Authoritarian Truth Seekers & Anti-Authoritarian Truth Seekers?

I understand that there are truth seekers and non-truth seekers (because of disinterest, dogma “false sense of truth” and/or delusion).

But I also realize there are two types of truth seekers: Authoritarian Truth Seekers and Anti-Authoritarian Truth Seekers.

Authoritarian Truth Seekers: to me use an Authoritarian Personality to understand, analyze, confirm truth, and limit what is thought of as truth.

Authoritarian personality is a state of mind or attitude that is characterized by belief in absolute obedience or submissive to authority and possibly even one’s own authority, as well as the administration of that belief through the oppression of one’s subordinates. It is an ideology which entails accepting authority or hierarchical organization in the conduct of intellectual or human relations that includes authoritative, strict, or oppressive personality in truth acquisition and adherence to values or beliefs that are perceived as endorsed by followed leadership, authority of holy books, authority of gods, authority of beliefs held by someone who is favored or idolized, and authority of one’s own beliefs.

Anti-Authoritarian Truth Seekers: to me use an Anti-Authoritarian Personality to understand, analyze and confirm truth.

Anti-Authoritarian personality is a state of mind or attitude that is characterized by a cognitive application of freethought known as “freethinking” and is a philosophical viewpoint that holds that opinions should be formed on the basis of logic, reason, and empiricism, rather than authority, tradition, or other dogmas. Anti-Authoritarian personality is an opposition to authoritarianism, favoring instead full equality and open thinking in the conduct of intellectual or human relations, including democratic, flexible, or accessible personality in truth acquisition and adherence to values or beliefs perceived as endorsed by critical thinking and right reason which entails opposing authority as the means of confirmation in truth attainment.

To me, Anti-Authoritarian Truth Seekers are the only real seekers of truth.

To value faith as a means to know reality or the truth or something, is a mental weakness of wanting one’s beliefs about reality to matter more than the actual reality. Faith in relation to truth is at best just wishful emotions over rational understanding.

By Damien Marie AtHope

References 1, 2


Power Authority Oppression
Limiting the power to a point in authority, maximize the potential for oppression. This is referring to the need for greater inclusion of many instead of the exclusion driven only by the few. Moreover, how this greater inclusion can be adopted is non hierarchical political structure and more direct democracy. Such as a “Heterarchy” which is a system of organization where the elements of the organization are unranked (non-hierarchical) or where they possess the potential to be ranked a number of different ways. Definitions of the term vary among the disciplines: in social and information sciences, heterarchies are networks of elements in which each element shares the same “horizontal” position of power and authority, each playing a theoretically equal role.

I posted this on facebook and this is a sample of what transpired:

Challenger #1, I think this blog post presents a false dichotomy: either one seeks truth through Authoritarian or Anti-authoritarian means. I think most of us have sought truth through the authority of our teachers and text books as kids in school; as we’ve grown older we tend to rely less on those authorities, but in some cases we still seek via Authoritarian means. For me, truth seeking is a Bayesian process of weighing hypothesis against reality. However, there are many subjects which may impact ones Bayesian reasoning for which one does not have the time/energy to investigate so we rely on the knowledge of “experts” who have spent time and energy investigating those matters.

Damien Marie AtHope, Thanks for your thoughts, you address interesting ideas but the issue you are addressing sounds a bit different that I was trying to say is doing an appeal to authority is a logical fallacy, so to limit one’s thinking to an appeal to authority is thinking strategy as a logical fallacy.

Challenger #2, it’s only a fallacy of the authority to which one is appealing is Not an authority in the field in question. For instance, if one’s argument is that, “Well even Richard Dawkins says the Big Bang proves the universe had a finite beginning,” (I’m making up the quote), that would be an appeal to authority fallacy because Dawkins is not an astrophysicist. However, if one quoted Krauss on this issue, it would not be fallacious. in a field for which I have no training, it’s perfectly reasonable for me to rely on experts and the consensus among experts.

Damien Marie AtHope, But even if I as an anti-authoritarianist were to accept an appeal to the scholarly articles on any scientific studies are valid only on the evidence and have nothing to do with the scientists or researchers. Just as if one wants to overturn any previous believed scientific theory it’s the evidence not in any way the person presenting it.

Challenger #1, Hmmm, I never got the impression that this post was about the logical fallacy known as: appeal to authority. However, when regarding the appeal to authority as a fallacy: if the the authority in question has made statements of an opinionated matter then I have to agree with Damien. However, if the appeal is to something the authority claimed based on the evidence and the current body of knowledge then I don’t think that would be considered a fallacy.

New respondent, Very succinct explanation of what divides believers from non-believers.

An argument from authority (Latin: argumentum ad verecundiam), also called an appeal to authority, is a common type of argument which can be fallacious, such as when an authority is cited on a topic outside their area of expertise or when the authority cited is not a true expert.[1]

Carl Sagan wrote of arguments from authority:

One of the great commandments of science is, “Mistrust arguments from authority.” … Too many such arguments have proved too painfully wrong. Authorities must prove their contentions like everybody else.[2]

Truths and Facts Scientifically?
“There is a great deal of interest of us in examining claims of ‘truths’ and ‘facts’. In such examination there is a noticeable stress on scientifically proven facts which can be taken as fundamentally true. This is possibly because mathematics is the language of Science and we make mistake thinking mathematical proofs to be reflecting the essence of scientifically proven facts. Does science necessarily prove anything? The way mathematics proves a proposition? It is surprising that such a basic debate cannot be laid to rest and a conclusion arrived at even after 1934 book by Karl Popper: The Logic of Scientific Discovery. Alan Moghissi, Matthew Amin and Connor McNulty of Institute for Regulatory Science, Alexandria, Va wrote to the editor of Science (the magazine) disagreeing with Peter Gleick and 250 members of the (US) National Academy of Sciences writing to the editor of Science : All citizens should understand some basic scientific facts. There is always some uncertainty associated with scientific conclusions; science never absolutely proves anything.” Ref

Appeal to Authority Fallacy

Historically, opinion on the appeal to authority has been divided – it has been held to be a valid argument about as often as it has been considered an outright fallacy. John Locke, in his 1690 Essay Concerning Human Understanding, was the first to identify argumentum ad verecundiam as a specific category of argument. Although he did not call this type of argument a fallacy, he did note that it can be misused by taking advantage of the “respect” and “submission” of the reader or listener to persuade them to accept the conclusion. Over time, logic textbooks started to adopt and change Locke’s original terminology to refer more specifically to fallacious uses of the argument from authority. By the mid-twentieth century, it was common for logic textbooks to refer to the “Fallacy of appealing to authority,” even while noting that “this method of argument is not always strictly fallacious.” In the Western rationalistic tradition and in early modern philosophy, appealing to authority was generally considered a logical fallacy. More recently, logic textbooks have shifted to a less blanket approach to these arguments, now often referring to the fallacy as the “Argument from Unqualified Authority” or the “Argument from Unreliable Authority”. However, these are still not the only recognized forms of appeal to authority. For example, a 2012 guidebook on philosophical logic describes appeals to authority not merely as arguments from unqualified or unreliable authority, but as arguments from authority in general. In addition to appeals lacking evidence of the authority’s reliability, the book states that arguments from authority are fallacious if there is a lack of “good evidence” that the authorities appealed to possess “adequate justification for their views.” And there are other recognized fallacious arguments from authority. Among them, the “Fallacies” entry by Bradley Dowden in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy states that “appealing to authority as a reason to believe something is fallacious […] when authorities disagree on this subject (except for the occasional lone wolf)” The “Fallacies” entry by Hans Hansen in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy similarly states that “when there is controversy, and authorities are divided, it is an error to base one’s view on the authority of just some of them.” However, Hansen’s entry in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy does not appear to share Dowden’s exception regarding “lone wolf” dissenting authorities.

Appeal to non-authorities

Fallacious arguments from authority can also be the result of citing a non-authority as an authority. These arguments assume that a person without status or authority is inherently reliable. The appeal to poverty for example is the fallacy of thinking a conclusion is more likely to be correct because the one who holds or is presenting it is poor. When an argument holds that a conclusion is likely to be true precisely because the one who holds or is presenting it lacks authority, it is a fallacious appeal to the common man. A common example of the fallacy is appealing to an authority in one subject to pontificate on another – for example citing Albert Einstein as an authority on religion when his expertise was in physics. The attributed authority might not even welcome that authority, as with the “More Doctors Smoke Camels” ad campaign. However, it is also a fallacious ad hominem argument to argue that a person presenting statements lacks authority and thus their arguments do not need to be considered. As appeals to a perceived lack of authority, these types of argument are fallacious for much the same reasons as an appeal to authority.

Notable examples

Inaccurate chromosome number

In 1923, leading American zoologist Theophilus Painter declared, based on poor data and conflicting observations he had made, that humans had 24 pairs of chromosomes. From the 1920s to the 1950s, this continued to be held based on Painter’s authority, despite subsequent counts totaling the correct number of 23. Even textbooks with photos showing 23 pairs incorrectly declared the number to be 24 based on the authority of the then-consensus of 24 pairs. This seemingly established number created confirmation bias among researchers, and “most cytologists, expecting to detect Painter’s number, virtually always did so”. Painter’s “influence was so great that many scientists preferred to believe his count over the actual evidence”, to the point that “textbooks from the time carried photographs showing twenty-three pairs of chromosomes, and yet the caption would say there were twenty-four”. Scientists who obtained the accurate number modified or discarded their data to agree with Painter’s count.

Psychological basis

An integral part of the appeal to authority is the cognitive bias known as the Asch effect. In repeated and modified instances of the Asch conformity experiments, it was found that high-status individuals create a stronger likelihood of a subject agreeing with an obviously false conclusion, despite the subject normally being able to clearly see that the answer was incorrect. Further, humans have been shown to feel strong emotional pressure to conform to authorities and majority positions. A repeat of the experiments by another group of researchers found that “Participants reported considerable distress under the group pressure”, with 59% conforming at least once and agreeing with the clearly incorrect answer, whereas the incorrect answer was much more rarely given when no such pressures were present. Scholars have noted that the academic environment produces a nearly ideal situation for these processes to take hold, and they can affect entire academic disciplines, giving rise to groupthink. One paper about the philosophy of mathematics for example notes that, within mathematics,

If…a person accepts our discipline, and goes through two or three years of graduate study in mathematics, he absorbs our way of thinking, and is no longer the critical outsider he once was…If the student is unable to absorb our way of thinking, we flunk him out, of course. If he gets through our obstacle course and then decides that our arguments are unclear or incorrect, we dismiss him as a crank, crackpot, or misfit. Ref