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appeal to authority

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appeal to authority

American actor Luke Wilson in a commercial for AT&T

Definition:

A fallacy in which a rhetor seeks to persuade an audience not by giving evidence but by appealing to the respect people have for the famous.

See also:

Examples and Observations:

  • "Not every appeal to authority commits this fallacy, but every appeal to an authority with respect to matters outside his special province commits the fallacy. 'These pills must be safe and effective for reducing. They have been endorsed by Miss X, star of stage, screen, and television.'"
    (W.L. Reese, Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion. Humanities Press, 1980)


  • "The Spot: Actor Luke Wilson stands atop a giant map of the United States, reciting a list of cities and towns for which AT&T provides wireless phone coverage. As he mentions each place, he Frisbees a postcard through the air. 'If you want coverage, we've got it,' says the announcer. . . .

    "Wilson's role in these AT&T ads is straight-up spokesman. He talks directly into the camera. He attacks the competitor by name. At one point he actually stands in front of a bulletin board and checks off comparison points. . . .

    "[T]he ads are horribly misleading. Verizon's original comparison ads boasted about a larger 3G data network. But AT&T's response, in the postcards ad, is to tout the size of its regular voice network. It makes me want to grab Luke Wilson by his tweed lapels and shout, 'You're making a straw man argument, you jowly sellout!'"
    (Seth Stevenson, "Indie Sweethearts Pitching Products." Slate, Dec. 7, 2009)


  • "What if a friend told you that you should go to an allegedly wonderful restaurant, and then you found out that he or she was being paid by the owner to send people there? Chances are that your enthusiasm would wane--both for the restaurant, and for the friend.

    "This is all elementary. If someone accepts cash in exchange for offering a positive evaluation of something, then the evaluation must be tossed out. It's worse than meaningless.

    "Yet in the arena of celebrity endorsements--most notably, endorsements by prominent athletes--not only is the public's disbelief suspended, but people don't seem to particularly care that the recommendation is bought and paid for. . . .

    "When celebrities are paid to say they like something, studies show, it generally translates into increased sales for the companies that hire them."
    (Bob Greene, "Are Celebrity Endorsements Worthless?" CNN Opinion, April 4, 2010)


  • "We make an appeal to authority whenever we try to justify an idea by citing some source of expertise as a reason for holding that idea. Appeals to authority are often valid, as when we tell someone to use a certain medicine because the doctor has prescribed it. But appeals to authority can be fallacious, as when we cite those who have no special competence regarding the matter at hand. The fallacy of appeal to authority, therefore, is an argument that attempts to overawe an opponent into accepting a conclusion by playing on his or her reluctance to challenge famous people, time honored customs, or widely held beliefs. The fallacy appeals, at base, to our feelings of modesty, to our sense that others know better than we do."
    (S. Morris Engel, With Good Reason: An Introduction to Informal Fallacies, 3rd ed. St. Martin's Press, 1986)


  • "Another common fallacy is the appeal to authority, which consists of arguing a point by invoking the opinion of an expert. However, experts may be wrong, they may be expressing an opinion outside their area of expertise or they may have been incapacitated or joking when making the point. It is the expert's reasons that are valuable, not the fact that they were announced by an expert."
    (Daniel Sokol, "The Right Way to Argue." BBC Magazine, December 20, 2006)
Also Known As: ipse dixit, ad verecundiam
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