On the use of authority in critical thinking

But shouldn’t an expert’s authority count for something? And isn’t there some appropriate use of authority in critical thinking?

If what I have been saying is true, then courses in critical thinking should teach our students how to criticize authority instead of teaching them how to defer to it. But if this is true, then a statement by an ‘appropriate’ authority should be the first word in a critical inquiry instead of the last. It should be the word that we listen to in order to discover how things stand in a field, what its major problems are, and which of the solutions that have been proposed seem most promising. And it should be the word that we then examine and question and put to the test as we begin to think critically about the field ourselves. I have no doubt whatsoever that this use of authority is very often necessary, appropriate, and rea­sonable. But it is not an argument from authority. It does not pretend to be good evidence. And it is not presented as a justification of any claim. It would, however, be one that is fully consistent with the goals of critical thinking. [136]

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