Argument from authority

a form of defeasible argument in which a claimed authority's support is used as evidence for an argument's conclusion

Argument from authority (Latin: argumentum ad verecundiam)


Meno: Is this true about yourself, Socrates, that you don’t even know what virtue is? Is this the report that we are to take home about you?

Socrates: Not only that, you may also say that, to the best of my belief, I have never met anyone else who did know.

Meno: What! Didn’t you meet Gorgias when he was here?

Socrates: Yes.

Meno: And you still didn’t think he knew?

Socrates: I’m a forgetful sort of person, and I can’t say just now what I thought at the time. Probably he did know, and I expect you know what he used to say about it. So remind me what it was, or tell me yourself if you will. No doubt you agree with him.

Meno: Yes, I do.

Socrates: Then let’s leave him out of it, since after all he isn’t here. What do you yourself say virtue is?

  • -Plato, Meno, 71c, W. Guthrie, trans., Collected Dialogs (1961), p. 354

I shall always be grateful to one of my critics, who, in a book review, perplexed me by his remark that I was "anti-intellectual." I wrote him to find out what, precisely, made him level this charge. He replied by pointing out that I explicitly took issue with the governing ideas of today’s intelligentsia…For my critic, the very fact that I had set myself against the intelligentsia made me anti-intellectual in "a straightforward sense." May I confess that his answer thrilled me? I knew I had heard something important, something I would think about for a long time. I had always thought of an intellectual as someone who thinks for himself or herself, who explores ideas wherever they might lead, and who, above all…is suspicious of the argument from authority, especially group authority.

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