Communal and Institutional Trust: Authority in Religion and Politics

C. A. J. Coady

Abstract

Linda Zagzebski’s book on epistemic authority is an impressive and stimulating treatment of an important topic. 1 I admire the way she manages to combine imagination, originality and argumentative control. Her work has the further considerable merit of bringing analytic thinking and abstract theory to bear upon areas of concrete human concern, such as the attitudes one should have towards moral and religious authority. The book is stimulating in a way good philosophy should be – provoking both disagreement and emulation. I agree with much of what she says, and have been instructed by it, but it will be of more interest and relevance here if I concentrate upon areas of disagreement. Perhaps they are better seen as areas, at least some of them, where her emphases suggest a position that seems to me untenable, but that she may not really intend. In that event, I will be happy to have provoked a clarification or the dispelling of my misunderstanding. My focus will be upon problems in her account of communal authority and autonomy, especially with respect to religious and political authority. Here my worry is that she places too much trust in trust and not enough in what I call selective mistrust.

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