Periodic Table of Arguments

The building blocks of persuasive discourse

Argument from authority

The following pamphlet refers to the well-known urban myth that Einstein said that we only use 10% of our brain:

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Let’s assume that the pamphlet contains the argument:

We only use 10% of our brain, because Einstein said so

Application of the first two steps of the Argument Type Identification Procedure (ATIP) yields the following reconstruction of the argument:

We only use 10% of our brain, because we only use 10% of our brain is said by Einstein

After having identified the subject and predicate terms of the two statements, the determination of the argument form starts with a search for the fulcrum, i.e., the common term. In this case, since the conclusion we only use 10% of our brain functions as the subject of the premise, the fulcrum can only be found after having adjected the epistemic commitment marker is true (T) as a predicate to the conclusion. The argument then fits the form ‘is T, because q is Z’, which is the standard form of a second-order predicate argument, and can be annotated as follows:

We only use 10% of our brain (q) is true (T), because we only use 10% of our brain (q) is said by Einstein (Z)

In the subsequent determination of the argument substance, the conclusion is labelled as a logical judgement, a subtype of a statement of value (V), and the premise as a statement of fact (F). The argument can thus be identified as a second-order predicate argument that combines a statement of value with a statement of fact (systematic name 2 pre VF).

Within the framework of the Periodic Table of Arguments, the traditional name of an argument is derived from the formulation of its lever, i.e., the relationship between the non-common terms (see Wagemans, 2019). In this case, the lever can be formulated as

being said by Einstein (a) is authoritative for being true (T)

and the argument is an instantiation of what is traditionally called an ‘argument from authority’. In the visual representation of the PTA, this argument type is situated within the Delta Quadrant and represented with the symbol ‘Au’.