Do You Rely On Authorities?
by Luke Nix
Have you noticed that when you make a claim and point out that an authority on the subject agrees, the person who disagrees with the point tends to question the authority? Have you ever noticed that you do the same when you disagree with a point? I have had several people who have said that I was using the authority of the person cited as an argument for the truth of the claim; then dismiss it. Am I wrong?
Let’s look at two different types of authority, then two different ways to use an authority. First, you have a proper authority and an improper authority. The proper authority is someone who is making a claim about a field they have studied and are familiar with the facts of the field. An improper authority is a person who holds credibility in one field, but speaks “authoritatively” about a field they have not studied. The most recent example that comes to mind of an improper authority being cited is Stephen Hawking. He’s a genius when it comes to physics, and when he speaks about physics, people should listen. However, he has recently spoken “authoritatively” on philosophy and theology. His arguments have been shown to be quite fallacious when it comes to philosophy and theology. Hawking would be considered improper authority when he speaks on those issues.
There are also a couple of different ways that we can use authorities in our discussions. We can argue from them for a specific conclusion (use them as a premise) or we can use them simply provide us with information. Since no person can know every little minute detail about everything, everyone must rely on authorities for information. There is nothing wrong with this as long as it is a proper authority. Anyone who tells you that you can’t rely on any authority for information is not holding themselves to the same standard they are attempting to hold you…
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