Tag: authority

The weakest part of your opinion

A person who derives all his instruction from teachers or books, even if he escape the besetting temptation of con­tenting himself with cram, is under no compulsion to hear both sides; accordingly it is far from a frequent accomplish­ment, even among thinkers, to know both sides; and the weakest part of what everybody says in defence of his opinion, is what he intends as a reply to antagonists. [ch. II, 57]

Truth and authority

There is a class of persons (happily not quite so numerous as formerly) who think it enough if a person assents un­doubtingly to what they think true, though he has no knowledge whatever of the grounds of the opinion, and could not make a tenable defence of it against the most superficial objections. Such persons, if they can once get their creed taught from authority, naturally think that no good, and some harm, comes of its being allowed to be questioned. Where their influence prevails, they make it nearly impossible for the received opinion to be rejected wisely and considerately, though it may still be rejected rashly and ignorantly; for to shut out discussion entirely is seldom possible, and when it once gets in, beliefs not grounded on conviction are apt to give way before the slightest semblance of an argument. Waiving, however, this possibility—assuming that the true opinion abides in the mind, but abides as a prejudice, a belief independent of, and proof against, argument—this is not the way in which truth ought to be held by a rational being. This is not knowing the truth. Truth, thus held, is but one superstition the more, accidentally clinging to the words which enunciate a truth.[ch. II, 45-6]

Authoritarian sources of knowledge

But what, then, are the sources of our knowledge?

The answer, I think, is this: there are all kinds of sources of our knowledge; but none has authority. …

The fundamental mistake made by the philosophical theory of the ultimate sources of our knowledge is that it does not distinguish clearly enough between questions of origin and questions of validity. Admittedly, in the case of historio­graphy, these two questions may sometimes coincide. The question of the validity of an historical assertion may be testable only, or mainly, in the light of the origin of certain sources. But in general the two questions are different; and in general we do not test the validity of an assertion or information by tracing its sources or its origin, but we test it, much more directly, by a critical examination of what has been asserted – of the asserted facts themselves.

Thus the empiricist’s questions ‘How do you know? What is the source of your assertion?’ are wrongly put. They are not formulated in an inexact or slovenly manner, but they are entirely misconceived: they are questions that beg for an authoritarian answer. [32]

Why freedom is more important than security

… I wish to make it clear that I feel much sympathy with Marx’s hope for a decrease in state influence. It is undoubtedly the greatest danger of interventionism — especially of any direct intervention — that it leads to an increase in state power and in bureaucracy. Most interventionists do not mind this, or they close their eyes to it, which increases the danger. But I believe that once the danger is faced squarely, it should be possible to master it. For this is again merely a problem of social technology and of social piecemeal engineering. But it is important to tackle it early, for it constitutes a danger to democracy. We must plan for freedom, and not only for security, if for no other reason than that only freedom can make security more secure. [ch. 21, 459]

The longing of uncounted men

I see now more clearly than ever before that even our greatest troubles spring from something that is as admirable and sound as it is dangerous — from our impatience to better the lot of our fellows. For these troubles are the by-products of what is perhaps the greatest of all moral and spiritual revolutions of history, a movement which began three centuries ago. It is the longing of uncounted unknown men to free themselves and their minds from the tutelage of authority and prejudice. It is their attempt to build up an open society which rejects the absolute authority to preserve, to develop, and to establish traditions, old or new, that measure up to their standards of freedom, of humaneness, and of rational criti­cism. It is their unwillingness to sit back and leave the entire responsibility for ruling the world to human or superhuman authority, and their readiness to share the burden of responsibility for avoidable suffering, and to work for its avoidance. This revolution has created powers of appalling destructiveness; but they may yet be conquered. [Preface to 2nd ed.]

Knowledge without dogma

I have tried to show that the most important of the traditional problems of epistemology — those connected with the growth of knowledge — transcend the two standard methods of linguistic analysis and require the analysis of scientific knowledge. But the last thing I wish to do, however, is to advocate another dogma. Even the analysis of science — the ‘philosophy of science’ — is threatening to become a fashion, a specialism. Yet philosophers should not be specialists. For myself, I am interested in science and in philosophy only because I want to learn something about the riddle of the world in which we live, and the riddle of man’s knowledge of that world. And I believe that only a revival of interest in these riddles can save the sciences and philosophy from narrow specialization and from an obscurantist faith in the expert’s special skill, and in his personal knowledge and authority; a faith that so well fits our ‘post-rationalist’ and ‘post-critical’ age, proudly dedicated to the destruction of the tradition of rational philosophy, and of rational thought itself. [xxvi]

What it means to be a liberal

To avoid misunderstandings I wish to make it quite clear that I use the terms ‘liberal’, ‘liberalism’, etc., always in a sense in which they are still generally used in England (though perhaps not in America): by a liberal I do not mean a sympa­thizer with any one political party but simply a man who values individual freedom and who is alive to the dangers inherent in all forms of power and authority. [xiii]

Entrenching authority in the name of truth

Institutionelle Praktiken, die die Konkurrenz der Ideen ausschalten, das Aufkommen alternativer Lösungen von Proble­men verhindern, religiöses oder politisches Parteiliniendenken indoktrinieren, und das alles, weil bestimm­te soziale Rollenträger den Anspruch erheben, im alleinigen Besitz einer absoluten Wahrheit zu sein, haben nur die Wirkung, Intoleranz, Engstirnigkeit, Starrheit, Dogmatismus und Fanatismus zu fördern und die geistige und moralische Ent­wicklung aufzuhalten.

Fear and the closed mind

Personen, die über ein relativ „geschlossenes“ System von Überzeugungen verfügen, ein System von autoritär-dogma­tischer Struktur, legen bei der Lösung von Problemen ein Verhalten an den Tag, das auf eine relative Isolierung der verschiedenen Bestand­teile dieses Systems schließen läßt. Sie sind nicht so leicht imstande, interne Widersprüche zu erkennen, zwischen sachlichen Auffassungen und den sie vertretenden Personen zu unterscheiden, ihr System unter dem Einfluß rele­vanter Argumente umzustrukturieren, und neigen zum „Parteiliniendenken“ in Abhängigkeit von ak­zeptierten Autoritäten. Der emotionale Faktor, der die Neigung zu geschlossenen, dogmatischen Systemen und damit die Tendenz zu einem derartigen kognitiven Funktionieren begünstigt, ist die Angst. Offenbar ist ein andauern­der Zu­stand der Bedrohung in der Persönlichkeit eine wesentliche Bedingung für die Entstehung geschlossener Glaubens­systeme.

No absolute reason either

Die Naturalisierung und Demokratisierung der Offenbarungsidee löste die Erkenntnis aus den traditionellen Bindun­gen und machte sie zu einer Offenbarung der Vernunft oder der Sinne. Nicht mehr durch Berufung auf mit Autorität versehene Texte, sondern durch Berufung auf geistige Intuition oder Sinneswahrnehmungen konnte man nun Erkennt­nisse legitimieren. Das heißt aber nur, daß die irrationale Autorität durch rationale Instanzen mit ähnlicher Funktion er­setzt, das autoritäre Rechtfertigungsschema aber letzten Endes doch beibehalten wurde. Die Wahrheit war nun jedem zugänglich, der sich seiner Vernunft oder seiner Sinne in richtiger Weise bediente, aber gleichzeitig blieb die Idee einer Wahrheitsgarantie, die Vorstellung einer sicheren Erkenntnis, aufrechterhalten. Durch Intuition oder Wahrneh­mung hatte man einen unmittelbaren Zugang zu einer unbezweifelbaren Wahrheit, von der sich die anderen, mittel­baren, Wahrheiten mit Hilfe eines Ableitungsverfahrens, in deduktiver oder induktiver Weise, gewinnen ließen. Man glaubte also immer noch auf einen sicheren Grund rekurrieren zu müssen und auch zu können.