What is authority? Why do we follow the instructions of certain persons and sources (pilots, lifestyle bloggers, WebMD, religious texts)? Merely to question or merely to follow authority does not, on its own, make us good. Rather, to navigate a complex world ethically, we must be able to discern who should be trusted with authority and who should be ignored or resisted, judge which directives for action are good and which are bad, and debate why some statements should be accepted as authoritative and others rejected. Authority, whether respected or reviled, inflects and influences the behaviors, habits and dispositions that constitute a good or successful life.
In this class we will examine authority as a special kind of human relationship with deep implications for what it means to be a good person. We will read about a wide variety of types of authority—for example, professional, parental, religious, scientific, political—and ask how they interact with each other and change over time. We will study how authority is different from, but often becomes entwined with, power. Finally, we will build a better understanding of the conditions under which people are willing to accept, resist, and/or reformulate authority.