Faulty Appeal to Authority

Proverbs 2:6 “For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.”


Proverbs 15:14 “The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.”


Proverbs 16:23 “A wise man’s heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction.”


A faulty appeal to authority is an appeal to someone who has no special knowledge in the area being discussed.


In other words, when we are not knowledgeable on a certain subject, the wise thing is to first ask an authority – somebody who is knowledgeable on the subject. For example, you do what the mechanics says because he knows more about cars than you do.


We are appealing to an authority when we claim something is true because an authority said it was true, but if the person we are appealing to is not actually an authority in the area we are discussing, our appeal is faulty.


What happens is that some people use an appeal to authority in the wrong way, appealing to an authority when arguing with people – just to overawe them.


Movie stars are often used as a faulty appeal to authority. Because of their movie star status their opinion on numerous things – politics, nutrition, etc. are being asked for, but we find that they are no authority on these subjects.


When the topic under discussion is controversial among several respected authorities, then appealing simply to the opinion of a single authority is a faulty appeal to authority. We find this for example in the argument regarding global warming.


We live in a world where knowledge base is so great that no one could ever achieve a level of expertise in every subject and therefore because of this we rely on the knowledge of experts and specialists regarding many areas of our life. However, we must be careful and even skeptical deciding which authority we ought to accept.


There are four appeals to the illegitimate authority.


  1. Accepting the opinions of one who has no expertise in the particular subject that he is talking about.
  2. Accepting the advice or opinion of a biased authority.
  3. Accepting the advice or opinion of an unnamed authority secondhand.
  4. Accepting the advice or opinion that transfers his celebrity status for the thing being talked about. This is especially true in many advertisements that we see all the time on TV.


We often find in the news media what is known as “un-named sources” or “unidentified spokespersons.” The news media does this to lend authority or credibility to their story or whatever it is that they are reporting on, but we have to look at these with great skepticism because we do not know whether these unidentified or unnamed sources are reputable.


One of the most common abuses of this approach is the use of celebrity’s testimonials for different products, but, often, there is little or no connection between the product and what it is that made the celebrity famous. Like someone said, it is not really Michael Jordan’s cologne that has made him famous.


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)