.

    He has no arguments, and has been intellectually embarrassed, so now all he does is post the same rap, like an idiot, over an over.

    It's kind of sad, really.

  7. Manata Right. How very faithful of you. "I don't want to look at the counter arguments, they just can't be right." Hmmmm, seesm like what people say the presuppositionalist does in some cases. So, you try to avoid the presuppositionalists having a point by giving them another point. "Don't bother me with the facts, my mind is made up!"

    Paul, do you have an argument? Or is all you can do in response to Bodger's quip is ventilate?

  8. Casbah,

    Bodger said nothing to respond to. He offered no critiques, concerns, or anything substantive at all. And, if you read between the lines, I asked him to go read Walton's stuff before he ventilated vaccuous verbiage from his pie hole. Why is that so unreasonable? Don't tell me that you too think you can just close your eyes to peer reviewed evidence to the contrary and wish it away? How very YEC of you! :-)

  9. Manata: "Bodger said nothing to respond to."

    That's why Manata used 58 words to respond to Bodger's 11. Mmkay...

  10. Glad you can count Marshall. Would you care to summarize Bodger's arguments so we can "respond" to them.


  11. Marshall,

    Did they send you as the representative equivocation specialist?

    Casbah asked if I had an *argument* in "response" to bodger's quip, or if my "response" was only to ventilate.

    I replied that I didn't need to respond *with an argument* because *in that sense* Bodger didn't offer anything to respond to! I didn't imply that he didn't deserve a response *at all,* just not a substantive, argumentative one. That is, my response was not blameworthy as casbah tried to imply.

    Try and keep up, mkay, I know it's hard when it's after your bed time 'n all, but you could at least get that little hamster in your noggin to turn the wheel at least 10 times rather than the 1 spin you're obviously opperating with.

  12. I'd also add that I could care less if you'll read Walton, or if you think he's a hack.

    I didn't even write the post with atheists in mind.

    I just find it interesting that those in the so-called "fee thought" tradition are acting just like those fundy Christians they scoff at.

    Rather than being open to the evidence, reading the peer reviwed material, and making up your own mind, Walton is summarily dismiessed because he dares blaspheme a sacred cow.

    Just like those Christians you laugh at who say, "I won't study what those scientists say about evolutiuon because God said it and that settles it," the same tact has been taken here, it seems.

    You guys mock the creationists who have zero decrees in science, zero peer reviewed articles, but still coment on "scientific issues." Likewsie, bodger (and yourself) do not have degrees specializing in logic, you have not published in peer reiewed journals etc., yet you still confidently brush off the findings of the non-religious authorities in the field! How ironic indeed!

    So, I won't lose a bit of sleep if you think the atheist Douglas Walton is out to lunch. I'm just glad that you guys could find such common ground with the Appalachian Mountain Baptists. You both know what it's like to have blind faith. A, don't bother me with the facts, my mind is made up attitiude.

    Douglas Walton's book - $30

    Starbucks coffees bought while reading it - $25

    Watching atheists act like Appalachian Mountain young earth creationists - priceless.


  13. It's funny to watch Paul Manata get all worked up over even petty innuendoes. He must be one insecure baldy!

  14. Hey I bought the book used from amazon for 8 bucks!