1. Auctoritas, authority, authoritarian, authoritative

1.1 Lat. Auctoritas

The word authority, and hence elements of the problematic of authority, originates in Latin and Roman laws and custom. According to Benveniste, the words auctor, “author”, auctoritas, “authority” are linked to the primary meaning of the verb augere, “to bring out, to promote” ([1969], no pag.):

In its oldest uses, augeo (1) denotes not the increase in something which already exists, but the act of producing from within itself; a creative act which causes something to arise from a nutrient medium and which is the privilege of the gods or the great natural forces, but not of men (ibid.).
(1) Augeo is the first person singular of the present indicative of augere (CP)

The speech delivered with auctoritas is creative:

The primary sense of augeo is discovered in auctoritas with the help of the basic term auctor. Every word pronounced with authority determines a change in the world; it creates something. This mysterious quality is what augeo expresses, the power which causes plants to grow and brings a law into existence. That one is the auctor who promotes, who alone is endowed with the quality […]. Obscure and potent values reside in this auctoritas, this gift which is reserved to a handful of people who can cause something to come into being and can literally bring into existence (ibid.).

This has nothing to do with what we call now an “argument from authority” supporting a belief about a given reality. Ellul describes the institutional exercise of the auctoritas as follows:

The auctoritas is the quality of the auctor. It gives its support, its approval to the act done by another person. At first it was probably an act of sacred law: an individual makes the legal act, and another validates this act by an intervention which manifests the agreement of the gods. (Ellul [1961], p. 248-249)

The auctoritas is held by the father, the priest, the judge; its use is foundational for family life, as well as for religious and legal life:

The auctoritas appears as the authority of a person who serves as a basis for a legal act. This act has value and efficiency only by the auctoritas. […] The pater [“father”] gives his auctoritas to the marriage of his son. In religious life, the auctoritas of the priest delimits the domain of the sacred, and draws the boundaries of the profane. In juridical life, the auctoritas delimits the domain of what is legitimate, separating it from the illegitimate (ibid).

1.2 Authority, authoritarian, authoritative

The author-authority relation is now broken, an author may have not so much authority, and the person having authority is not necessarily an author.
Authoritarian and authoritarianism develop along a lexical line which stigmatizes authority.
In contrast, authoritative as “possessing recognized or evident authority” (MW, Authority) refers to a positively oriented lexical line associated with authority.

2. Authority as a social issue

The concept of authority is redefined and discussed in all the fields of the human sciences, in relation to submission and in opposition to freedom or freedoms. Major studies on authority, power and totalitarianism marked the last century: in psychology, particularly since the resounding experiences of Stanley Milgram on “Obedience to Authority” (1974); in philosophy, with the study of the “The Authoritarian Personality” of Theodor Adorno (1950); in history with Hannah Arendt’s “The Origin of Totalitarianism” (1951); in sociology with Max Weber (1922), whose distinctions between traditional, charismatic, and rational-legal authority are now a part of common knowledge.

In our society, basic authority is expressed through various explicit standards regulations and norms, enforced by law, backed by the police and the legal institutions, in relation with the current political authorities.
Organizations have to define a mode of authority that they exercise within their field of competence, and to which their members must subscribe.
Like the definition and exercise of authority, resistance to illegitimate authority is a never-ending enterprise.

3. Authority and Argumentation Studies

3.1 Position

Along with the issue of authority, the study of discourse engages in a multidisciplinary reflection on the epistemic level (non-truth conditional conditions of acceptability of statement); on social influence (management of the powers of discourse); on interpersonal relationships (interactional manifestations and effects of the relative positions of authority of the participants).
In the specific field of argumentative rhetoric, the notion of authority is considered in relation to speech: In which identifiable ways, from implicit evocation to explicit invocation, can authority invest a statement? What is an appeal to authority? What are the types of critical responses to authoritarian or authoritative speeches?

To the extent that it refers to reason and free inquiry, argumentation is antithetical to authority and violence, even if they avail themselves of legal and even moral legitimacy. Argumentative speech, however, operates on a knife-edge. As a critical discourse, it denounces the discourse of authority; as strong affirmative discourse, it impacts upon the others’ minds and aspires, in the name of rationality, to change the representations of the audience. Argumentation has to find a way to be authoritative, without being authoritarian.
Claiming to be the instrument of reason, argumentation studies develop towards reflection on how this argumentative reason interacts with legitimate social authority, a fundamental element of social life, S. Agreement; Role; Persuasion; Evaluation. The ideal of rational persuasion and consensus served by argumentation is invoked, but, on the other hand, the decision rests with the legal power that be, and that the best argument may or may not be reflected in the voter’s decision.

3.2 Forms of argumentation appealing to authority

— Basically, the argument from authority explicitly quotes a hetero-attributed authority. It is sometimes specified according to the nature of the source holding the authority: consensus, ad antiquitatem, ad numerum… (see infra).
— Authority, or lack of authority, may be self-attributed, incarnated and manifested in the speaker’s speech and attitudes, S. Ethos; Modesty.
— The authority of the testimony is supported by the character and reputation of the witness, and is thus connected with ethos. The criticism of the testimony is to be compared with that of the expertise.
— The authority of the precedent rests upon an earlier judgment (in all the meanings of the word judgment). The cause may also have been decided in the fable or parable; S. Example; Exemplum.
— Dialectic problematizes discourses supported by various kinds of social authority, S. Doxa.

The following paragraphs develop different forms and argumentative uses of authority.

4. The speaker’s inherent authority

4.1 Performative auctoritas

he speaker holds a unique form of authority, the auctoritas linked to the performativity of different classes of statements. According to Austin [1962], the performative utterance produces the reality that it states: by saying, “I promise”, I promise. The speaker is the auctor of the reality created, her promise.

4.2 Taking their word for it

If a speaker says, “hello!”, even if his friendliness is actually feigned, the default belief is that this is true friendly behavior. Ordinarily, no argument is needed to make somebody believe something, it must simply be stated; as a general rule, the speaker’s words are be taken at face value; what she says is believed and acted upon without hesitation. When somebody is asked “What time is it?”, the answer is accepted, no need to check the respondent’s watch.
Assertions about inner states, “I feel in good shape today”, are, by default, accepted without question, as are assertions made by individuals with special access to the facts under discussion (witnesses). If having authority means having power to successfully transmit one’s representations to the listeners, this is the most common form of linguistic authority, based on the preference for agreement.

This basic linguistic authority combines with other kinds of social authorities, which are attributed to the speaker according to the various social identities and roles he or she plays. These identities and roles cumulate in the shown authority of the authoritative speaker, precisely as defined by the theory of ethos.

Nonetheless, the preference for agreement is not automatic; recipients routinely disagree, and if not, they may be to blame.

5. Argument of legal authority

Authority, in the most common sense of the term, is defined by its claim to compliance and obedience; orders are obeyed by virtue of their source, without being systematically backed by a lengthy justification.

Context: L holds the power and means of coercion in domain D
tells O to do F (F is in the area of D)

O does F.

The ideal of authoritarian authority is to exert a direct, causal influence on the behavior of others. If the tyrant’s subjects are not submissive to his good reasons or charisma, she can still opt for a hard punishment or a sweet reward.
Radical authority demands that the person who receives the order obey “like a corpse” (perinde ac cadaver), according to the metaphor Ignatius of Loyola uses to illustrate the perfection of the virtue of obedience. For the person who is not a member of the organization, to obey in this way is to reduce oneself to the state of an instrument by renouncing free examination and free will. For a member of the organization, it is simply to trust the goal-related rationality of the institution as such.

Conversely, orders are invoked as a sufficient justification for action: “I only obeyed the orders”. Such an appeal to authority is diametrically opposed to the philosophy of argumentation, which universalizes the imperative of justification and individual responsibilities. It can be challenged by appealing to the international conventions on Human Rights and the Geneva Convention.

Everyday democratic authority is the authority of legal and regulatory norms, backed by the monopoly of legal violence, enforced by the powers that be, and implemented by the persons legally in charge. In such a context, the basic expression of a valid legal and democratic argument from authority can be schematized as follows:

Context: There is a system of norms N. One of these norms empowers a judge to enforce this system and gives her the means of coercion necessary for its application.
Person P has done action A, and somebody complains.
The judge assesses, in a procedure conforming to the requirements of N, whether or not A constitutes a breach of a norm.
If it does, the judge sentences P to F, considering that R (justification of the decision).
Willingly or not, P complies with F.

Court sentences are about “making do”, not “making believe”, that is, convincing the convict. The recipients of the judge’s good reasons are much more the judge’s colleagues, or P‘s counsel, than P herself. P may be convinced of the legitimacy of the punishment by the good reasons given by the judge, but this psychological condition is not necessary. P must only comply with the judge’s decision, willingly or not. One cannot ask everyone to share the theory of redeeming punishment, and to gladly submit to a condemnation, even a democratic one.
Authority cannot force someone to believe something. But, as belief is manifest in words and behaviors, “make do” may be indistinguishable from “make believe”: “kneel down, pray, and you will believe.”

6. Classical argument of authority

6.1 Shown authority and quoted authority

Critical studies of argumentation draw a distinction within ethotic authority, rejecting as fallacious its seductive charismatic component (shown authority), to discuss only its expert component (quoted authority) S. Ethos.
In the case of ethotic authority, the speaker is the source of authority. Authority is « self-authorized » or self-founded. What is said is believed or obeyed because such and such a person says so.
In the case of the classical argument from authority, the speaker legitimizes her argument by quoting a preexisting, external authoritative, source: authority is hetero-founded. The technical study of this hetero-founded authority lies within the more general framework of discourse repetition, reformulation, reinterpretation, S. Resumption of speech.

6.1 Rhetorical argument of authority and the authorities stores

Authority is at the foundation of topos No. 11 of Aristotle’s Rhetoric:

Another line of argument is founded upon some decision already pronounced, whether on the same subject, or on one like it, or contrary to it. Such a proof is most effective if everyone has always decided thus; but if not everyone, then at any rate, most people; or if all, or most, wise or good men have thus decided, or the actual judges of the present question, or those whose authority they accept, or people whose decision they cannot gainsay because they have complete control over them, or those whom it is not seemly to gainsay, as the gods, or one’s father, or one’s teachers.
(Rhet., II, 23, 1398b15-30, RR, p. 365)

The “decisions” to be made can be intellectual or judicial. On this basis, later rhetoricians list the authorities likely to be called upon to strengthen the position of a party. In the judicial field, the Rhetoric to Herennius proposes ten “formulae” [loci comunes, “common places”, S. Topos) “to amplify an accusation”:

The first commonplace is taken from authority, when we call to mind of what great concern the matter under discussion has been to the immortal gods, to our ancestors, or kings, states, barbarous nations, sages, the Senate; and again, especially how sanction has been provided in these matters by laws. (Ad Her., II, 48)

These authorities are distinct from the judicial precedent, and can support any form of speech. Quintilian, for the same judicial situation, considers as authoritative,

whatever can be adduced as expressing the opinions of nations or people, or of wise men, eminent political characters, or illustrious poets. 37. Nor will common sayings, established by popular belief, be without their use in this way (IO, V, 11, 36-37).

This authorities store will be extensively used, with some adjustments; Gods should read God:

— Authority of Books, tradition, ancestors (ad antiquitatem); the argument of Progress is opposed to this form of authority.
— The famous verses, proverbs, fables, parables…
— The Chinese, the Americans…
— Authority of the media, professionals, scientists, professors…
— Truths from the mouths of children, the rich, the poor
— Authority of large numbers, prestige of the majority consensus, of a particular group…

These forms of authority are cumulative: the scientific authority of the Master is sometimes mitigated by the charismatic authority of the Guru.

All these varieties of authority can be quoted; some can be incarnated by the speaker as a Chinese, an expert, a poor, a member of a distinguished community.

6.2 Invoked authority: the classical argument from authority

The classical argument of authority exploits an authority taken from the authority store. It is based on a quotation, and can be schematized as follows (see Hamblin 1970: 224 et seq.):

S:   — A is an authority, A says that P; therefore, P is true and indisputable.

Or, put simply, “A says that P”, when the context clearly establishes that A is an authority, and that S itself defends P, or a position cooriented with P.
The prototypical example in this category is that of Pythagoras quoted by his disciples, he said it himself (“ipse dixit”). Pythagoras has of course nothing to do with the matter; it is the speaker who quotes him as an authority.

Authority can justify ways of doing, beliefs, or combine both:

S:     — That’s how they hold their fork and knife in New York.
S:     — The Master said that pity is fallacious
S:     — I never give money to homeless people, I read in a book that’s just encouraging laziness.

6.3 Evoked authority

When analyzing discourse backed by an external authority one must consider the fact that the quotation is not always direct and open. The speaker can also proceed by allusion referring indirectly to a discourse, considered as authoritative because dominant, prestigious or associated with an expert. By subtly using the expressions “discursive formation”, “ideological state apparatuses”; “great other” … I suggest my knowledge and complicity respectively with the thinking of Michel Foucault, Althusser, Lacan, etc.

Quoting an authority in support of a proposition has ethotical repercussions. When the Greek messenger Orestes says to Pyrrhus, “All the Greeks speak to you by my voice[1], he does more than quoting the Greeks, he incarnates the authority he quotes. Self-quotation does not grant much authority to what is said, quoting a prestigious authority however does improve the personal authority of the speaker. The Master’s voice comes from the speaker’s mouth, the speaker identifies with Him, reframes the exchange accordingly, and hopes that the audience will follow.

The philosophy of argumentation invokes an ideal of exposure to refutation, according to which it is perfectly legitimate to argue by authority, if the argument is explicit, if one knows exactly who said what and when. This rational requirement of making explicit is opposed to the burying of authority into the depths of discourse in order to shield it against a possible refutation.

7. Expert authority

From a logical-scientific point of view, a discourse is sound if it collects and articulates true propositions, in order to deduce a new true proposition, according to procedures accepted in the relevant community. In argumentation, the acceptance of a statement or a global vision is based on authority if it is not based upon a review of the good reasons supporting it, or upon a direct examination of the statement’s conformity with things themselves, but relies on the source and channel through which the information was communicated.
The argument from authority substitutes peripheral, indirect evidence for direct evidence or examination, which is considered inaccessible, too costly, or too tiring. Such daily practice is justified by a principle of economy, division of labor, or simply because someone else was more qualified, or in a better position to tell how events have gone. It works quite well and rationally, as a default argument, which can be edited when more information becomes available. Seen from this perspective, authority subtracts nothing and nobody from dispute, it simply shifts the burden of proof to the person who challenges it, S. Dialectic.

The argument of authority is therefore a form of argumentation when it exposes the authority which it claims. One could oppose the authoritarian support of a statement, as backed by the socio-discursive position of the speaker, to the argument of authority, hetero-founded, whose source is clearly exposed. In other words, when invoked to open the debate, the argument of authority is neither authoritarian nor fallacious, but it is if it claims to close the discussion, S. Modesty.

The counter-discourse method provides a principle of evaluation and criticism of arguments from authority. Referring to the structure of the argument of authority, discourses against authorities are directed as follows.

7.1 Against the quotation itself

S: — A says that Q

The rebuttal challenges the quote as such or the relevance of the quotation to the present discussion. This move preserves the status of A as an authority.

— A did not say Q; Q does not conform to the letter of what A actually said.
— Q is quoted out of context.
— Q is a misquote of A; it contains elements of reformulation and mischievous
— As meant by A, Q is not relevant to the present issue (Q is misinterpreted)

7.2 Against the authority quoted

— A has changed her mind, as testified by her more recent statements.

— A has no direct evidence, so A is not a real authority on point Q.

— There is no consensus among experts; “A+, a greater expert, rejects Q”.

— By application of the ad hominem argument to the source A: Q is incompatible, contradictory, with other assertions (or prescriptions) of A.

— A has spoken outside of his area of ​​expertise; she is not an expert in the precise field referred to by Q-type claims.

— A is not an expert, his or her views are outdated;

— A is mistaken, and has often been mistaken in the past.

— A is biased, manipulated, paid to say what she says.

— A can be dismissed by a personal attack (ad personam): “A is not an expert but a jester”.

7.3 Argumentations establishing expert authority

One can distinguish between two distinct strategies dealing with authority: arguments establishing an authority as such, and arguments exploiting an established authority. This opposition has a general value, S. Causality, Definition, Analogy. Discourses (7.1) against authority attacks the use made of authority, whereas discourse (7.2) attacks the authority itself.
It follows that discourses (7.2) against authority mirrors a discourse defining a legitimate expert:

A speaks in his sphere of competence, and is aware of the state of the matter; A‘s system is coherent; A has direct evidence, serious experts agree with what A says; the previous anticipations made by A are proven correct.

7.3 Against the person who submits to authority

The interaction framework shifts the focus from the statement of authority itself to the relationship of authority. Criticism is now aimed at the pusillanimity of the interlocutor.

7.4 Counter-argumentation ad rem

Finally, the opponent can argue that direct arguments can be opposed to Q, that is argument dealing with the matter at hand, and drawn not from authority but from scientific reason, or from historical knowledge, considered as superior to lazy appeals to authority.

8. Refutative uses of authority

8.1 Refutative uses of positive authority

The preceding paragraphs address authority inasmuch as it serves as support for an affirmation. Such an authoritative assertion  can be used to rebut a claim:

S1:      — P!
:      — X says the opposite, and she knows what she is talking about!

If X and S1 share the same affiliation, the refutation combines authority and ad hominem.
Positive authority can also be used to destroy not the content of what is said, but the claim to authority and therefore the competence of the person holding the discourse:

S1:     — P!
S2:      — That’s exactly what Perelman says!
           — We’ve known that since Aristotle!

Thought is an inner dialogue? We’ve known that since Plato! [2]

8.2 Negative authority: “Reductio ad Hitlerum

Negative authority is used to rebut a claim in the following case:

S1:     — P!
S2:      — H says exactly the same thing!

H is a person, a party rejected by the speech community to which S2 belongs, or by the third parties arbitrating the discussion, or possibly S1; H is an anti-authority, an anti-model, S. Imitation.
In the case of a positive authority, the proponent connects the statement with an authority. Here, the connection of the disputed statement with the negative authority is made by the opponent.

Hitler is the paragon of the negative authorities, whose words cannot be repeated. The reductio ad Hitlerum puts an end to any argument.

Last year, you may recall, a number of financial-industry barons went wild over very mild criticism from President Obama. They denounced Mr. Obama as being almost a socialist for endorsing the so-called Volker rule, which would simply prohibit banks backed by federal guarantees from engaging in risky speculation. And as for their reaction to proposals to close a loophole that lets some of them pay remarkably low taxes — well, Stephen Schwarzman, chairman of the Blackstone Group, compared it to Hitler’s invasion of Poland.
Paul Krugman, “Panic of the Plutocrats”, 2011.[2]

[1] Racine, Andromache, 1667. I, 2. Quoted after: (11-08-2017)

[2] SOCRATES: Very good. Now by ‘thinking’ do you mean the same as I do?
THEAETETUS: What do you mean by it?
SOCRATES: A talk which the soul has with itself about the objects under its consideration. Of course, I’m only telling you my idea in all ignorance; but this is the kind of picture I have of it. It seems to me that the soul when it thinks is simply carrying on a discussion in which it asks itself questions and answers them itself, affirms and denies. And when it arrives at something definite, either by a gradual process or a sudden leap, when it affirms one thing consistently and without divided counsel, we call this its judgment. So, in my view, to judge is to make a statement, and a judgment is a statement which is not addressed to another person or spoken aloud, but silently addressed to oneself. And what do you think?
THEAETETUS: I agree with that.

Plato, Theaetetus, 189e-190d. Translated by M. J. Levett, rev. Myles Burnyeat. In Plato, Complete Works. Edited, with Introduction and Notes, by John M. Cooper; Associate Editor D. S. Hutchinson. Hackett, Indianapolis/Cambridge, 1997.

[2] _r = 1&ref=global-home (11-08-2017)