Digest of terms


the status bestowed on a person, organization, scripture, etc. legitimizing their right (and relatedly in many cases, power) to elicit compliance or obedience on the part of others. Reasons for according this status vary from established tradition to personal expertise (where someone is 'an authority'). Social scientists commonly distinguish between different modes of authority: traditional - validated by inherited power and position; legal-rational - even if also traditional, validated by reasoned argument; and charismatic -promoted by power of personality, as in prophetic appeal, challenging the traditional establishment, and sometimes subsequently transposed into legal-rational form. In religious terms it may be derived from scripture, from communal tradition, or from individual conscience- or some combination of these. An important distinction is to be made between authority which is 'authoritarian' and self-validating 'because it says so', and authority which is authoritative on the strength of accepted but in principle contestable reasons or evidence - a distinction which correlates with different styles of heteronomy.

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