Posted by: Millard J. Melnyk | July 9, 2015

Authority and Sovereignty

Epistemic Authority and Sovereignty 2015 academia.edu thumbnail

(Click above to read it! 🙂 )

I’ve been spending my time lately working through some philosophical stuff on the subject of authority — “epistemic authority” no less. Not as daunting as it seems, it’s just academic lingo for “authority to tell you what to believe”. Yup, I agree. Why didn’t they just say that?

As bad as it sounds, understood correctly there are good reasons for someone to tell us what to believe, like when good parents, teachers, mentors, honest scientists, or experts we trust tell us it’s this way, not that way.

(Yes, the time has come for me to differentiate honest scientists from the rest. Climate change put a serious dent in my trust of the scientific community. It shouldn’t have taken decades to reach consensus on that one.)

Think about it — we want others to tell us what to believe all the time, from what the hottest new apps are, to the most effective diet, to what they think about us, to the nature of God, the universe, and everything. We reserve final judgment, but we by no means provide all the judgment, and by the time we weigh in we’ve already been heavily influenced. Here’s a great example: cigarettes. I can’t believe people still smoke ’em despite what everyone knows. Someone done told somebody wrong, and they believed it anyway against what should have been their better judgment.

We don’t want to look like others dictate our beliefs, but when it comes to people we trust, (if you’re still young enough to have any,) we’re like belief sponges soaking up every little drop of potentially advantageous smarts, especially if it reinforces our hopes. Besides, if we were so good at making up our own minds about what to believe, con artists and hucksters and politicians would have no one left to fleece, but I haven’t heard about a lack of easy marks lately.

So, yeah — it’s an issue.

Well, I want to stir up that pot. There’s an aspect of it that almost no one but anarchists talk about, and even they hardly go far enough: individual sovereignty. As far as beliefs go, this basically means writing your own Bible and then living by it. Yeah, radical self-authorship like that. Guess who’s absolutely certain that it will lead to delusions, psychosis, and insanity? That’s right: people who never dared try it. What do they know? They rely on others to write their Bibles for them — authorities and experts eager to claim that only they are qualified to do it; but they have vested interests in promoting that malarkey. Why rely on hypocrites?

So, I wrote this paper to see if I can provoke some constructive controversy among the philosophical set. I’ll start there. Eventually I’ll get it into nice, concise language for the rest of us. For now, it stands at 45 pages of semi-technical and, for the casual reader, overly convoluted prose. I can’t help it — that’s just how it comes out of my head. Best I can do at this point.

The merit is in the meaning, even if the medium leaves a lot to be desired. But who knows? Maybe my insolence will compensate. How dare this layman criticize what issues forth from ivy-covered halls? Well, yeah, he dares alright. 🙂

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