The contemporary world is characterized, among other things, by the cult of the expert. It is widely and officially accepted that the expert and only the expert can speak authoritatively on a given subject. So extensive is this cult that once someone has become a certified expert in one field, they are often assumed to be experts in other fields, whether or not they actually have the qualifications.
How do we know who is an expert on what subject? The experts tell us! As long as the experts support one another’s claims to expertise, they constitute a closed system and everyone else is supposed to accept them all. But if some experts disagree with other experts, no end of problems can result. This is such a disastrous possibility that it is often suppressed. If an expert disagrees with the predominant expert option, their expert status must be taken away.
So the cult of the expert becomes an all-or-nothing proposition. Either one accepts all the certified experts or one rejects the whole idea. And this basic proposition must be decided by people who are not experts. That is the irony of the cult of the expert.
But it was not always this way, nor must the cult of the expert necessarily continue. Let us briefly consider what life would be like without the cult of the expert. That is, what if people were encouraged to think for themselves? Would civilization crumble? Or would it flourish in ways that no-one can predict?
The starting-point for this project must be something that is available to anyone that is close at hand, that is within the grasp of anyone who wants to think for themselves. There must be no expertise required! Sometimes it is called “common sense” although that is an ambiguous term. I prefer to all it high-level thinking in contrast to the detail-level thinking that requires special education or experience.
One of the problems that experts are prone to is seeing the trees but not the forest – missing the larger picture because they are focused on details. Of course, they can retort that the amateur sees the forest but not the trees, meaning they make mistakes by overlooking important details. Agreed; there are potential problems either way. In taking a high-level approach, we shall have to take care to avoid hasty generalizations and mistaken identifications.
This is the task of philosophy. With nothing more than a love of wisdom and a curious mind, we launch out to gain sufficient understanding to live wisely – that is, to gain wisdom.
One method to approach a question is to look at extreme answers in order to frame the issue. In common experience, extremes are rare so we make expect to find answers somewhere in between.