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The notion of testimony and authority from comparative perspective.

Common philosophical points of Nyya philosophers and J. M. Bocheski


Agnieszka Rostalska
Just like in every science, authority is the weakest argument in philosophy.
Hence, the following advice: be distrustful towards assertions of others, in particular
of popular philosophers; verify them for yourself before admitting them.
J. M. Bocheski, Advice of the old philosopher

1. Introductory remarks
Joseph (Jzef) Maria Bocheski (Dominican name: Innocent) was a Polish philosopher (1902
1995), a historian of philosophy and a logician. He studied law (Lvov/Lviv) and economy
(Pozna), received a doctorate in philosophy (Freiburg) and theology (Rome). During World
War II he served as a chaplain in Poland, France and England and he fought as a soldier at
Monte Cassino (the Italian campaign of the II Corps, 1944). He lectured logic in Rome, was a
chair of history of twentieth-century philosophy at the Freiburg University where he was a
Rector (1964-1966) and founded the Institute of Eastern Europe, published the journal
(Studies in Soviet Thought) and books on the foundations of the Marxists philosophy.
Among many writings his books were mostly on logic, Thomism, analytical philosophy,
communism and patriotism.1 But he was also acquainted with Indian logic and philosophy. In
his book A History of Formal Logic (1961) he included a chapter on Indian variety of logic,
where he discussed the views of Nyya logicians and their debate with Buddhists, Jains and
Mmsa philosophers. He selects a few Nyyastras as representative logical passages,
among which he included two passages on testimony, therefore he was familiar with Nyya
philosophy when he wrote his text on authority Was ist Autoritt? in 1974.

The most important ones are: Elementa logicae graecae (1937), Manuale di filosofia bolscevica (1946), La
logique de Thophraste (1947), ABC tomizmu (1950) [ABC of Thomism], Ancient formal logic (1951), The
Problem of Universals: A Symposium I. M. Bochenski, Alonzo Church, Nelson Goodman (1956), Formale
Logik (1956) [translated in English as: A History of Formal Logic (1961)], Ancient Formal Logic (1957),
Handbook on communism (1962), Soviet Russian Dialectical Materialism, Diamat (1963), The Logic of
Religion (1965), The Methods of Contemporary Thought (1968), Guide to Marxist philosophy: an introductory
bibliography (1972), Philosophy, An Introduction (1972), Was ist Autoritt? (1974), Contemporary European
Philosophy (1974), Sto zabobonw. Krtki filozoficzny sownik zabobonw ("One Hundred Superstitions. A
Short Philosophical Dictionary of Superstitions", 1987), Logika i filozofia (1993) [Logic and Philosophy],
Midzy logik a wiar (1994) [Between Logic and Faith], The Road to Understanding. More than Dreamt of in
Your Philosophy (1996).
1

2. Authority and testimony definitions.


In his book Was ist Autoritt? Bocheski points out that authority (first of all) is a word
that comes from Latin auctoritas, which is a term used not only to signify authority, but also
dignity (prestige) and respect of a person in the society (and is related with being influential).
According to various dictionaries auctoritas denotes a specific relation in which one person
has a possibility to affect the other in this sense it implies power (e.g. of the person in
charge, the ruler) and leadership. Such a position leads to responsibility of a person who
provides an advice, instigation and sanction. The remaining meaning of the term entails an
origin, where it may stand for the source of origin, for producing or originating something.
Contemporarily, the term authority is usually understood as political, juridical or
administrative power and control (e.g. government, police), but it can also signify being an
expert in a specific area (e.g. in the scientific field or discipline).
Bocheski examines the notion of authority from the point of view of the analytical
philosopher. According to him, since the notion of authority appears in a social context, it has
to be redefined and clarified, because the term is ambiguous it has various connotations,
aspects and usages. In common usage, authority is equivocal: it may denote a relation (e.g.
between a student and a professor, their respect) or personal characteristic (the features of
professor). In Bocheskis view the first understanding as a relation has a wider range,
therefore is more basic. He gives an example of a flight controller, who gives data to a pilot
the pilot does not know him personally, so he has no idea if he has a personal authority,
regardless of whether he accepts the data.
Bocheskis first aim is to define authority by the use of classical definition, which comprises
two parts: genus (kind) and differentia (specific difference).2 He raises the question: to which
category authority belongs? He concludes that in most cases authority is a relative word
denoting a particular relation.3
He is using the method of linguistic analysis to develop his own theses which he scrupulously
discuss. The theses about the main structure of authority which Bocheski defends are:4
1. Authority is a relation.
2. Authority is a triple relation between the subject, object and the domain of authority.

Bocheski (1993:195) provides an example of a cow, which may be defined as a big animal (genre) giving
milk and having horns (class).
3
Author distinguishes three categories: a. thing (a person is an independent, autonomous thing), 2. feature
(which inhere in something, a property of a thing) and 3. relation (e.g. to be on the right, to love, be alike, names
and expressions which denote features are the signs of the relation). Sometimes we say that a person or thing
(e.g. Einstein) or a feature (The mother has a lot of authority in a family) is an authority, but most of the time
authority is a relation.
4
Bocheski, 1993:200-204.
2

Komentarz [AR1]: I plan to add a


paragraph which combines authority with
testimony (abda, pta-upadea)

3. P is an authority for S in the domain of D iff when S acknowledges in principle all


what P announces and what belongs to the domain D.
Bocheski describes this5 as a special type of a communication, where the subject wants to
communicate something to the object (e.g. wants to give instructions or share knowledge).
The subject must actually announce something with some assertion. She is able to use signs
which can communicate what she wants and can be the bearer of her thoughts. The object
must acknowledge the signs as material phenomena (e.g. to hear a sound, to see a banner) and
has to understand these signs and decode them to receive the information.
Additionally, in case of authority, the object understands that these signs are given with an
emphasis, with subjects claim/assertion. She must understand that this signs come from the
subject of authority. And finally: the object must acknowledge, recognise and approve what
was announced.

3. The domain, subject and object of authority


Bocheski elaborates further6 that the domain of authority may be understood in two ways: a.
as a set, multitude of some real events or actions (e.g. operations of the soldiers in military
will belong to the domain of a captain) or b. as a set of warrants, orders related to these
activities (i.e. a set of orders which are communicated by the captain to the soldiers).
Bocheski chooses the second option and states that the domain is neither things nor events,
nor the real objects but what is said with authority about those events, what is communicated,
the communicated content. The provided information is always an ideal object (which is the
meaning of words and content of thoughts), not a real object, because what is given is not
words, but the meaning of the words (e.g. 2 persons can speak in 2 languages, they can
express the same in different words). It is not a thought, but the content of thought.7
Bocheski concludes8 that the domain of authority is not real but ideal and is a set of ideal
subjects. The conscious person, the individual, is the object of authority and as such is the
subject of authority. While the domain of authority is the set of ideal objects, both subject and
object are actual, real individuals.
However, Bocheski adds,9 there are cases where a group of people could be seen as the
subject of authority, but in fact it is a sum of individual authorities (i.e. doctors, officials). The

Ibid., pp. 206-207.


Bocheski, 1993:207-208.
7
Ibid., p. 209.
8
Ibid., pp. 210-212.
9
Ibid., p. 213.
6

Komentarz [AR2]: Add definition of


testimony NS 1.1.7-8. Importance of
speaker, hearer, words, communication,
convention

group does not have an individual consciousness of a single man, so there is no subject of
authority. Here Bocheski agrees with Aristotle (vs. Hegel), stating that the individual person,
the individual in the society is the final subject (society is not the fiction, because it contains
humans and real relations, in this sense it is something more than the sum of individuals).

4. General features of the authority and some problems


Bocheski is of a view, that the relation between the subject and object of authority is a)
irreflexive, b) asymmetric and c) transitive.10 He formulates the following theses:11
3.1. In any domain no one can be an authority for himself.
3.2. It is logically possible that when A is the subject and B is the object of authority in one
domain, simultaneously B is the subject and A is the object in another domain.
3.3. If P is an authority for S in a domain D, then S is not an authority for P in a domain D.
3.4. When A is an authority for B in a domain D, and B is an authority for C in the same
domain, then at the same time A is an authority for C in a domain D.
3.5. There exist at least one person, who is an authority in at least one domain for all other
people.
3.6. Every person is an authority in at least one domain for all other people.
3.7. No one can be an authority for another person in all domains.
3.8. P is the subject of authority regarding all subjects and all domains iff when P is a God.
3.9. The subject of authority misuses it when he displays it towards a subject or domain in
which he does not possess legitimate authority.
He justifies the above claims providing various examples. But does all of them support his
views? In support of irreflexivity (claim 3.1) he provides an example12 where he would like to
know what he was doing and where had he been on a specific date in 1962. He reads his own
notebook and sees that he was taking part in a congress in Chicago. So he seems to be an
authority to himself. However, he admits, that he is not because he is no longer the exact
person as he was then, because then he knew that he was in Chicago and now he does not.
From the logical point of view, it is impossible that a person could simultaneously know and
not know something. From this he concludes that no one can be an authority for himself. It
does not seem as a valid step, regardless of not remembering something I can still feel that I
am in a very important sense the same person as before. We may not remember everything,
but we can always have the impression that we know something that is just in the back of our
heads and once it becomes important, we can use some sources to recall it and bring back the
information. Also, we can take a stand which is based on our intuition and if necessary recall
10

Bocheski, 1993:223.
Translation of the theses from: Bocheski, 1993:218-228.
12
There is an another one referring to the Freudian theory of id, ego and superego, which I not intend to discuss,
because I generally agree with Bocheskis objection.
4
11

Komentarz [AR3]: I will compare this


with Ns division: reliable statement can
be applied to perceivable and
unperceivable objects. Reliable speakers
may be: seers, members or people from
outside a society. Domain of authority in N:
prescriptions of a speaker and Vedas.

the exact motivations of our choice. Bocheski himself agrees that in case of authority, a
person may sometimes fail and be wrong about something. Therefore, his claim is not
sufficiently supported.
In the case of mutual authority, his arguments are not convincing enough. He admits, that in
two separate disciplines it is possible, but not in the same one. He justifies his view giving an
example that if he is an authority in logic for L., L. cannot be an authority for him. He
illustrates this view with an example of a general, who gives orders in army to a colonel.
Colonel cannot be an authority for a general in the same military matters, because he would
be a superior of his superior, which is not. I dont find this argument convincing, because
there may be two experts in the same field who could be authorities for each other. Besides,
the example he gives is a type of deontic authority, he does not refer to epistemic authority.
Moreover, he himself states, that it is possible that authority may be reversed in a sense that
the roles may change. He gives an example of a pilot who is steering on one route, then his
co-pilot takes over and steers. He compares this situation with a student, who in the beginning
does not have a lot of knowledge, but in the end he becomes an expert and may know a lot
more in his field than his own professor. Bocheski admits, that this situations may happen
but it is rather in different domains and at different times. This does not seem convincing.
Additionally, he admits, that the relation is transitive; if a person A is an authority for a person
B, who is an authority for a person C, then A is also an authority for C. Authority of an
authority in the same domain is a transitive relation. It may be an idealised case, which may
not work in life. Besides, a person may be an expert in the field, but may have wrong
intuitions for other judgments (Bocheski admits himself that it may happen that authority
may commit a mistake, because, all in all he/she is a person), it does not follow that his choice
of authority is correct and that this authority will be also impressive for another person.
Bocheski admits, that a person is an authority in at least one domain his/her own personal
experiences/feelings and impressions/sensations. However, no person can be an absolute
authority in all domains, he believes that ascribing such an authority to mythological figure,
dictators, celebrities is a mistake. He does not refer to spiritual teachers, gurus, who can be the
absolute authorities in an ashram or monastery for people belonging to a sect or a religion.
But in his view, there is only one absolute authority - God, ascribing it to another individuals
is a misuse.13

13

For Bocheski (1993:227) a misuse may be of a two types - referring to 1. a domain (a person tries to extend
the authority over a domain he/she is not competent, e.g. professor of geography in politics) 2. an object
(towards objects with no relation of authority e.g. there is an authority between an officer and soldiers but none
between an officer and civilians). False authorities are acknowledge due to unjustified generalisations, if he/she
is an expert in one domain, he/she is in other ones. It forms a habit - a person is used to look at a person as an
authority, so even if the subject is not an expert in another domain, it is automatically acknowledged as one e.g. a
teacher is an expert in chemistry, but his word on politics is also approved by the students.
5

Komentarz [AR4]: Add a section on


the qualities of a reliable speaker: direct
experience of essence of things (dharma),
compassion towards living beings, desire to
speak of things for what they are. Also:
absolute authority.

5. Types of authority
For Bocheski the domain of authority is a set of propositions (words, sounds and their
meanings; they tell what there is) or a set of directives (instructions; they tell what should be).
They are both ideal, independent objects. Accordingly, there are two types of authority and
every authority belongs to one of those types:
-

epistemic: the authority of the knower, expert, specialist; persons who know the
subject better, e.g. authority of a teacher;
deontic: authority of the superior; persons who have power and the right to give
orders, e.g. the boss, manager, director, commander.

The same person may have both authorities towards the same object and in the same domain 14
and it is desired that the deontic is also the epistemic, but they are mutually independent. E.g.
an expert in court is an epistemic authority but not a deontic one he can give his expertise
but cannot punish.15 Many misuses happen when an authority of one type is confused with
another, like in a situation where deontic authority thinks that he is an expert in the field.
An epistemic authority is not a deontic superior, so she should not give commands of how the
subject should act but only provide (communicate) propositions which are taken as true or
probable by the object. It is a relation between the proposition and the state of knowledge 16 in
the sense that when an authority communicates the proposition, its probability raises. For that
the subject must be convinced about the authoritys competence and that she really knows her
field and is more competent than the person who recognises her expertise. Also, what is
announced must be taken as true, an authority has to be truthful. Trust and some kind of
superiority are necessary conditions for the recognition of authority.
Bocheski provides the following schema:17

Komentarz [AR5]: Comparison with


Ns division for perceptible and
unperceivable objects

Recognition -> without justification


-> with justification -> through direct insight
-> inference from the experience of -> the subject of authority
-> the class to which an object of
authority belongs

14

Bocheski explains that the domain is not exactly the same but closely related, since the domain of the deontic
authority is the set of directives whereas the domain of epistemic authority are practical propositions.
15
Bocheski 1993:237-238.
16
The state of knowledge is defined as the class of all sentences which are taken to be true.
17
Bocheski (1996:244).
6

The author is of the opinion, that recognition of authority without justification is not allowed
because of moral issues. There must be some reason for this recognition, some reasonable
justification and usually it is of a two types: to see directly the truth of the statement (e.g. that
it is raining) or through inference (e.g. the ground is wet, so it is inferred that it must have
been raining) and usually inference is the most common way of acknowledging an authority.18
This inference is a generalisation of propositions (which are based on the experience)19 and
this generalisation is of the two types:
-

I know about the truth of the proposition from the experience I have for the object of
authority, e.g. when what an object of authority said was right many times, then it is
generalised that he will always be right in his domain (a friend philatelist case)
I infer from what I know about the class to which it belongs in this case it is not the
experience with the object of an authority but many experiences with people
belonging to the class the authority belongs (the doctor on a plane case)

In both cases this inference is based on induction, so it does not warrant the reliability of an
authority.

OPEN QUESTIONS:
-

18

Does Bocheskis stress on the author resemble the Nyyas stress on the reliable
speaker (pta) as a source vs. Mmsas concept of languages validity as being
independent of any author (I owe this one to E. Freschi).
How is authority established? Both Bocheski and N. emphasise that authority is
established mainly through inference, rarely through direct perception. However, for
N. a statement of a reliable person concerns perceivable and unperceivable objects.
Vatsyayana adds that this partition is due to common language and language of seers
(which may perceive objects not perceived by a common person). Still, inference
remains a root source for speakers reliability.
What forms the domain of authority? Bocheskis division of authority includes
two domains (sets of):
a. Propositions (epistemic a.)

Bocheskis example for the recognition of an authority through direct insight is: ... someone who is charged
with a crime comes to me, looks me in the eyes and says: I was not at the crime scene. It can happen that I will
believe him, but it means that I had some insight in his personality and it convinced me that he knows of what he
is telling and he is telling the truth. But those are, everyone will admit, the very peculiar cases which in practice
have a very little meaning. He admits that the requirement for the competence and truthfulness are there, but I
am not convinced that it is not a case of inference but an additional category. The belief in the truthfulness of a
person must come from other experiences in the past and linking them with the current case is done by the way
of inference. It is not the same as in the case when I justify the claim that it is raining because I see directly that
it is raining.
19
To paraphrase Bocheski: for experiences provide only particular propositions, an authoritys existence we
need to acknowledge the general propositions (op. cit., p.247)
7

Komentarz [AR6]: I plan to explain


this.

b. Directives, instructions (deontic a.)


N. acknowledges both Vedic prescriptions and statements. Is there any resemblance?
Who can be the subject of authority? Is there an absolute one? For B. the subject of
authority is a conscious individual and he allows the absolute authority (God), but no
human person can hold an absolute authority. For N. an authority may be a person
from a society, a stranger or a seer. The authority of the Veda is acknowledged
because it has a reliable source (just like Ayurveda) and its validity is due to speakers
worthiness. How is this evaluated, by inference? A later commentator Jayanta
attributes the authorship of the Veda to God.
Which attributes does the subject of authority have to possess? For B. the subject
of authority has to be competent and truthful, trust and superiority are the necessary
conditions. In N.s view, the speaker has to be worthy, but also he/she has to have 3
qualities: direct experience of the essence (dharma), compassion towards living beings
and desire to speak of things for what they are.
Is there a universal authority? For B. no person can be an authority in all domains.
Could one infer from Vtsyyanas division of authority (sage, member of a society,
person from outside - that there is no universal authority?
Which features does the object of authority have to possess? Is there any
particular relation between the object and the subject of authority? In B.s view
the object must acknowledge, recognise and approve what was said. For him the
relation between the object and the subject of authority is irreflexive, asymmetric and
transitive.

Bibliography:
J. M. Bocheski, Was ist Autoritt? - Einfhrung in die Logik der Autoritt, Taschenbuch
(Akzeptabel) Herder 1974. Polish translation: Co to jest autorytet in: Logika i filozofia:
Wybr pism [Logic and Philosophy: Selected Writings], J. Parys (ed.), Warszawa:
Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN 1993, pp.187-324.
J. M. Bocheski, Rady Starego Filozofa [Advice of the old philosopher], in: Logika &
filozofia logiczna, J. Perzanowski, A. Pietruszczak (eds.), Toru: Uniwersytet Mikoaja
Kopernika 2000.