Wednesday, May 30, 2012

[PL 211] Do/should we depend on others epistemically?

Following up on my last post about the (alleged) myth of the independent rational thinker, it is often said that social epistemology has demonstrated that we are epistemically dependent on others (e.g., see here and here).

After quoting Johnson and Blair on this point, Goodwin (2011, p. 287) writes:
we are dependent on others for much of what we know, since we don't have the time to investigate everything for ourselves, and many things are accessible only through the testimony of others.
From the fact that we sometimes reason by relying on other people's testimony and/or opinions, does it follow that this is how we ought to reason?

Goodwin (2011, p. 287) goes on to write:
philosophers have therefore shifted the appeal to authority out of the category of fallacy and accepted it instead as a potentially sound form of argument.
Even if we are dependent on the testimony of others, such as experts, does it follow that the appeal to authority is a sound form of argument?

Is this a sound argument?

Is this a cogent argument?


  1. I don't buy it.
    It seems like there should be some distinction between appealing to authority (Aristotle said this, so surely it must be correct) and appealing to the argument of an authority figure. Presumably, if Aristotle said it and you believe that what Aristotle said is correct, there was some persuasive argument that convinced you that Aristotle was correct. Appealing to the argument seems legitimate. Appealing to authority... not so much.

    1. Hi Annette,
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I think you are right about the distinction between accepting p because an authority says that p and accepting p because an authority has an argument for p. In the latter case, it seems that the appeal to authority is redundant. If there is a good argument for p, why not appeal to the argument rather than to the authority?


This is an academic blog about critical thinking, logic, and philosophy. So please refrain from making insulting, disparaging, and otherwise inappropriate comments. Also, if I publish your comment, that does not mean I agree with it. Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog.