Appeal to Expert Opinion: Arguments from Authority

By Douglas Walton | Go to book overview

PREFACE

Remarkably, the problem of evaluating appeals to expert opinion was posed as a logical puzzle as early as the fifth century B.C.--a puzzle that not only has never been solved, even as we approach the millennium year of 2,000 A.D., but that, until very recently, has not been given much attention in the mainstream of logic. Sextus Empiricus (c. second or third century A.D.) attributed the following argument to Anacharsis of Scythia (who supposedly left Scythia at the end of the fifth century B.C. to go in search of wisdom):1;

Who is to be the judge of skill? Presumably, either the expert or the nonexpert. But it cannot be the nonexpert, for he does not know what constitutes skill (otherwise he would be an expert). Nor can it be the expert, because that would make him a party to the dispute, and hence untrustworthy to be a judge in his own case.

Therefore, nobody can be the judge of skills.2

As this clever argument suggests, there is an inherent difficulty in judging matters of technical expertise, even though we commonly do judge such matters and, in many cases, doing so is a practical necessity. The argument of Anacharsis indicates that when we do judge the worth of such matters, it is dubious whether we are using any rational criterion.

____________________
1
According to R. J. Hankinson, The Sceptics ( London: Routledge, 1995), 321.
2
. Sextus Empiricus, Against the Logicians, vol. 2 of Sextus Empiricus (works), Loeb Library edition, trans. R. G. Bury ( Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1933), 29-31. This reconstruction of the argument of Anacharsis is based loosely on the translations of Bury and Hankinson (owing somewhat more to Hankinson's), and represents not the exact wording of the complete argument but what is taken (by the author) to represent a précis of the essential problem posed.

-xiii-

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Appeal to Expert Opinion: Arguments from Authority
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xiii
  • 1 - THE PROBLEM OF AUTHORITY 1
  • 2 - HISTORICAL BACKGROUND 32
  • 4 - FORM OF THE ARGUMENT 91
  • 5 - DIALECTICAL ASPECTS 126
  • 6 - EXPERT TESTIMONY AS LEGAL EVIDENCE 167
  • 8 - EXPLAINING THE FALLACY 230
  • Index 273
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