Argumentum ad verecundiam- acceptable or not?

Is argumentum ad verecundiam a valid polemnic device or not?

In practice, it is normally understood as ‘argument from authority’ (argumentum ab auctoritate), but literally it is better translated it as ‘argument to modesty’ (i.e. appealing to modesty, for the acceptace of the opinion of an authority).

The objection to it is that it is not a sound argument for or against something, simply to say “X says so. X is an authority. Case proved!” The most obvious examples of CAF take the form of- “The CCC says… Case proved!” The problem is, in a certain sense, quoting an authority does not actually prove the case at all.

On the other hand, if X, the person quoted, really is an authority, shouldn’t we accept his opinion, more or less blindly? For example, if a professional mathematician tells me something about calculus, I would not generally demand further proof, other than his view?

What is the right position? Is argumentum ad verecundiam necessarily fallacious?

I’d say it depends on what is being argued, as well as how trusted an authority the person being appealed to is.

For example, one could justifiably appeal to a medical expert for certain facts (like the time brain activity is first present in unborn child) but not necessarily for arguments that result from those facts.

i would tend to think quoting the CCC does not require further proof…the Catechism of the Catholic Church contains the teachings of the Church…why should it not be definitive?

Well, I suppose it does not always demonstrate what it advances. Say, for example, the immortality of the soul was being discussed or disputed. Now, does quoting the CCC (or any authority for that matter) actually demonstrate what one is endeavouring to demonstrate? No- it does demonstrate what the Church teaches, but that seems a different thing to demonstrating the matter itself.

This especially would become important if one was discussion such an issue with a non-Catholic, who may have no reason to accept the CCC.

When I did a segment on logic in my philosophy class, the appeal to authority was not presented as a logical fallacy but as a tricky kind of argument that needs one of two things: either the two parties need to agree on the authority, or you need to proceed to prove the authority of your source after you’ve cited it.

In the context of the CCC, if you were arguing with a faithful Catholic, quoting the CCC should be sufficient since you both agree on the authority of the document.

But if the other party was a non-Catholic, you could still cite the CCC, but then you’d have to prove that it should be accepted as an authority – which may or may not be easier than proving whatever you were trying to prove in the first place.

You make an interesting point about this not actually demonstrating the matter. But it actually may, if the argument proceeds like this:

  1. The Church is an infallible authority.
  2. Whatever an infallible authority teaches is true.
  3. Therefore, whatever the Church teaches is true.
  4. The Church teaches X (insert Catechism quote here)
  5. Therefore, X is true.

That would be a valid argument and would demonstrate the point in question, but, as before, you would need to prove the first premise. And a lot of doctrines can be proven without citing the authority of the Church, and are easier to prove (arguably) than that premise, so it’s not always best practice to use the appeal to authority, though it can be appropriately and can be done validly.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.