Appeal to Confidence

Description:

The arguer supports a position by appealing to himself as knowledgeable or trustworthy on the given subject, while at the same time declining to explain the actual reasons for a position.

 

Comments:

The argument appeals to confidence-building phrases, such as "trust me," or "take it from me," or makes an explicit claim to authority, such as "I know what I'm talking about." In an important variation of this fallacy, the arguer may even make an ironic claim to lack authority, saying "Your argument is just too subtle for me to grasp!", but since the claim is seen to be ironic, it imples that the opponent's argument is nonsense, since it cannot be understood by someone who is presumably an expert.

 

Examples:

"You're going to like the way you look. I guarantee it." - George Zimmer (Men's Warehouse CEO)

 

"What you now say passes my poor powers of comprehension; it may be all very true, but I can't understand it." - Schopenhauer, "The Art of Controversy"

 

"I will build a great wall - and nobody builds wall better than me, believe me." - Donald Trump (2015, at a campaign rally.)

 

Discussion:

We like to have the same opinions as the people around us. As a result, we are often inclined to adopt an opinion merely because a friend or family member says we should. This is a tribal instinct, and it is a good instinct, with proven survival value. In a complex society specialization is necessary. People tend to think about (and form opinions on) different subjects. I have friends who have firm opinions on political matters, and I tend to adopt their opinions because I know that they are more interested in these subjects than I am, and I know that they have thought through the relevant arguments more deeply and more carefully than I have. (They tend to trust and adopt my opinions on matters of philosophy and logic.) Any child instinctively understands the wisdom of adopting the opinions of its mother. Mother is older and more experienced, and therefore likely to be right. Mother's favorite argument ("Because I said so!") is not necessarily bad reasoning from the child's point of view. Probably most of us end up accepting the same opinions that our parents held on at least many subjects.

The fallacy of Appeal to Confidence exploits this good survival instinct by mimicking the situation in which we adopt an opinion from a trusted parent or friend. In effect the arguer claims to be trusted or trustworthy, as if the claim alone were sufficient reason for adopting his or her opinions. No actual reasons are offered. The Appeal to Confidence fallacy is especially egregious when the arguer is a total stranger (e.g. a salesman), whose claim to be trusted or trustworthy presumes upon a relationship that does not actually exist.

By the way, most friends and family members who have opinions would be delighted to explain the reasons behind their opinions. If friends have a real interest or expertise in a subject, they may even be eager to bore you with the reasons behind their opinions. The Appeal to Confidence, by contrast, is usually used as a ploy to prevent you from inquiring into the reasons behind someone's opinion. "You'll just have to trust me on this one," is an attempt to shut off inquiry, not an invitation to further discussion.

 

Source: I named this one myself. However, in "The Art of Controversy" Schopenhauer refers to the trick of appealing to oneself as an authority, and mentions the ironic claim to lack of authority as an instance of this trick.

The name "Appeal to Confidence" refers to our tendency to accept ideas from those in whom we have trust or "confidence." A stranger who tries to steal our money by obtaining our trust is sometimes said to be playing a "confidence game" or to be a "con (short for 'confidence') artist." An arguer who tries to get you to adopt an opinion (or buy a product) on trust is also just playing a confidence game.

 

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