We are all ignorant of some things some of the time inasmuch as we do not know of the properties of some things, the existence of some things, a certain range of facts, etc. In most cases, our ignorance about something or other is not pernicious. That is not true, however, of our ignorance about what we claim to know yet do not actually know.
These statements can be deadly:
- I know what is going on.
- I know how to do something.
- I know what to say and/or how to say it.
Deadly because I may be wrong and the results could be disastrous, catastrophic. If I do not know what is going on but believe that I do, then I may pursue some course of action that causes harm. If I do not know how to do something but believe that I do, then I may destroy the tool with which I am working, the machine I am operating, the program I am overseeing. Lastly, if I do not know what to say or how to say it but believe that I do, then I may ruin my (or our) prospects or damage my relationships. In the above, the assumption is that these acts are one-off yet far worse and more likely is that they occur on a regular basis, carrying with them the possibility of horror.
Self-deception, arrogance, or both could be the culprits, yet it stands to reason that other, more seemingly benign factors could also be the sources. One’s ignorance could arise out of lack of curiosity or inquisitiveness (one simply isn’t interested in getting a grip on what he knows and does not know), lack of thoughtfulness (one caring not at all about thinking X through to its logical conclusion), carelessness (one point-blanketedly not distinguishing between ‘I believe that P, though I may be wrong’ and ‘I know that P’), and the like.
I am tempted to write about our responsibility toward those who are unknowingly ignorant, but, on second thought, I think it more fruitful and more truthful to turn this thinking back on those doing the inquiring. Better, that is, to begin with investigating our own ignorance about what we think is yet may not actually be occurring, about excellences and abilities we think we have yet may not, and about our own lack of facility of speech than it is to continue to peer at our colleagues, our friends, and our neighbors with squinting eyes.
Vigilance and self-reflection of the kind we did not learn in school: these are what is called for. Alone, we may still go astray, however. For this reason, we need friends not to reassure or comfort us but to take us to task, pointing out with ‘grandmotherly kindness’ where we are blind, mistaken, overshooting the mark, callously drawing blood. We need lovers to do even more than this, holding our feet to the fire in order to help us–the hard way, the only way–to slowly reforge our characters.
All along (have you deduced?), I have been writing of Socrates, of the Socratic way of life, of its relevance to our lives today.