Appeals to Authority

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    Is it considered an appeal to authority when referencing figures such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and founding documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in political speeches? I mean in the sense of a rhetorical device rather than a logical argument. Would it be considered ethos? Does an appeal to authority, in the sense used here, fall under ethos? For example, from the Platform of the American Anti-Imperialist League (1899):

    We hold that the policy known as imperialism is hostile to liberty and tends toward militarism , an evil from which it has been our glory to be free. We regret that it has become necessary in the land of Washington and Lincoln to reaffirm that all men, of whatever race or color, are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


    The appeal to authority is an informal fallacy, which is to say, it’s not always wrong. It’s wrong when you appeal to someone who is not an authority in respect of the subject matter under discussion: “Now’s a good time to invest in commodities.” ‘Why?’ ‘My dentist told me so.’

    Rhetorically, it makes perfect sense to associate your claims with people whom you can reasonably expect your intended audience to respect. Assuming the association is legitimate, it doesn’t, of course, just by itself establish the truth of your claim but it should ensure it a more respectful and considered hearing for it.

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