Believing things on authority (C.S. Lewis)


What are the implications of this paragraph from C.S. Lewis in ‘mere Christianity’? Or is there a way to disagree with this?

Do not be scared by the word authority. Believing things on authority only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy. Ninety-nine per cent of the things you believe are believed on authority. I believe there is such a place as New York. I have not seen it myself. I could not prove by abstract reasoning that there must be such a place. I believe it because reliable people have told me so. The ordinary man believes in the Solar System, atoms, evolution, and the circulation of the blood on authority–because the scientists say so. Every historical statement in the world is believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Armada. None of us could prove them by pure logic as you prove a thing in mathematics. We believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them: in fact, on authority. A man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life.

peace

Bram

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3 responses to “Believing things on authority (C.S. Lewis)

  1. Yes, I agree with this. We all appeal to some sort of authority to bac up our claims, and we live in the horizon of tradition. That’s why the protestant church is funny when they say they have no authority but God and the Bible, and they stand outside the dirty traditions of the church. No, they don’t.

    • yes, that’s an ironic paradox in protestantism, and also in ‘freethinkerism’ where all freethinkers seem to be clones of the same cliché enlightenment fundamentalist. No-one is outside of a tradition, no-one has made his worldview all by himself, we’re all standing on the shoulders of giants…

      • Absolutely. Anglo-American (naturalist) philosophy is a failure for that reason because everything in analytical philosophy demands that we step outside tradition and only use reason (as if reason is pure). I like how Gadamer puts it. He said the enlightenment is prejudice against prejudices; obviously that’ self-defeating

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