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object of the following pages will be of a subordinate and more limited kind. Without entering into any inquiry into the process of reasoning, or attempting to throw any light upon scientific method, it will concern a portion of the application of logical science, which has often been discussed in a detached or fragmentary manner, but which seems of sufficient importance to deserve a connected consideration.

It is familiarly known, that, in our progress from childhood to manhood, during the course of our education, and afterwards in the business of life, our belief, both speculative and practical, is, owing to our inability or unwillingness to investigate the subject for ourselves, often determined by the opinions of others. That the opinions of mankind should so often be formed in this manner, has been a matter of regret to many writers: others again have enforced the duty of submitting our convictions, in certain cases, to the guidance of fit judges; but all have admitted the wide extent to which the derivation of opinions upon trust prevails, and the desirableness that the choice of guides in these matters should be regulated by a sound discretion. It is, therefore, proposed to inquire how far our opinions may be properly influenced by the mere authority1 of others, independently of our own conviction founded upon appropriate reasoning.

When any one forms an opinion on a question either of speculation or practice, without any appropriate process of reasoning, really or apparently leading to that conclusion, and without compulsion or inducement of interest, but simply because some other persons, whom he believes to be competent judges on the matter, entertain that opinion, he is said to have formed his opinion upon authority.

If he is convinced by a legitimate process of reasoning-as by

This use of the word authority is in accordance with its sense in classical writers. One of the meanings of auctoritas is explained by Facciolati, as follows: Item pro pondere ac momento quod habent res legitime, sapienter, ac prudenter constitutæ, ut sunt leges, decreta senatus, responsa prudentum, res præclare gestæ, sententiæ clarorum virorum.'-See Cic. Top. c. xix.

An auctor meant the originator or creator of anything. Hence Virgil speaks of the deified Augustus as Auctorem frugum tempestatumque potentem,'. (Georg. i. 27;) and Sallust says that unequal glory attends 'Scriptorem et auctorem rerum,' (Cat. c. ii.) Hence any person who determines our belief, even as a witness, is called an auctor. Thus Tacitus, in quoting Julius Cæsar as a witness with respect to the former state of the Gauls, calls him 'Summus auctorum,' (Germ. c. 28,)-i.e., the highest of authorities. As writers, particularly of history, were the authorities for facts, auctor' came to mean a writer. Hence Juvenal speaks of a preceptor of the


studying a scientific treatise on the subject-his opinion does not rest upon authority. Or if he adopts any opinion, either sincerely or professedly, from motives of interest, or from fear of persecution, he does not found his opinion upon authority. He who believes upon authority, entertains the opinion simply because it is entertained by a person who appears to him likely to think correctly on the subject.

Whenever, in the course of this Essay, I speak of the Principle of Authority, I shall understand the principle of adopting the belief of others, on a matter of opinion, without reference to the particular grounds on which that belief may rest.

In pursuing the inquiry, thus indicated in general terms, I shall attempt, first, to describe the circumstances under which opinions are usually derived from authority, and next, to ascertain the marks of sound or trustworthy authority-in matters of opinion. Having shown what are the best indications of the competent judges in each subject, I shall inquire as to their numerical ratio to the rest of the community, and shall afterwards offer some remarks upon the application of the principle of authority to questions of civil government. Lastly, I shall make some suggestions upon the best means of creating a trustworthy authority in matters of opinion, and of guarding against the abuses to which the principle of authority is liable.

§ 3. It will be shown presently that a large proportion of the general opinions of mankind are derived merely from authority, and are entertained without any distinct understanding of the evidence on which they rest, or the argumentative grounds by which they are supported. Moreover, the advice of professional persons, or other competent judges in any subject matter, has great influence in questions of practice, both in public and private life. An inquiry, therefore, into the legitimate use of the principle of authority, and the consequences to which it tends, must be admitted to relate to an important subject. The importance of investigations in the field of logical science is undoubtedly far superior, inasmuch as logic furnishes the ultimate tests for the discovery of truth. The rules of logic, considered as an art, are a guide to the mind in the conduct of all processes of independent reasoning and intellectual investigation. A complete and philosophical scheme of logic is, therefore, a powerful instrument for Roman youth being required, Ut legat historias, auctores noverit omnes, Tamquam ungues digitosque suos.'-VII. 231. Compare Quintilian, Inst. Orat. I. 8, § 18-21.

facilitating the confutation of existing errors, and the discovery of new truths. It thus opens the way to the progressive advancement of science; all accurate knowledge must ultimately be derived from sound methods of investigation. For all scientific truths we must be indebted to original researches, carried on according to logical rules. But when these truths have been discovered by original inquirers, and received by competent judges, it is chiefly by the influence of authority that they are accredited and diffused. Now, it is true that when a person derives an opinion from authority, the utmost he can hope is to adopt the belief of those who, at the time, are the least likely to be in error. If this opinion happens to be erroneous, the error is necessarily shared by those who receive it upon mere trust, and without any process of verification. For example, before the Copernican system of the world was demonstrated, and accepted by all competent astronomers, persons ignorant of astronomy naturally believed in the truth of the Ptolemaic system, which was received among all astronomers of authority. Until men of science had, by independent observation and reasoning, overthrown this erroneous doctrine, and established the true system of the world, the opinions of all those who relied upon authority were necessarily misled. It must be admitted that the formation of opinions by authority can never (except by indirect means), produce any increase or improvement of knowledge, or bring about the discovery of new truths. Its influence is at best confined to the diffusion and extension of sound opinions, when they are in existence; and the utmost that any rules on the subject can effect is to enable an uninformed person to discern who are the most competent judges of a question on which he is unable, from any cause, to judge for himself. But it is, nevertheless, of paramount importance that truth, and not error, should be accredited; that men, when they are led, should be led by safe guides; and that they should thus profit by those processes of reasoning and investigation, which have been carried on in accordance with logical rules, but which they are not able to verify for themselves.

With the view of arriving at the best means for the accomplishment of this desirable end, we shall proceed, first, to indicate the extent of the opinions necessarily founded on authority, and shall afterwards endeavour to trace the manner in which the principle of authority can be so applied as to be most conducive to the welfare of human society.



§ 1. THE opinions of all children and young persons are necessarily derived from their parents and teachers, either without any knowledge, or with a very imperfect knowledge, of the grounds on which they rest, or the objections to which they may be liable. Even in cases where the reason is given with the opinion, the belief of a child is often determined rather by the authority of the teacher, than by the force of the argument. The subjects connected with the relations of physical objects, as well as with morals and religion, which are early presented to the mind of a child, often involve considerations so numerous, so complex, and so remote from his limited experience, that a full explanation of them would necessarily bewilder, rather than enlighten his understanding. Much instruction, too, is conveyed to a child in language, the full import of which he cannot comprehend. Words are often counters, not money, to children. They counterfeit processes of thought, rather than represent them. Much of the benefit of such early tuition consists in its familiarising the child with the names of ideas, which in its mind are still invested only with a vague and shadowy form, and in habituating it to the use of the great instrument of thought and discourse-language. Hence, in the education of children, a respect for the teacher as teacher, and for his precepts, independently of his reasons for them, is necessary: and it is important to inculcate principles and truths, even though the evidence of them is not, and cannot be, fully understood.1

In this manner a person grows up, having imbibed, almost unconsciously, from his parents, teachers, and friends, the opinions

· Δεῖ τοῖς ἔθεσιν ἦχθαι καλῶς τὸν περὶ καλῶν καὶ δικαίων καὶ ὅλως τῶν πολιτικῶν ἀκουσόμενον ἱκανῶς. ἀρχὴ γὰρ τὸ ὅτι, καὶ εἰ τοῦτο φαίνοιτο ἀρκούντως, οὐδὲν προσδεήσει τοῦ διότι. ὁ δὲ τοιοῦτος ἢ ἔχει ἢ λάβοι ἂν ἀρχὰς ῥᾳδίως.—ARISTOT. Eth. Nic. i. 2.

and sentiments on religion, morality, government, history, and the relations of external nature, which are current in his country, at his time, among the persons under whose tuition he has been placed, and with whom he has associated.1


This transmission of opinions from one generation to another, in a lump, (like the succession of property per universitatem, according to the expression of the Roman lawyers,) which results from family influences and the authority exercised by the parent and the senior upon the mind of the child and the junior, doubtless contains a considerable alloy of evil, inasmuch as it perpetuates error in combination with truth, and affords no test for their discrimination. But it is mainly this process which, in each community, connects the present with the past, and creates a unity and continuity of national character and feeling. It is the insensible and incessant propagation of opinions from the old to the young within the circle of every family, and the uninquiring adoption by the growing generation of the moral and intellectual ideas of their immediate predecessors, which give to each nation its distinctive attributes-which enable it to maintain its characteristic peculiarities, and which prevent the general level of civilisation throughout the country from receding or becoming irregular.3 The traditions of civilisation, if we may use the expression, are, to a great extent, perpetuated by the implicit faith of children in the authority of their parents.

§ 2. To what extent a man, when his reason becomes mature, and he is emancipated from parental control, will modify the opinions with which he has been imbued during his childhood, depends upon the circumstances of his subsequent life.

If he belongs to the working-classes, he will probably, unless his circumstances be peculiar, retain these opinions through life, with little verification or enlargement. His opportunities for observation will be principally confined to his relations with his

1 Ceteri primum ante tenentur adstricti, quam, quid esset optimum, judicare potuerunt: deinde infirmissimo tempore ætatis, aut obsecuti amico cuidam, aut unâ alicujus, quem primum audierunt, oratione capti, de rebus incognitis judicant, et ad quamcunque sunt disciplinam quasi tempestate delati, ad eam, tamquam ad saxum, adhærescunt.-CICERO, Acad. Prior. II. 3.

2 Ratio illa humana, quam habemus, ex multâ fide et multo etiam casu, necnon ex puerilibus, quas primo hausimus, notionibus, farrago quædam est et congeries.— BACON, Nov. Org. Lib. I. aph. 97. Compare Locke, On the Conduct of the Understanding, § 41.

Compare Comte, Cours de Philosophie Positive, tom. iv. p. 581.

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