In all honestly, I've always had a problem with the "recourse to authority" fallacy.
In theory it seems all sound and convincing: a claim should be judged purely and solely on the argumentation laid to support it but never on who made this claim.
However, in practice it simply doesn't seem to work this way...
- For some reason websites like Wikipedia tend to have a strict No Original Research rule and demand all claims to be backed up with references to reputable (with an emphasis on "reputable") sources. This seems to be the exact opposite of what the reasoning behind the fallaciousness of recourse to authority would demand, since in Wikipedia a claim is judged purely and solely on the authority that made this claim and never on the argumentation to support it.
- And yet, AFAIK, Wikipedia isn't being condemned for being the "poster child of the recourse to authority fallacy"; rather, what Wiki strives for is considered a Good Thing™.
- In turn, claims made by Wikipedia (especially but not exclusively if they violate this 'NOR' rule) are not considered reputable and, IIUC, sourcing a claim in an academic paper with a reference to Wikipedia is a no-no.
- Is science, therefore, guilty of this fallacy as well?
Actually, and ironically, scientists seem to themselves promote this fallacy more and more often nowadays! How many times have I heared already that 'there came time of experts', that people should stop believing in claims made by charlatans, and they especially should turn they backs on promoters of quack medicine and instead start trusting academic medicine…
- I could go on and on providing more and more examples (like the institution of certificate authorities, where a person trusts the CA on it confirming the identity of a party instead of trying to confirm it oneself; or that it is heavily adviced against to design one's own cryptography and to trust cryptography made by non-experts and instead it is adviced to rely on experts on that matter); or that Skeptics.SE also has a NOR rule and that, from my experience, one of the primary factors a claim is judged there by is whether the claim originated in the usual scientific channels (which is a recourse to authority of the scientific community); but I think I'll stop now to keep the size of my Q reasonable.
It would seem to me that the fallacy of the 'recourse to authority fallacy' lies in it refusing to take into account one simple thing:
It is simply not possible to judge all claims oneself, for the following obvious reasons:
- One may lack necessary competence to judge a claim.
- While trying to support the NOR rule one of the Polish Wikipedians said:
Research means adopting a given hypothesis and then verifying it with this or that methodology - the analysis of sources is one of such methodologies. But you surely couldn't have meant this? If so, then as an author you need to at least have a PhD, because unless you are an ingenious self-taught man you are only able to do this on this level.
- There are simply FAR too many claims for a single man's lifetime to judge!
- Evidence needed to judge some claims may be unreachable by one man but reachable by another, for example due to classified material or privacy laws.
Am I misunderstanding the reasoning behind the fallaciousness of the 'recourse of authority fallacy'? What piece of its fallaciousness am I failing to grasp?
- I wanted to ask this question for a long time… I finally did because this exchange of opinions pushed me.
- I admit this Q has a personal context… namely, I used to have my own opinion about everything and I used to challenge everyone, even reputable experts, who were holding a different opinion. Now I am strongly suspecting that I used to be (and, hopefully to a lesser degree, still am) an ignorant and arrogant man, that I was a prime example of the Duning-Kruger effect and that while I can and still should educate myself on the topics that interest me, until I get my PhD in all possible subjects I should also assume that people more knowledgeable and more experienced than me are, well, more knowledgeable and more experienced than me and probably their claims hold more water - even if I cannot understand them yet (this last part is important: my reasoning was that I used to reject claims backed up by arguments that didn't make sense to me but I was simply too incompetent to understand these (valid) arguments).
- One of the intersting consequence of such considerations seem to be religious ones: if there is God, should we accept claims made by God before demanding God to prove them to us? However, I realize that this digression strays (way) too far.