The argument from ceded authority

Arguments from authority are typically third-person arguments: X says that p, so p is probably true.  Saying, I say that p, I have qualifications q, so listen up, is less common.  When you make an argument as an authority, you still cite reasons, they’re just reasons lay people don’t get.

Now comes Charles Krauthammer, quondam psychiatrist, who offers another twist on the argument from authority: the argument from ceded authority.  It works like this: I have qualifications q, but I’m not going to invoke them because they would prohibit me from saying p, so I cede this authority, and assert that p.  Here it is via TPM:

“So I decided when I left psychiatry never to use my authority. But let me just say as a layman, without invoking any expertise, Obama is clearly a narcissist in the non-scientific use of the word,” Krauthammer said during an interview on “The Hugh Hewitt Show.” “He is so self-involved, you see it from his rise.”

I’m pretty sure that expertise is not the kind of thing you can just put aside, as you would if you were a pro tennis player playing an amateur.  That expertise, once earned, pretty much stays.  So Krauthammer has offered an interesting variation on the age-old “I’m not a doctor. . . ” it’s “I’m a doctor, but I don’t play one on TV.”

4 thoughts on “The argument from ceded authority”

  1. If I understand Dr. Krauthammer’s logic,

    1. He is a psychiatrist, and is thus competent to diagnose a President as a narcissist, even without having conducted a medical consultation or reviewed the results of any diagnostic tests.

    2. He is a man of his word.

    3. As a man of his word, he has promised that he will never, ever use his psychiatric credentials to make himself an authority on any issue he addresses in his commentary.

    4. Thus, in order to keep his word, after reciting his credentials in a manner that would otherwise be a clear effort to assert the authority he is not invoking, he is acting solely in a lay capacity when diagnosing the President as a narcissist.

    First and foremost, let me state that although I do have an undergraduate degree in psychology, which I at times may reference as my B.S., I am far more qualified to make a lay diagnosis than is Dr. Krauthammer. With due respect to his feigned lack of credentials, I actually lack any medical or psychological credential, and I resent his trying to muscle in on my territory.

    That said, I have to be fair to Dr. Krauthammer. I didn’t believe that President Obama was a narcissist until I heard about this incident, and then… Wow! Oh wait, that incident didn’t involve Obama…. Well, one way or another, the anecdote made me suspect that somebody was a narcissist — and I must add that, as an actual layperson, my lay diagnosis of narcissism should be taken as far more credible than that of a person who is merely pretending to be unqualified to make the diagnosis.

    Kidding aside, you are unlikely to rise to the position in which you are a viable presidential candidate and, once there, are not likely to run unless you have a very strong and resilient sense of self-esteem. Narcissists are rather easy to find in the political world. But if I were personally to rank the presidents of my lifetime on how strongly they evidenced narcissism, I would put Obama in the second-to-last spot, followed only by Ford.

    Moving into the contenders for the top spot — a much more crowded field — the manner in which I might rank Nixon vs. LBJ is more complex as it depends on whether I buy into the developing theory that narcissism and sociopathy are not separate disorders, but instead fall on the same spectrum.

  2. Is this what Colbert was looking for when he asked retired admiral Mullen to opine on O’Rielly’s mercenary plan without letting his bias as former joint chief of staff influence his decision?

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