“Is it not a good thing that we are not bound for ever by the pessimistic doom and gloom of a bad moment? That we can and do all the time realise that such theories of our experience were mistaken, and that all is not lost after all? When everything is open to question and we do not hold anything or anyone as an authority, we are free to correct errors that otherwise would have kept us stuck and miserable.”
– Sarah Fitz-Claridge
“Is it necessary to reject authority?”
The rejection of authority about any given issue is in effect a precondition for solving problems related to that issue.1 Authority implies ideas being held as immune from criticism or change. That means that any mistakes in that area can’t be corrected. The ideas are stuck. Entrenched. Not open to question. So if a problem arises in an area in which we do not reject authority, we can never solve it. We remain chronically baulked.
“But if we were to reject all forms of authority, we would have to reject the authority of our personal experience. Once we reject that, we have literally no place from which to speak authoritatively.”
That is a very good and necessary thing. Our personal experience is no more authoritative than anything else. What we think of as our experience depends on our interpretation, just like everything else does. Notice how your experience of a given event or circumstance can be negative when you are, say, sleep-deprived and dealing with major illness or a stressful legal battle, yet completely different from that when the very same event or circumstance occurs when you are well-rested and life is going well otherwise. Notice that you can find a given thing someone you love does highly amusing and endearingly lovable most of the time, but if you are having a particularly bad day, you might find that very same behaviour annoying. Or maybe not! Maybe it might itself make you giggle and feel better! It depends on how you interpret everything.
The point is: our experience is not a simple, fixed, interpretation-free thing. So it makes no sense to want a “place from which to speak authoritatively”, and those of us who believe in taking children seriously indeed reject that idea.
Note that I am not saying this authoritatively. You will want to accept it because, given the strength of the argument (which you will find elaborated in philosophical writings by Karl Popper and in David Deutsch’s The Fabric of Reality and The Beginning of Infinity), you will consider it true.
Realising that there is no authority, that knowledge is conjectural, and that human beings are all fallible in all respects, is actually very liberating. With respect to our own experience, is it not a good thing that we are not bound for ever by the pessimistic doom and gloom of a bad moment? That we can and do all the time realise that such theories of our experience were mistaken, and that all is not lost after all? When everything is open to question and we do not hold anything or anyone as an authority, we are free to correct errors that otherwise would have kept us stuck and miserable.
1. For a deeper understanding of this, read David Deutsch’s life-altering book, The Beginning of Infinity.
- Watch out! There’s a toddler about!
- Taking Children Seriously and fallibilism
- Against ego-centric epistemology