Fallacious Ethos

  • Ad Hominem (Argument to the Person): Attacking the person instead of the argument. For example, “You say I shouldn’t drink so much, but you drink every day.” The validity of the argument (drink less) can’t be based on the behavior of the person making the argument. Instead, the validity of the argument should be evaluated on its own terms—separate from the person making the claim.
  • Argument from Authority: Claiming to be an expert and, on that basis, to be deserving of trust. It’s important to remember that there are different kinds and levels of expertise: My weekend cooking class doesn’t make me an authority on recipes, though I can honestly say I’ve studied cooking. So, I might be an authority on some elements of cooking, but not all of cooking. When faced with an argument from authority, it is important to investigate the credentials of the speaker or writer.
  • Appeal to Authority: Using a statement taken out of context as authoritative support. For instance, it would be fallacious to use Malcolm X’s declaration “by any means necessary” to justify an oppressed group’s violence against police officers. Such an assertion ignores the context, and therefore the complexity, of Malcolm X’s statement.
  • Argument from False Authority: Using an expert in a specific field as an expert in all related fields. For instance, if I am writing a paper about heart disease and I quote my chiropractor, Dr. Wallace, then I would be making an appeal to fallacious ethos; despite being a doctor, she is not an authority on heart disease.
  • Appeal to Anonymous Authority: Using appeals to nonspecific groups (e.g., doctors, scientists, researchers, and so on). For example, “Research shows that all women are inferior to men.” Or, “Studies indicate that all college students binge drink.” Neither of these statements offers a specific credible source, so both claims lack authority.
  • Inflation of Conflict: Using a conflict between two authorities as a reason to dismiss their arguments and knowledge. For instance, it would be fallacious to assert that global climate change does not exist because two scientists disagree about its effects.