Experts, Trust, and Authority

Coran Reece Stewart, Fordham University


In our highly complex world, we confront fields of knowledge in which we must depend upon others with specialized access to this knowledge for guidance. Put more succinctly, we regularly turn to experts to help us. In addition, we are bombarded with claims by purported experts through media and advertising. The pervasive influence of experts in our society is not unrecognized both by those that appeal to experts to bolster claims and those that reject what they see as problematic expert authority. However, it remains unclear just what an expert is, how we identify them, and to what degree we ought to trust those we have identified. In this dissertation, I argue that Cognitive experts are those who have a much higher ratio of true to false beliefs in some domain compared to most others and the skills to acquire further true beliefs in that domain. For the layperson who seeks justified beliefs in that domain, these experts are a valuable resource. Rather than having to assess all of the relevant evidence for himself, the layperson can trust the testimony of an expert. Trusting that expert means disregarding one’s own relevant evidence and taking the expert’s word for it. Such trust may look very much like submission to authority. Indeed, I argue that treating experts as authorities is often appropriate though it will not always be so. In trusting an expert, the layperson gives up some responsibility for the justification of her belief. However, the layperson is not freed of all responsibility. The layperson can still be held to account for irresponsible placing his trust in hands of one who is not a genuine expert. It can be difficult to acquire and evaluate evidence of a purported expert’s reliability and trustworthiness, but I offer some suggestions that may help. One might think that what I argue seems plausible when it comes to experts such as scientists who primarily offer descriptive testimony but deny the existence of anything like moral expertise. In the last chapter, I take up this issue.

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Stewart, Coran Reece, "Experts, Trust, and Authority" (2018). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10813494.