Experts and Bias: When is the Interest-Based Objection to Expert Argumentation Sound?
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I discuss under what conditions the objection that an expert’s argument is biased by her self-interest can be a meaningful and sound argumentative move. I suggest replacing the idea of bias qua self-interest by that of a conflict of interests, exploit the distinction between an expert context and a public context, and hold that the objection can be meaningful. Yet, the evaluation is overall negative, because the motivational role of self-interest for human behavior remains unclear. Moreover, if recent social-psychological results from the “heuristics and biases” program are accepted, it is plausible to assume that humans also satisfice (rather than optimize/maximize) when identifying and then acting in their self-interest. My thesis is: insofar as the objection is sound with a particular audience, it is not needed; and insofar as the objection is needed, it is unsound.
KeywordsCircumstantial ad hominem Ad verecundiam Personal attack Argument from expert opinion Expertise Context Bias Heuristics Conflict of interest
I wish to thank the editors of this special issue as well two anonymous reviewers for comments that helped to improve this paper, which was completed during my term as an Erik Allard Fellow at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies.
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