The Ways of Knowing: Or, the Methods of Philosophy

By Wm. Pepperell Montague | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
THE METHOD OF AUTHORITARIANISM

WE get more of our beliefs from the testimony of our fellows than from any other source. Little of our knowledge of the universe is directly tested by our own intuition, reason, experience, or practice. We accept on trust nine-tenths of what we hold to be true. Man is a suggestible animal and tends to believe what is said to him unless he has some positive reason for doubting the honesty or competence of his informant. In hypnotism this natural docility or credulity is well illustrated, for the channels are closed through which there could arise ideas that would conflict with those suggested; and no matter how absurd the suggested statement might seem in normal life, it acts itself out uninterruptedly. To hear is to believe.

In the normal waking state some minds are more critical and suspicious than others, but in every mind suggestion tends in some degree to induce acceptance or belief. Young children whose minds are free from suspicion and whose experience has been too limited to conflict with what is said, are prone to believe what they hear from others as naturally as what they themselves perceive. We may say then that the prevalence of authoritarianism as a method of acquiring and testing truth depends first of all upon the limited nature of the individual and the consequent dependence of each on the testimony of others; and secondly, upon the fact that authority makes its appeal to the suggestibility and credulity that is universal throughout the human species.

The weakness of the authoritarian method consists first in the fact that authorities conflict, and that there is consequently an internal discrepancy in the method which makes it difficult of application. This difficulty, however, is not peculiar to authoritarianism; it is present, though to a less extent, in

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