Authority

I know I’ve been lazy with this thing, but I will be posting some interesting stuff soon, I swear!

In the meantime…

I just had a thought out of the blue, and I want to get some opinions on it. I don’t feel like spending a lot of time developing this idea, but I think you’ll get the gist.

Why is it that intellectuals, skeptics, philosophers, etc., are so keen on rejecting “authority” as a legitimate means of gaining knowledge? Such people, (myself included), often talk about why science is the best way to learn about the world, and why every claim must be researched rigorously before we may deem it worthy of our belief. Of course, it is inadvisable to believe every word that an authority figure tells you, but should that mean that authority is not a legitimate, even valuable, source of knowledge and wisdom? Don’t get me wrong – I greatly value skepticism, and I nearly always take what I hear “with a grain of salt”. But how many times has the experience and wisdom of our elders and authority figures benefitted us? Innumerable times, I have no doubt. In fact, I dare to take this further. What have you ever learned about the world totally on your own? I bet it’s very little, if anything. The vast majority of what we know about all subjects comes from those who came before us, whether it’s Aristotle, your grandma, or that uncle who’s good with computers. We even talk about really good books as being “authoritative”. The world is built upon the trust (dare I say “faith”? <gasp!>) that people put in others whom they see as being in a better position to know what they are talking about. It’s impossible to subject every claim or idea to rigorous scientific investigation, so we take shortcuts like looking up “scholarly” articles or “reputable” newspapers, or simply asking a learned person. We do learn some things from direct experience – the proverbial “hard way” – but that is often terribly inneficient. We must spend our time wisely, after all.

As weird as it feels for a skeptic like myself to say this, my belief system is built largely on authority of one form or another. Not to mention the fact that most of us have some dearly held philosophical, religious, mystical, etc., views that are altogether outside the realm of scientific investigation.

What do you think?

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4 Comments

Filed under Philosophy

4 responses to “Authority

  1. Well I have sat thinking over your question and I believe it to boil down to a natural doubt in all intellectuals, skeptics, etc. Before trust can really be put into something such as authority, all doubt must be extinguished. However, while also pondering this I have come to the thought if scientific proof is needed then what of giving trust to a ‘scientific authority’. Is this a paradox? For as the people in question would be quick to doubt this authority but also would they not want to instill trust?

    • Yeah, I think some people do have a natural tendency to doubt. It’s probably common in skeptics and the like. Most people are actually the opposite, though. People don’t like to feel doubtful. They would rather believe something. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since, like I said, it’s often a good idea to believe authorities – the government being one exception, but that’s another story. I like your point about the paradox of “scientific authority”. Very interesting…

  2. Jessica

    wat reply r u lookin for

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