The Autodidactic Fallacy

I’ve heard often enough some folks say they are an “autodidact”, or “self-taught”. I believe their intent is to say they have been educated by their own motivations without institutionalize pedagogy. Regardless, here I’ll explain how an autodidac, or self-taught person, is unlikely to exist.

To be an autodidact, truly, you must have been abandoned in the woods as a neonate and raised yourself in isolation, teaching yourself by pure trial and error. The point is, it’s not really feasible to teach yourself. Even in a looser sense, self-teaching tends to require study of something someone, or something, else knows, and it must be conveyed to you in a way that is technically taught. The lesson may be extracted or contrived by the “autodidact”, but it is not learned purely from the self.

Perhaps autodidact should be defined as “self-guided education”. We will always rely on others’ intellect; that is human nature. Sociocultural human phenomena are responsible for what every person knows. We would die with haste or be simpletons if we were an autodidact, left to our cognition without others to build it up from what they were taught. A long line of human ancestors are responsible for our knowledge and without them we’d be a lost lamb made lame on the land.


  1. I think we can question the Biblical creation story (or any creation story, for that matter) but still entertain the notion that God can teach us through revelation or infused knowledge. If I remember right these two mechanisms differ somewhat. But they both point to being taught by God.

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  2. I suppose no one is fully taught by educational institutions either. We all have to take the initiative to teach ourselves some things. I guess it’s really a question of how much you took the initiative to learn on your own versus how much you learned by the instructions of others.


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