A superior says: "all orders of a superior are lawful because they have been given by a superior."
By itself, this is not necessarily false. In the military, for example, this is the standard of conduct - a superior's orders are lawful except in extreme cases which the code of conduct addresses. In such cases where this presumption of lawfulness is not the case, you might be thinking of the false equivalence where the law and the a superior's orders are presumed to be the same. Note that this is distinct from the fallacy of equivocation where an argument is made using one sense of an ambiguous term and concluding something using a different sense of the same ambiguous term.
But the policy in this instance states, "employees shall promptly obey any lawful order given by a superior." Which implies that the law and superior are not one and the same.
In that case we have two statements:
- Policy: "employees shall promptly obey any lawful order given by a
- Declaration: "all orders of a superior are lawful because they have
been given by a superior."
In this case, if the authority issuing orders is not authorized such that their authority is inherently lawful, then the declaration is begging the question. For example, if the manager at Chuck E. Cheese's pulled this on their subordinate employees and used it as a justification for ordering them to hand over their weekly cash tips it would be an example of petitio principii argumentation (i.e. assuming the initial point).
I know this is a pretty basic logical fallacy but I can't put my finger on the name. What is the fallacy called?
You may also be thinking of the argument from authority or appeal to authority when the authority in question is not related to the argument at hand, e.g. the opinion of a c.e.o of a tech company may be authoritative in their field, but irrelevant to a heart surgeon performing a transplant. You may also be thinking of the argument from false authority, but in the case of military commands, if the authority is your superior, then their authority is not false. For example, argumentum ex cathedra, or, argument from the chair, i.e. the seat of authority, is a valid argument when the authority is valid such as a Papal decree or a judicial ruling.
It's all well and good to "question authority" but to sincerely question authority, one has to be ready to listen to the answer from authority.