Today I encountered a sentence:

A slave's education is not under natural authority but is under the arbitrary authority of the self-appointed and self-validating

I boldened the doubtful words and understood this like:

A slave's education is driven not by his own needs but by the will of someone other who is self-appointed (just proclaimed himself to be an absolute truth) and self-validating (either "judging himself on his own only" or "not requiring any confirmation of his competence" or "not bearing any objections")

Please help me to understand the true meaning.

  • I don't see any obvious problem (other than "someone else"), but you should add which specific parts you are concerned about. – user3169 May 10 '16 at 16:01

A slave's education is not under natural authority but is under the arbitrary authority of the self-appointed and self-validating

...not under natural authority but is under the arbitrary authority...

Natural authority would be innate, and fundamental to being human. E.G. parents have natural authority over their children. The slave's education is not due to some innate truth of the human condition - it is due to some arbitrary set of rules made by someone else.

the self-appointed

that somebody else chooses themselves to be the master. He is not chosen by the slave to make decisions on the slave's behalf.

and self-validating

Why is it ok for the master to appoint himself? Because he is the master, and masters get to make those decisions. This is circular logic, somewhat like the No True Scotsman Fallacy


I would say that you have interpreted it well, but with a subtle aspect lost: You have understood "under natural authority" to be that which is driven by his own needs. However, I would say, based on reading it as a native English speaker, that "under natural authority" means a little more as it relates to human rights and/or a religious point of view.

For example, in the United States it would be common for someone to understand "under natural authority" similarly to "certain unalienable rights" (Declaration of Independence). There is an element to the phrase that includes an idea something like "humans have certain rights simply because they are humans," with some saying that this is because a divine being has given humans these rights.

Further, it is unclear from the phrasing of the sentence which authority the speaker thinks that the slave's education should be under; without more context, the sentence alone seems to simply be stating how things are for a slave, regardless of how they should be.

Basically, the phrase seems to indicate something more than just a human's needs- something idealistic.

  • Thank you for the answer. May be you will be able to improve it if I'll provide a link to that article: circeinstitute.org/2008/12/… . Did I understand the meaning of "self-proclaimed" and "self-validating" right? (I provided three variants for the last one). – Paul May 10 '16 at 20:15

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