Appeal to Expert Opinion: Arguments from Authority

By Douglas Walton | Go to book overview

1
THE PROBLEM OF AUTHORITY

Many of the things we accept are, inevitably, accepted on the basis of authority. If I get a diagnosis of my illness from a physician, I may get a second opinion, but even that opinion has been put forward by a certified expert. I may look up accounts of my illness in a medical library, but these too are written by experts. Of course, we presume that these pronouncements are based on scientifically verified facts, but once again this assumption is only guaranteed by the experimenters being experts in the scientific field in question. If you think of it, in fact, nearly everything we believe is believable because it is based on the opinions of experts. In this age of specialization and professionalization, it is not possible to escape accepting things on the basis of authority.

We like to think, however, that we can make up our own minds individually and autonomously on what to believe, reserving the right to be skeptical and using our own best judgment on what to think with respect to those opinions that really matter. But how real is this cognitive autonomy, given the dominance of fields of expertise and scientific authority in modern civilization? Can the individual thinker really question the established views that constitute the wall of expert scientific opinion that surrounds him or her and have a rational opinion that

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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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