Authority Worship

For all things philosophical.

Moderators: AMod, iMod

Post Reply
Posts: 500
Joined: Wed Feb 24, 2010 11:12 am

Authority Worship

Post by Typist »

When we form an opinion about any thinker/writer, what is it exactly that we are basing our opinion on?

To what degree is our opinion based upon our own independent analysis of the content of the writer's thought?

To what degree is our opinion based on a reliance upon the judgments of the larger group mind?

Are we clear which is which?

This question has always interested me.

How would we react to any famous writer, if they were to appear on the forum anonymously, say as user Snoopydog27? I predict we would be calling them morons with the first few days.

How would that reaction compare to us seeing the famous author give a lecture in a big auditorium using their real name? I predict in that case we would treat them respectfully, and give their thoughts value and weight.

In one case the fame is present, in another case the fame is not present. That is, in one case the speaker has been validated by the group mind, in another case they have not.

This would be a very interesting experiment. I wonder if it's been done already, anybody know?

I propose the experiment would reveal we do very little analysis of our own. Rather, we more often memorize arguments from the group consensus, and then debate others and the arguments they have memorized.

If fame, the validation of the group consensus, is shown to be a key factor in how we form our opinions, we arrive at an interesting point.

It seems reasonable to propose that those who possess fame are most likely those with a talent for becoming famous. That is, those with a conscious or unconscious flair for marketing. Or those who just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

1) We assume there is a strong relationship between fame and quality of thought. This assumption should be challenged.

2) We assume we are thinking things through for ourselves. This assumption should be challenged as well.
Posts: 3
Joined: Wed Nov 30, 2011 12:37 am

Re: Authority Worship

Post by colonist »

I think its fair to say that with whatever we read will be looked at with the same eyes that have experience the world. So its likely to bring some form of prejudgement or bias. If the author is known then the reader could be easily convinced by an accepted charm. But there are still fallacies and bad arguments clear in all language to anyone who reads carefully the premises and train of thought.

The only way I see that we can protect our immediate reaction to a writer we know is to read carefully and considerately into the truths that might lie in the words themselves. This seems especially important for philosophy itself. Where all truth claims should be built on solid foundations and if they are not then they are not much use.
Posts: 2276
Joined: Wed Jun 03, 2009 5:27 pm
Location: Thin Air

Re: Authority Worship

Post by duszek »

If someone calls himself snoopydog27 I may not even listen to him, depending on other factors.
If I do listen and he sounds great then I will ask myself why this strange pseudonym ? There are more neutral pseudonyms or even quite interesting ones.

I always judge according to the quality of thought and how it is expressed.
Often enough one minute of listening is enough.
Posts: 64
Joined: Wed Oct 26, 2011 1:46 pm

Re: Authority Worship

Post by keithprosser2 »

I always judge according to the quality of thought and how it is expressed.
Congratulations on achieving what I only aspire to do! We do rely on authority - inevitably. Most of us don't have particle accelerators or radio-telescopes so we can't very well do all the experiments we read about ourselves, and even if we could few of us could interpret the results. We are programmed to learn - that is how the human race has achieved what it has (not that such is always a good thing!). We would live very different lives if each generation had to re-do and re-learn everything anew.

Originally (evolution-wise), we would have learned from 'trustworthy' sources, such as our parents. We are primed to 'trust by default'. Later in our lives we learn that such trust is not always a wise and we use heuristics to evaluate our 'teachers'. One heuristic may be whether other people trust him/her - and 'fame' is an approximate proxy measure of that. I may have no logical reason to trust Bertrand Russell more than SnoopyDog87 but I know BR is 'trusted' by others, so that is better than nothing as a indicator of his trustworthyness - so I will tend use it.

A less satisfactory heuristic people use is that they tend to trust people who says what they want to hear. A poisonous demagogue like Pat Condell is skilled at putting vague concerns into particular ones. The "best" writers and speakers are those that say what you wish you had the skill to put into words. (not really best - I am talking about why some people actually think Pat Condell and his poison is 'good' - the same goes for televangelists and other skilled propagandists).

You could put this in terms of "How good is Shakespeare, really?". Most people would say Shakespeare is the greatest writer in English, but they still read Steven King!
Fred Gohlke
Posts: 33
Joined: Sun Nov 13, 2011 3:57 pm

Re: Authority Worship

Post by Fred Gohlke »

We are also influenced by natural inclinations that guide us (if not compel us) to our convictions. They include tendencies toward provincialism and a will-to-believe. We must look at these traits to understand how we form our opinions.

Discussing the will-to-believe risks being side-tracked into the questions of predestination and free-will. Neither is germane. Not only have they been debated for centuries without resolution, they are partisan issues, used to bolster a point of view; they add nothing to the search for truth. In the context of the will-to-believe, they are meaningless.

The significance of the will-to-believe is not readily apparent, yet it ranks close to the will-to-survive in its influence on our lives. The will-to-believe is not a doctrine, it is a human trait. It is a part of what we are. Since we can't know everything, we believe what we are told about matters beyond our ken. Current instances abound, but more remote examples illustrate the force of this trait with greater clarity, thus:

If we are that told our emperor descends from the sun god, we believe it. If we are told to dance in a certain way to please the rain god, we dance. If we are told our king rules by divine right, we accept that doctrine. Not all of us, perhaps, but enough of us that the force of our combined belief is palpable.

Why do we believe these things? We don't believe them because they are self-evident, we believe them because they are not. We believe such things because they are given to us as explanations for some of the inexplicable phenomena that surround us. We do not understand the phenomena ourselves, but we are willing to assume others more gifted than ourselves do understand matters that baffle us. We accept their assertions, in part, because we haven't the knowledge to refute them.

You may not believe in an emperors' divinity, or the power of the rain dance, or the divine right of kings. But you do know that such ideas had a profound influence when they were in vogue. To understand why they were so influential, you must imagine yourself living when these ideas were accepted dogma.

If you had lived in the American Southwest 600 years ago, would you have danced for the rain god? Were you a Japanese citizen in 900 A.D., would you have worshiped your emperor? Were you a Parisian in the 14th century, would you have endorsed the divine right of kings? In each case, almost certainly so.

More than dance or worship or endorse, you would have believed. You would have known the customs and beliefs of your time were right and proper. If your dance failed to bring forth rain, you would have been sure, not that your belief was wrong, but that you and your people had failed to please the rain god.

The strength of a belief is not dependent upon the soundness of the precept but on the intensity of the will-to-believe. While one may quibble with the label 'a will-to-believe', I've been unable to find a better term to explain the driving force behind Sinn Fein, Nazis, witch hunters, Kamikaze pilots, followers of the Reverend Jones, Palestinians, and those imbued with religious fervor.

The will-to-believe is not only powerful, it is strange. It tends to be accompanied by an absolute certainty that which is believed is also true. We start exercising our will-to-believe to fill the gap formed by our lack of knowledge, and then leap directly from ignorance to absolute certainty.

It is even stranger that this progression from lack of knowledge continues on through absolute certainty to destructiveness. For it would be hard to imagine greater destructive force than that wielded by Sinn Feiners, Nazis, witch hunters, Kamikaze pilots, Reverend Jones, Palestinians, and those permeated with religious fervor.

The result of their terrible certainty is havoc and death; the destruction of themselves and the destruction of others. In fact, the most destructive words in any language are:


Another trait affecting our attitudes is provincialism; we tend to adopt the mores of our time and place. People rarely stray far from their heritage, and then only with great effort. In fact, the effort is so great they are much more likely to yield to their provincial bias and let their will-to-believe solidify their convictions.

In the rain dance analogy, if dancing didn't bring forth rain, conventional wisdom would hold that you failed to please the rain god. As you matured, you may have questioned the efficacy of the dance but that would be unlikely, unless you examined your bias. And, even if you were willing to examine it, it would have been a frightening struggle to do so.

When the welfare of your people depends on rain and your culture hypothesizes a rain god, suggesting there is no rain god would be blasphemous. Most of us would dance as long as there was the slightest possibility the dance might summon rain, because of the huge penalty for offending the rain god ... if one existed.

Fred Gohlke
Posts: 1
Joined: Thu Jul 19, 2012 8:05 am

Re: Authority Worship

Post by tasymac »

In the various worship wars that continue to rage, there is one element (no pun intended) that is more dangerous than any other. I am not referring to the guitar vs. organ or the suit vs. casual debates.
Post Reply