What Is Ignorance?

The wisest man that there ever was, when they asked him what he knew, answered that he knew this much, that he knew nothing. He was verifying what they say, that the greatest part of what we know is the least of those parts that we do not know; that is to say that the very thing we think we know is a part, and a very small part, of our ignorance.

- Michel de Montaigne, Essays, II, 12, Apology for Raymond Sebond

Podcast of the Day

This week, we’re considering the problem of knowledge itself – or, to be more precise, the problem of too much knowledge. We live in a time of media abundance... There is the indiscriminate mingling of the true, the trivial and the blatantly manufactured within social media feeds and on news sites – is this ultimately producing feckless, fickle moral agents?

It might just be that the integrity of the moral life hangs on recovering the proper limits of knowledge – indeed, virtue of intentional ignorance.

Listen to The Minefield episode: Is Ignorance a Virtue in a Media-Saturated Age

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

Socrates recounts how his friend Chaerephon was told by the Delphic oracle that no human was wiser than Socrates. Socrates was incredulous since he didn’t consider himself wise. So he set about trying to find someone wiser than himself. He found plenty of people who were knowledgeable about specific matters such as how to make shoes, or how to pilot a ship. But he noticed that these people also thought that they were similarly expert about other matters too when they clearly were not. He eventually drew the conclusion that in one sense, at least, he was wiser than others in that he did not think he knew what he did not in fact know. In short, he was aware of his own ignorance...

Continue reading Emrys Westacott's article: Understanding Socratic Ignorance

Further Reading

Why do we think we understand things deeply, that we have systematic webs of knowledge that make sense of everything, when the reality is so different? Why do we live in an illusion of understanding?...

The problem is that spending a few minutes (or even hours) perusing WebMD is just not a substitute for the years of study needed to develop enough expertise to make a credible medical diagnosis. Spending a few minutes looking up facts on financial websites is not enough to understand the nuances of investing. Yet when we have the whole world’s knowledge at our fingertips, it feels like a lot of it is in our heads...

As technology becomes more sophisticated, we will become even more ignorant about what’s under the hood. We will depend even more on experts to keep it all up and running. For the most part, this is fine. Until there’s a problem. When the technology fails—because of neglect, war, or a natural disaster—the complacency induced by our illusion of understanding will come back to bite us. We’ll be lost. Our dependence on experts will be on full display...

Read The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone by Steven Sloman and Phillip Fernbach

Related Topics

 Intelligence | Skepticism | The Value of Knowledge | Wisdom

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