Voltaire's 'On Authority And The Dichotomy Of Morality'

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On Authority and the Dichotomy of Morality

“It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the established authorities are wrong.”
-Voltaire, The Age of Louis XIV

Authority comes in many forms, and all of them, at some point, by someone, are resisted. Be it for selfish purposes, for others’ good, or for the sake of resistance in and of itself, it is done. This quote by Voltaire offers a hard to contest critique on the nature of society, and of both the people within it and the authorities that govern it. In other words, it states that people lauded for being right have no interest in being told they are not, and tend to be in a position where they can make sure that they are not, much to the detriment of those who wish to do so. It is
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Galileo, a familiar name of a renowned renaissance man, was steadfast in his beliefs: evidence he collected concurred with Copernicus’ hypothesis of a heliocentric universe, a model in which the Sun was the center, rather than the earth. At that time, in the early 1600’s, the height of a brutal organization known as the Spanish Inquisition, known for copious use of torture, this outspokenness could be called something of a mistake. In 1633, Galileo was interrogated for eighteen days and forced to rescind his previous statements considered heresy by the church, and placed under house arrest as his health deteriorated for the remaining nine years of his life. Direct critique of the church was also a dangerous path to tread, as the devoted priest Martin Luther found. While morality, along with many beliefs of a theological nature, can be hard to dichotomize into such subjective categories as right or wrong, Luther’s criticism on the church’s extortion of money through sale of indulgences is easy to understand. His Ninety-Five Theses, and refusal to retract them, earned him an excommunication and a status as an outlaw, in essence ejected from society and left, in the eyes of the church, unable to ascend to heaven post-mortem, from the pope and the emperor respectively. Backlash of papal authority against free-thinking individuals is relatively…show more content…
In The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, John Proctor speaks up against the brutality to the innocent caused by the Salem witch trials. Morally, his decision is clearly sound, but, as history dictates, defending the victims of baseless prosecution from the masses becomes little but a precursor to joining their ranks of the condemned, and Proctor is soon declared a witch. In a far more fanciful setting, in which witches are taken for granted, the mysterious Hogwarts in the moors of Scotland, another instance of the authority suppressing the truth in favor of their own is displayed. In J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fairly malicious new teacher, Dolores Umbridge, as well as the majority of the wizarding world, outcasts Harry for his insistence that the Dark Lord Voldemort has returned. Dolores specifically punishes him for telling what he knows to be the truth by forcing him to write lines in his own blood by use of a magic quill, eventually scarring the words “I must not tell lies” into the back of his hand. In yet another example of fiction, Cassandra, a classic figure of tragedy in Greek mythos, was punished both for and by not being believed. In the legend, Apollo tries to seduce her by giving
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