Question authority

One of the silliest posters seen in the halls of our educational establishments. You're supposed to take it on the authority of your teacher or professor that you ought to "question authority"!

In fact, to become educated at all, you must except the fact that all sorts of people are authorities in subjects in which you are not yet (and perhaps never will be) an authority. When I hire a student finishing his PhD as my math tutor, I must recognize that he has an authority discussing mathematics that I have not, otherwise the hiring of him is completely pointless.


  1. Just scribble the word "constructively" at the top of the poster in black sharpie.

  2. I agree that it often makes sense to assume an authority has more knowledge than we do about a subject if we are not an authority on that subject. However, there's nothing wrong with questioning authorities, and not just because they might be wrong (which they might very well be), but because questions can help us learn. One of my favorite questions is "How do you know that?" or "What objective evidence would convince you that you're wrong about that?" When the reply to that latter question is "Nothing. I know I can't be wrong" ... and we're not talking about a mathematical or logical (deductive) proof, then I know I'm probably dealing with somebody that doesn't value belief revision or objective evidence.

    The only infallible authority I know of is reality, and the systematic process of asking it to see if we're wrong (while minimizing the chance that we're fooling ourselves) is mankind's greatest invention (science).(Reality, BTW, never tells us we're right... it can only tell us that we're wrong). Even such authorities as Einstein have been proven wrong by that authority. We should always keep in mind that no claim about reality is safe from being proven wrong, no matter what authority endorsed the claim, and no matter how many times reality remained silent in the past when we asked it "Is this claim wrong?"


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