One more dig at I mean comment on Steve Fuller. I think it’s the last for the moment, but who knows. The spirit bloweth where it listeth, etc.

It’s a point about arguing from authority. We’ve noted the arrogance of his tone in the thread at Michael’s – the way he seems to take for granted that he is The Expert in the subject and everyone else is some kind of supplicant or mendicant or rank outsider (an assumption not borne out by the comments, which would seem to reverse the equation – everyone commenting seems to be far more knowledgeable and clear-thinking than he does).

I’m sorry if this sounds patronising but I’d hate you to think you’ve been having a serious discussion worthy of people who claim ‘criticism’ as a profession. You guys simply take at face value what the media presents and then back it up with whatever you can dredge up. Haven’t you people heard of cultural studies? (It was also touching that one of you thought the New Yorker piece was harsh on me—you must lead a sheltered life, if you think that’s harsh!]

I just want to quote something that I think relevant to that tone. It’s from Jon Pike’s review of Ted Honderich at Democratiya.

But, since not even the first year undergraduate sees anything in truth by conviction, perhaps there is something else going on. Perhaps it’s not the strength of convictions themselves that matters, but the fact that they are Honderich’s convictions. Honderich is a Philosopher, after all, and an eminent one at that. He used to be the Grote Professor of the Philosophy of Mind and Logic at UCL. He has thought about these things a lot, (as if time, on its own, mattered) and his conclusions are controversial. But he is an Authority, so perhaps the persuasive force is supposed to come from some strange mix of truth by conviction and truth by authority. It’s an odd conclusion to come to, because the very basis of doing philosophy, especially critical political philosophy is a rejection of all of these notions. In order to do serious critical political philosophy, you shouldn’t care about someone’s credentials, or the strength of his or her convictions. What matters, all the time, and only, is the argument.

There it is, you see. You shouldn’t care about someone’s credentials or strength of conviction. What matters, all the time, and only, is the argument.

It’s depressing (Susan Haack has pointed this out in great detail) how heavily social constructionism relies on rhetoric to do the work of argument. (It’s also immensely ironic that a social constructionist who is programmatically suspicious of hierarchies and authority in science is so quick to resort to them himself.)

12 Responses to “Authority”