A philosopher appeals to authority


It is fallacious to claim that a person is right because he is an expert. Does this mean that expertise should be dismissed altogether? Generally speaking, that is my recommendation. Here is my reasoning:

1. We can all forget things about our own research. Furthermore, we often don’t know our own research even when we are most deeply immersed in it.

2 and 3. Sometimes experts specialize too much to say anything outside of their own narrow area.

4. This point would apply to any person at all.

5 and 6. Scientists are not all trained in logic.

7 and 8. Begs the question. If some scientists are shoddy, then how do we know that we can trust any of them until we know the extent of their expertise?

9. Ok.

There are other points to make against the notion of expertise:

1. What is a field in the first place? So-called knowledge is very specialized now. Can anyone be an authority in a field at all?

2. How do we know that the person knows their stuff? We test them. But if that is the case, then we might as well test the, all the time. But if we do that, then they lose all authority since we would never take what they say for granted. In short, we would always need to determine the correctness of the expert’s claim.

3. The post begins with the assumption that we need to know science in order to engage in discussions about it within the public sphere. Two points: what is science doing in policy discussions? How will we ever know that the people engaged in the discussion have real knowledge? Will we need to appeal to experts about the experts? Will we take a vote about what is true and false?

The bottom line is this:

Sapere Aude!


Filed under: Philosophy, , , ,

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