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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Appeal to Authority


Celestial authority


As a child, I learned of Mount Olympus, which according to one source relates to, “Ancient Greek religion and mythology, [as] ‘Olympus’ was the name of the home of the Twelve Olympian gods.” Being brought up under the doctrine of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I didn’t subscribe to the Olympian concept.


Although I didn’t believe in the folklore, I was interested in how ancient societies conceptualized authority—the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience. All the same, the hubris of my own conviction afforded me the opportunity to appeal to Jehovah as my source of authority.


Interestingly, per another source, “Even though the people of Ancient Greece mainly attributed Mount Olympus to be the dwelling place of Zeus and the Olympians in the sky, it turned out that the mountain was a physical place on earth located near the Gulf of Salonika in Northern Greece, on the borders of Thessaly and Macedonia.”


Turns out, religious dogma of the ancient world was predicated on human qualities and behavior. Ultimately, appealing to the authority of celestial entities that were derived from fallible human beings was a practice I abandoned in adulthood.


Appeal to authority


The process of calling upon figures that are perceived to know more than oneself isn’t solely associated with religious faith. This sort of behavior is common when seeking information from other flawed humans, as well.


In this post, I’m addressing an authority-centered fallacy—a mistaken belief, especially one based on unsound argument. This sort of irrational belief is likely something with which the reader is familiar. According to one source:


Appeal to authority fallacy refers to the use of an expert’s opinion to back up an argument. Instead of justifying one’s claim, a person cites an authority figure who is not qualified to make reliable claims about the topic at hand. Because people tend to believe experts, appeal to authority often imbues an argument with credibility.


Dear reader, take a moment to reflect upon your memory of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s reasonable to suspect that you likely heard repeated appeals to expertise (e.g., trust the experts).


Such rhetoric is indicative an appeal to authority. Regarding the logical form of this fallacy, one source states:


Logical Form:


According to person 1, who is an expert on the issue of Y, Y is true.


Therefore, Y is true.


Example #1:


Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist and perhaps the foremost expert in the field, says that evolution is true. Therefore, it’s true.


An appeal to authority may be thought of as reliance on unqualified individuals. Yet, as one source outlines:


An appeal to authority (also known as an appeal to false or unqualified authority) plays on people’s feelings of respect or familiarity towards a famous person to bypass critical thinking. It’s like someone is telling us “accept this because some authority said it.”


However, if the COVID-19 pandemic revealed anything worth understanding, I argue that a major lesson learned from the global event is that so-called experts—people who were genuinely considered to have comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of or skill in a particular area—weren’t godlike beings that were incapable of error.


Many of the “experts” simply went along with information peddled through the Mockingbird media and didn’t demonstrate critical thinking. Rather, they presumably refrained from challenging official narratives.


It’s reasonable to conclude that many of those who were touted as “experts” bought into ideological capture whereby they spread misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation about the virus. Contemptibly, people who raised concerns regarding this matter were subject to appeals to the very authority that was likely corrupt for the reasons outlined herein.


Understandably, it can be difficult to know who to trust. After all, a carte blanche approach to the matter—disregarding all sources of information, because some of it stems from unscrupulous actors—isn’t pragmatic or rational. Concerning the appeal to authority fallacy, one source adds:


Legitimate appeals to authority involve testimony from individuals who are truly experts in their fields and are giving advice that is within the realm of their expertise, such as a real estate lawyer giving advice about real estate law, or a physician giving a patient medical advice.


Regarding this clarification, I think of Bret Weinstein, Heather Heying, Peter McCullough, and Robert Malone—all doctors of various types (i.e., Ph.D., M.D., etc.)—who challenged official COVID-19 narratives. They were all lambasted for having done so, despite the fact that they retained expertise in their respective fields.


As such, it isn’t easy to know which source of information is worthy of attention. The aforementioned doctors, while nowhere near perfect—because no person is, didn’t follow the generally accepted appeal to authority fallacy.


This is presumably due to overarching authoritative—or dare one suggest authoritarian—perspectives and actions associated with the pandemic. Using a syllogism, here’s how the faulty logic supporting this concept unfolded:



Disjunctive syllogism (DS)


There are two options. One option is denied. Therefore, as there is only one option remaining, it must be true.


A or B. Not A. Therefore, B.


Example:


Nongovernment-affiliated experts are either correct or government-supported experts are correct in regards to COVID-19 information.


Nongovernment-affiliated experts aren’t the preferred source of COVID-19 information.


Therefore, government-supported experts are correct in regards to COVID-19 information.


This isn’t a particularly complex rhetorical strategy. Disconfirm the aforementioned doctors as incompetent sources of information while confirming the government-supported experts as legitimate is the name of the game.


Unfortunate for humanity, adherence to “the science” rhetoric versus practice of actual science resulted in detrimental effects which may not be fully realized until decades into the future. This is why knowledge about the appeal to authority fallacy is worth understanding.


Conclusion


Though I wasn’t alive during the time of ancient Greece, I can imagine what it was like for those people who likely disabused themselves of the notion that there were deities from upon high who could never be challenged. With the fall of ideology pertaining to Olympus, so came the freedom of inquiry.


Alas, the more things change, apparently the more they remain the same. In modernity, people still appeal to authority—almost religiously, or at minimal with cult-like adherence—regarding so-called experts of various sorts.


Given an example of how such irrational behavior unfolded during the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve highlighted how corruption of science may result when people employ a fallacy. Consequences of appeals to authority can undoubtedly lead to lasting harm.


Of course, this isn’t to suggest that all experts or authoritative sources are unworthy of consideration. After all, I’ve identified several individuals herein who cautioned the world not to foolishly accept official narratives regarding COVID-19.


Remarkably, one source advocated forgiveness once factual information about the authoritarian pandemic response was revealed, stating:


We have to put these fights aside and declare a pandemic amnesty. We can leave out the willful purveyors of actual misinformation while forgiving the hard calls that people had no choice but to make with imperfect knowledge.


The problem with this approach is that there were people who were labeled as purveyors of “misinformation,” and who actually made valid arguments which turned out to be more salient than government-supported “expert” sources. As such, I think lessons can be learned from the pandemic.


For whatever perceived existential threat comes next, I advocate allowing reasonable voices to raise concerns rather than shutting down voices of dissent. Likewise, if a person who isn’t an expert in a particular field has a meaningful contribution to add, we can forego name-calling and appealing to authority.


Then again, what do I know? I’m a professional in the field of mental, emotional, and behavioral health—far from an expert—and so people should consult with authoritative sources which know more than I do.


(See what I did there?)


If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.


As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.


At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!



Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW



References:


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