Two Reflections On Knowledge and Ignorance

The honest answer.– If I knew the answer to all the world’s problems…would it make any difference? For in order for this answer to actually solve the world’s problems, the world would have to understand what the world’s problems were, and care about solving them. Furthermore, the world would have to pursue the answer to its problems in a relatively universal but also natural fashion, and with minimal admixture of petty advantage-seeking to muddy or corrupt the process.

No; if I knew the answer to all the world’s problems, it would make no difference at all — except that my own life would be more complete, and the world’s hatred of me more intense.┬áHistory may provide some empirical evidence for this.

The unvarnished truth.– For all our reliance on experts and representatives and administrators, one reality that must never be forgotten is that not one of these experts and representatives and administrators possesses even a shred of genuine knowledge relevant to their respective areas of authority. Any thinking person tends to understand this, from a theoretical point of view; but applying it to considerations of practical life and politics is a different matter entirely, and for the sake of pragmatic convenience and comfort we all have a natural tendency to assume, or to act as though we assume, that “they know what they are talking about.” No, they actually do not, and the pragmatic assumption we grant for the sake of daily comfort becomes an issue of genuine discomfort as we see these authorities granting themselves increasingly inescapable powers over all our lives. Suddenly, the theoretical awareness of universal ignorance becomes a matter of dire significance.

We are being bullied, henpecked, and coerced by the very people Socrates identified as the definitive cases of true ignorance, namely those who, though in fact knowing nothing, believe they know everything — know it so well that they have the right to impose their ignorant will upon all mankind.

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