7 junio, 2024

Argument from authority: definition, characteristics, examples

What is an argument from authority?

A argument from authority It is a form of reasoning that uses what a qualified person or entity has said on a given topic to defend a position. For example: it is reasonable to trust what Friedrich Nietzsche has said about European thought because he was an expert in philosophy.

For many critics, arguments from authority can be seen as a fallacy; that is to say, as an argument that at first sight seems valid, but that it is not necessarily so.

For this reason, this type of reasoning has been widely criticized since its inception. In fact, the philosopher Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) in one of his writings stated that the argument from authority was the worst reasoning of all.

However, today these arguments are used in many fields and disciplines: they are used by scientists, journalists, economists, writers, publicists and even politicians.

Characteristics of the argument from authority

– Seeks to justify a premise or point of view

The argument from authority aims to justify a point of view based on the opinion of a prominent person or institution. The idea is to convince others to think or act in a way that has been determined by said person or institution.

For example: According to a famous Youtube nutritionist, the consumption of foods rich in sugars is actually not so harmful to health.

In the example above, it can be seen that a person tries to justify the intake of sugary foods based on the opinion of a nutritionist. In this case, the person uses the title of nutritionist to defend her point of view.

– It constitutes an opinion and not a solid theory

Authoritative arguments are sometimes used as premises to demonstrate or affirm a reality. However, on many occasions these premises are not defended by a verifiable theory, but are actually made up of subjective opinions that do not have firm support.

This happens frequently in the media. For example, some programs invite certain analysts to offer their opinion on a certain topic. In the end, the media can imply that what the guest has said is the absolute truth, when in fact she was just offering an opinion.

– Discard explanations

Since arguments of this type are based on references from people in authority, they usually do without explanations that support what that authority is pointing out. That is, these arguments do not require the demonstration that such a statement is true.

For example: a person may argue that a well-known dermatologist recommends the use of coconut oil for health. The person is likely to offer no explanation as to why coconut oil is good for the skin, as the notable authority of the dermatologist can dismiss any doubts or questions about this claim.

Several authors point out that it is important to have references from important people or entities that offer us information on a specific topic; however, the problem is to accept these references in their entirety without allowing a debate or discussion about what you want to say.

Structure of the argument from authority

The structure of an authority argument will always be the same: a statement «X» is true because «Y» is an authority on the subject. In this way it is assumed that the argument is true given that the opinion of «Y» is objectively well-founded and he has enough information and credibility to be right.

Generally when «Y» launches an argument from authority, this should be considered true, even though said argument is not necessarily true and is a fallacy.

Examples of authority arguments

– According to the local newspaper, yesterday’s tremor did not cause significant damage to the infrastructure.

– According to Hippocrates, we should all be our own doctors.

– I am sure that the current pandemic is a divine punishment for the sins committed by humanity; this was confirmed by the parish priest at yesterday’s mass.

– Touching your nose is bad. This was told to me by my mom and that’s why it’s true.

– My grandmother told me that the white spots that appear on the nails are a consequence of telling lies (for children, authority is represented by adults. This can be seen in this example and in the previous one).

– My nutritionist says that it is necessary to fast from time to time to cleanse the body.

– If you eat healthy and exercise you will live longer. I read this in an article written by a well-known doctor.

– In the municipality of Quibdó, in the Colombian Pacific, there is a serious case of malnutrition, according to the latest data released by the FAO (United Nations Food Organization).

– Ignorance is the only evil, according to Socrates.

– According to the Greek philosopher Plato, there are two worlds, a palpable one that can be experienced through the senses, and another world that can only be experienced through thought and is known as the world of ideas.

– WWF maintains that forest conservation contributes to mitigating the damage caused by climate change.

– Children who are stimulated from childhood are more likely to succeed once school life begins, according to UNICEF.

– The dance teacher told her students that women love men who know how to dance.

– The pope says that priests can turn water into wine and multiply fish. Since the pope does not lie, this must be true.

– The family doctor told his patient that drinking a glass of wine every day helps prevent heart disease and promotes good circulation.

– Tiger Woods says that the best way to become a good golfer is to eat an apple every day on an empty stomach.

– My dentist says that to prevent cavities I should brush my teeth three times a day and floss after every meal.

– Freud says that all women suffer from Electra complex.

– According to Gabriel García Márquez, writing is the main emotion of man’s life and every story deserves to be told.

– According to Cristiano Ronaldo, the best way to be a good soccer player is discipline and perseverance.

– The Minister of Health considers that the main public health problem is ultra-processed foods and smoking.

– Forbes produced a report in which it was assured that in times of crisis, luxury products increase their sales by 15%.

– My mechanic assured me that the brake pads should be replaced in a short period of time.

– The Houston Department of Neuropsychiatry indicated that the best way to prevent Alzheimer’s is by practicing sports and eating correctly.

– My mother advised me to invite my brother to dinner so that he would forgive me.

Themes of interest

inductive argument.

deductive argument.

analog argument.

conductive argument.

Probabilistic argument.

abductive argument.


Coloma, R. (2012) The fall of the argument from authority and the rise of sound criticism. Retrieved on March 15, 2020 from Scielo: scielo.conicyt.cl
Square, A. (2017) What exactly is an argument from authority? Retrieved March 15, 2020 from Remotefrog: remotefrog.com
Encyclopedia of Examples (2019) Arguments from authority. Retrieved on March 15, 2020 from Examples.co
Hansen, H. (2015) Fallacies: Stanford encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved on March 15, 2020 from pato.stanford.edu

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