Argument from authority

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Argument from authority (Latin: argumentum ad verecundiam)



I shall always be grateful to one of my critics, who, in a book review, perplexed me by his remark that I was "anti-intellectual." I wrote him to find out what, precisely, made him level this charge. He replied by pointing out that I explicitly took issue with the governing ideas of today’s intelligentsia…For my critic, the very fact that I had set myself against the intelligentsia made me anti-intellectual in "a straightforward sense." May I confess that his answer thrilled me? I knew I had heard something important, something I would think about for a long time. I had always thought of an intellectual as someone who thinks for himself or herself, who explores ideas wherever they might lead, and who, above all…is suspicious of the argument from authority, especially group authority.

Appeal to an authority which depends on human reason is the weakest kind of proof.

...when we engage in argument we must look to the weight of reason rather than authority. Indeed, students who are keen to learn often find the authority of those who claim to be teachers to be an obstacle, for they cease to apply their own judgement and regard as definitive the solution offered by the mentor of whom they approve. I myself tend to disapprove of the alleged practice of the Pythagoreans: the story goes that if they were maintaining some position in argument, and were asked why, they would reply: "The master said so", the master being Pythagoras. Prior judgement exercised such sway that authority prevailed even when unsupported by reason.

It is not what the man of science believes that distinguishes him, but how and why he believes it. His beliefs are tentative, not dogmatic; they are based on evidence, not on authority...

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