Accounting for the Appeal to the Authority of Experts

Abstract

Work in Argumentation Studies (AS) and Studies in Expertise and Experience (SEE) has been proceeding on converging trajectories, moving from resistance to expert authority to a cautious acceptance of its legitimacy. The two projects are therefore also converging on the need to account for how, in the course of complex and confused civic deliberations, nonexpert citizens can figure out which statements from purported experts deserve their trust. Both projects recognize that nonexperts cannot assess expertise directly; instead, the nonexpert must judge whether to trust the expert. But how is this social judgment accomplished? A normative pragmatic approach from AS can complement and extend the work from SEE on this question, showing that the expert’s putting forward of his view and “bonding” it with his reputation for expertise works to force or “blackmail” his audience of citizens into heeding what he says. Appeals to authority thus produce the visibility and accountability we want for expert views in civic deliberations.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    To AS, this sounds odd. We might want to translate it as "social knowledge can justify, or warrant acceptance of, a technical conclusion."

  2. 2.

    I have also tried to frame the distinction between technical/internal and social/external grounds for assessment as one between "epistemic" and "pragmatic" justifications for knowledge (Goodwin 2010a); my peers have found this attempt unpersuasive, however.

  3. 3.

    Need I also point out that the speed of the meta-expert's analysis is likely to be slower than the speed of politics, and that from the citizens' point of view, the friendly meta-expert is yet another apparent egghead demanding their regard?

  4. 4.

    Put yet another way: we need to ask, insistently, "How do scientists communicate with an untrained public?" (Collins and Evans 2003, p. 446).

  5. 5.

    In fact, we might expect that a society which paid great public respect to experts would also invest great craft and cunning into the art of evading their advice.

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Acknowledgments

This work was made possible with the support of a summer stipend from the National Endowment for the Humanities (# FT5812610).

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Correspondence to Jean Goodwin.

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Goodwin, J. Accounting for the Appeal to the Authority of Experts. Argumentation 25, 285 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10503-011-9219-6

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Keywords

  • Argumentation
  • Expertise
  • Authority
  • Appeal to authority
  • Deliberation
  • Normative pragmatics