Saturday, October 09, 2004
Kerry's Appeal to Authority
My high-school logic teacher, Mr. Gugenheim, taught us that using a third party, like a celebrity or a recognized authority figure, to bolster your debate argument was a falacy called "appeal to authority". The basic idea being that one's argument should stand up by virtue of its own inherant truth, not by virtue of a third party's endorsement. The "appeal to authority" falacy is used all the time in advertising; for example when a celebrity with no relevant credentials endorses a product or service. John Kerry employed this falacy constantly in the second presidential debate. "Wes Clark, who won the war in Kosovo, has endorsed me" is just one classic example. John Kerry dropped dozens of names throughout the debate--some recognizable, others not--to bolster his positions. Was this effective? Yes and no. When left unanswered, even the most eggregious debate falacy can turn into a winner. But when overdone, as it was in Kerry's retoric, the offending crutch or device will ring hollow and false.