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Critical Thinking & COVID-19 V: Argument from Authoritarian

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While it would be irrational to reject medical claims of health care experts in favor of those made by President Trump, there are those who do just that. Considerations of why people do this is mainly a matter of psychology, but the likely errors in reasoning are a matter for philosophy. While those who accept Trump as a medical authority are falling victim to a fallacious appeal to authority, it is worth considering the specific version of the fallacy being committed. I am calling this fallacy the argument from authoritarian. The error occurs when a person believes a claim simply because it is made by the authoritarian leader they accept. It has this form: Premise 1: Authoritarian leader L makes claim c. Conclusion: Claim C is true. The fact that an authoritarian leader makes a claim does not provide evidence or a logical reason that supports the claim. It also does not disprove the claim—accepting or rejecting a claim because it comes from an authoritarian would both be errors. The authoritarian could be right about the claim but, as with any fallacy, the error lies in the reasoning. The use of my usual silly math example illustrates why this is bad logic: Premise 1: The dear leader claims that 2+2 =7. Conclusion: The dear leader is right.   At this point, you might be thinking about the consequences someone might suffer from not accepting what an authoritarian leader claims—they could be fired, tortured or even killed. While that is true, there is a critical distinction between having a rational reason to accept a claim as true and having a pragmatic reason to accept a claim as true or at least pretend to do so. Fear of retaliation by an authoritarian can provide a practical reason to go along with them but this does not provide evidence. No matter how brutally an authoritarian enforces their view that 2+2=7 and no matter how many people echo his words, 2+2=4. While fear can provide people with a motivation to accept an argument from authoritarian, there. . .

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News source: A Philosopher's Blog

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