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Opposite of Authority

i've been trying to figure out a good word that means roughly no-authority, but approaches the issue in a positive way, saying what the concept *is* rather than isn't, and not mentioning any opposing view. i don't think there is such a word! :(((

the word "freedom" isn't specific and clear enough. same for "liberal", "liberty", "reason" or "rational".

the words "humility" and "modesty" are too negative and have mistakes mixed in. their synonyms are worse.

"decentralized" doesn't get the point across well, it's too much of a special case.

"non-justificationist" would not be understood, nor would "fallibilist".

The word "independence", like some of the others, is too connected with politics not philosophy. also, like some of the others, lots of people who are pro-authority would be in favor of it and not see the contradiction

"cooperation" is too specific (not covering all the meaning) and people won't understand the connection

"no-authority" or "anti-authority" are both defining it in terms of what it's not. i want a word which means the right concept, rather than just denying an opposing view

some other potentially useful words are, "self-rule" (which sounds way too much like being your own authority), "self-determination", "autonomous"

btw if you look up the antonyms of "authority", they are terrible. they are words like weakness, powerlessness, inferiority, and disadvantage. that is what people think lack of authority is like. it tells you something about how badly they want authority, and see authority as a major goal and all around desirable thing. http://thesaurus.com/browse/authority

it's really sad, and says something about our culture, that there's no anti-authority word that is on par with the word "authority" for clarity, being well known and understood, applying broadly, and other things one would want from a word which make it easy to use effectively. like you can use "authority" for both political and epistemological discussions and people won't blink, they won't find it at all odd, weird, confusing or objectionable, it's just natural. but with a word like "independence", that's primarily a political word, and people will hesitate if they see it in a philosophy context.

one place I'd like to use this word is a slogan. something kinda like:
initiative, responsibility, criticism, persuasion, humility
the other words there are decent enough but "humility" is bad

another reason i want a no-authority word is for epistemology discussion. i've identified rejection of authority as perhaps the most important theme of the good epistemology, more than fallibilism, criticism, rationalism, objectivity, or existence (Rand considered "Existentialism" before "Objectivism", but it was taken).

i think the top two epistemology concepts are no-authority and error-correction. both are implied by fallibility but no one knows that. (nor do they know much about the relationship between the "critical" in "critical rationalism" and error-correction).

they also both imply each other. the rejection of authority entails needing to worry about error (as opposed to trusting authority to be right). and correcting errors requires considering the merits of ideas, rather than their amount of authority.

another word that would be nice is error-correction as one word. but that's not so important because error-correction is a descriptive phrase that positively identifies the right thing to do, without mentioning any opposing view.

another word I'd like is a positive word for non-TCS-coercion. "common preference finding" doesn't work well, it's too specific and is jargon.

another word I'd like is a positive word for non-force. there's "peace" but that's for groups not an individual level. there's "cooperation" but using that word does not communicate to people "no force allowed". people will consider relationships involving some force to be "cooperative". there's "voluntary" and "consensual" but they don't really capture it.

post suggestions in the comments

Elliot Temple on March 11, 2014

Messages (10)


Anonymous at 11:03 PM on February 26, 2015 | #2420 | reply | quote


Do you mean no-authority as in a general word for no-authority in all areas, such as moral, epidemiological, theological etc? Most anti-authority words in anything have connotations of subjectivism and relativism. This is a problem. BUt I do not think it is a problem that is necessarily avoided by adopting a different word.

How effective do you think this kind of tactic is for clearing up misunderstandings? I find that it fails more often than it succeeds, especially with an unpopular tradition such as the one that fallibilism is part of (he gets accused of just playing with words, for instance), this indicates that the association goes deeper than just terminology. SOme people just assume that no-authority is associated with subjectivism and relativism, so it does not matter which word you use, the concept, or idea is taken to be the same.

I also think it fails for more specific reasons.

Firstly if someone believes that you are associated with a particular school, and has preconceptions about that school, the things that you want to cordon off with this new word, will just be associated, by the person, with the other words that were used originally to get this meaning. I think Popper had this problem with 'corroboration,' it came to be associated with the things he adopted it to avoid with the word 'confirmation'.

Secondly, if this new word, that you adopt, has other connotations, this might cause more problems. For instance the word 'verisimilitude' in sociology is completely different to how Popper uses it - some would, if they read Popper's later works, and they come from sociology, might think that he was some kind of fictionalist, simply because of this word).

Furthermore, it would just be easier if we are diligent with our use and explanations of the same words, this will facilitate others in the exploration of the views in the tradition that we are exploring and arguing about. If we just use different words, it will cause confusion about that tradition. I think Fallibilism, is sufficient as words go. Yes, other scientists call themselves fallibilists, but you demarcate your views from theirs, not by adopting a different word, but by criticism of their views.

Maybe your goal for adopting a new word was not just clarity. Was there another reason?

Andrew Crawshaw at 4:32 AM on May 7, 2015 | #2467 | reply | quote


Where I say 'He' I mean Popper.

Andrew Crawshaw at 4:33 AM on May 7, 2015 | #2468 | reply | quote


Persuasion is bad. I think that we should avoid trying to persuade people of anything, we should try finding errors in their argument. If along the way people are convinced by our views that is fine, but it does not get us any closer to the truth. What purpose do you think persuasion has?

The very things that Rationalists want to achieve are exhausted by conjecture and criticism. If criticism does not facilitate the changing of the person you are arguing with's mind, then there is not much else you can do short of bringing in authoritarian tactics.

Andrew Crawshaw at 4:45 AM on May 7, 2015 | #2469 | reply | quote

Rational persuasion is truth-seeking – you're persuaded if you learn something about what's true, if you understand why some idea is better than one of your old ideas. So persuasion and learning are connected. Anytime you learn something, you change your mind from some previous state to a new state. This comes up in BoI. And criticism is one of the main ways you do this kind of persuasion.

When you call "persuasion" bad, I think you're talking about something more like rhetoric and social tricks to get people to SAY they agree with YOU (without understanding the ideas in question much). That's totally different and irrational, and sometimes involves e.g. flattery instead of substantive criticism.


I didn't want a word to solve a substantive problem of people's philosophical misconceptions. I agree choice of words isn't the issue there. I wanted a word to solve a communication and writing related problem. And like I mentioned, I consider "humility" to be seriously flawed. There are phrases you can use like "rejecting all authority" that are OK, but having a word instead of a phrase is nice sometimes, but for some stuff (no-authority, tcs-coercion) there is no suitable word at all. I agree that the word 'fallibilism' is OK enough (with lowercase, I wouldn't want to uppercase it).


The word 'corroboration' did not come to be associated with things Popper rejects. It already was before he started using it. Further, Popper only partially rejected those things himself – he didn't fully figure everything – which greatly contributed to the confusion. And in particular his writing about 'corroboration' partially contained justificationism, which is why that particular part of his philosophy is often read that way.

BTW I'm not trying to attack Popper. He took an over 2000 year old problem and then made huge progress, an astounding breakthrough. It's completely understandable and forgivable that he didn't totally refine everything as well as I now understand it. It doesn't take away from his accomplishment of doing the large bulk of the work to transition from the old confusion to a much better problem situation – and doing it with very little help from anyone.

I think very highly of Popper regarding epistemology. He's much worse on some other issues, e.g. his anti-liberal favoring of some TV censorship, and his choice never to learn about and understand capitalism despite it being a huge part of the liberal tradition he claimed to value.

Elliot at 4:45 PM on May 20, 2015 | #2482 | reply | quote

AWESOME analysis!

I'm in the same quandary, looking for the same word. So I posted "What's the opposite of authority?" on Facebook and a friend linked to your post.

I've done something similar on the theism/atheism debacle: I call myself an atheatheist. It's good for getting people to think, but it's also doubly negative. I'm with you -- I want to drop negativism as much as possible. It's like we're punchy from the blows of abuse of authoritarianism, so the blows themselves have become our point of reference.

Nice to find you, and let's keep each other informed as we reinvent the language! :D


[email protected]


Millard J Melnyk at 10:29 AM on February 6, 2016 | #4911 | reply | quote

> Nice to find you, and let's keep each other informed as we reinvent the language! :D

join my philosophy discussion group


curi at 10:31 AM on February 6, 2016 | #4912 | reply | quote

Cool! Will do!

Btw, I noticed your "I like" at the top. Here's mine:

I'm a human person, atheatheist, radical individual sovereignist (epistemically first, socio-politically second), and philosopher. I love Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, although I don't subscribe to either. Otherwise I consider philosophy a failed proposition based on an ill-conceived epistemic foundation. I like Max Stirner, (but he didn't go nearly far enough), Lloyd deMause, James Gilligan, Sugata Mitra, and anyone else intent on breaking paradigmatic foundations. Economics as we conceive them answer the question, "How do we operate in enemy territory?" I want to find ways to eliminate the enmity so that we can operate in wholly different modes.

Millard J Melnyk at 10:39 AM on February 6, 2016 | #4914 | reply | quote

> Otherwise I consider philosophy a failed proposition based on an ill-conceived epistemic foundation.

Are you familiar with Karl Popper's epistemology? If so, do you have a criticism?

I agree **most** epistemologies are ill-conceived crap that doesn't work.

> Economics as we conceive them answer the question, "How do we operate in enemy territory?" I want to find ways to eliminate the enmity so that we can operate in wholly different modes.

Are you familiar with Austrian economics and (classical) liberalism? It's already about social cooperation, peace and human harmony through capitalism. Not enmity.

It explains there are no conflicts of interest among rational men, and emphasizes cooperation (including trade) for *mutual benefit*.

curi at 10:43 AM on February 6, 2016 | #4915 | reply | quote

Opposite of Authority

Intuitive guidance.

Helena at 7:13 PM on August 23, 2020 | #17599 | reply | quote

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