ACB on appealing to authority and a minimum level of understanding


This is an interesting point. Is there a minimum level of understanding that someone must have in order to derive justification from an authority? For example, if you are completely ignorant of music theory, and a qualified musician tells you: “A tritone is an augmented fourth or a diminished fifth”, are you justified in believing it? You do not have a clue what it means, except that it is something to do with music. Imagine the following exchange:

Layman (L): What are you talking about?
Musician (M): I’m talking about intervals.
L: What are they?
M: The distances between two notes.
L: You mean, like when two players stand five feet apart…
M: No, you fool, I mean like when you play two different notes on the piano.
L: Oh, I see. So what is this ‘fourth’ and ‘fifth’ stuff? That’s more than two.
M: No, you have to count up from the bottom note…
[Some minutes later]
L: Ah, I’m beginning to understand you now. So an augmented fourth sounds the same as a diminished fifth.
M: Yes, that’s right.
L: But what the hell is a tritone? Three tones? How can that be the same?
[Some minutes later]
L: Ah, I understand. Now I believe your original statement.
M: But why didn’t you believe it in the first place? I’m an expert in music theory, and you know I wouldn’t lie to you.

At what point would L become justified in believing M’s original statement? At the beginning? At the end? Or at some point in between? Is the acquisition of justification an all-or-nothing affair, or can it be incremental? Can any clear rules be formulated about this?

Or am I looking at this the wrong way? Should the question be, not “when would L first have justification for believing the statement”, but simply “when could he first believe the statement”?

Any thoughts would be welcome.


I’m wondering this myself. I haven’t found any persuasive argument though. I have nothing to add.


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