Everyday Logic: Appeal to Improper Authority

In a passing conversation, I was asked why someone would consult Reader’s Digest on medical issues. This came about because the May 2019 issue of Reader’s Digest has this article:

Because it was a casual conversation, I said that what’s probably important is who the author is and whether the author is a medical expert.

This was a good question, though. Very frequently, people employ the fallacy known as Appeal to Improper Authority.

Appeal to Improper Authority is when one appeals to a non-expert on a subject and makes a case from there. One example I used to use, but may not be the greatest example, is when people say Einstein believed in God, so there is a God.

Einstein was an expert on physics, not philosophy of religion or theology. So, even though he was, well, Einstein, that does not make him an expert on all things. An even better Einstein-related argument is one I came across just yesterday. Someone quoted Einstein, stating that the only solution to injustice is to apply socialism. As mentioned, Einstein, who may or may not be correct on this, was a physicist, not a political philosopher or related expert. So this is the fallacy of Appeal to Improper Authority.

What is important about my interlocutor’s question is that is makes it clear that there are everyday consequences to this fallacy. I’m not saying the author at Reader’s Digest is not a proper authority. What I mean to indicate is that, when one does appeal to improper authority for, say, medical issues, there are clearly health risks involved. The best bet is to consult your doctor on a medical issue since they will know your medical history and so forth.

Like any logical fallacy, Appeal to Improper Authority can have everyday consequences.


Author: Jennifer Lawson

Philosopher. That is all.

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