The Virtues of Ignorance: Complexity, Sustainability, and the Limits of Knowledge

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Human dependence on technology has increased exponentially over the past several centuries, and so too has the notion that we can fix environmental problems with scientific applications. The Virtues of Ignorance: Complexity, Sustainability, and the Limits of Knowledge proposes an alternative to this hubristic, shortsighted, and dangerous worldview. The contributors argue that uncritical faith in scientific knowledge has created many of the problems now threatening the planet and that our wholesale reliance on scientific progress is both untenable and myopic. Bill Vitek, Wes Jackson, and a diverse group of thinkers, including Wendell Berry, Anna Peterson, and Robert Root-Bernstein, offer profound arguments for the advantages of an ignorance-based worldview. Their essays explore this philosophy from numerous perspectives, including its origins, its essence, and how its implementation can preserve vital natural resources for posterity. All conclude that we must simply accept the proposition that our ignorance far exceeds our knowledge and always will. Rejecting the belief that science and technology are benignly at the service of society, the authors argue that recognizing ignorance might be the only path to reliable knowledge. They also uncover an interesting paradox: knowledge and insight accumulate fastest in the minds of those who hold an ignorance-based worldview, for by examining the alternatives to a technology-based culture, they expand their imaginations. Demonstrating that knowledge-based worldviews are more dangerous than useful, The Virtues of Ignorance looks closely at the relationship between the land and the future generations who will depend on it. The authors argue that we can never improve upon nature but that we can, by putting this new perspective to work in our professional and personal lives, live sustainably on Earth.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Every now and again you come across a read you feel certain will shift the landscape of thought in unpredictable ways. The Virtues of Ignorance is likely to raise a few eyebrows in the scientific community and the fallout is likely to be both stimulating and positive." —Claude Stephens, Forest Echo" —

"Demonstrating that knowledge-based worldviews are more dangerous than useful, the book looks closely at the relationship between the land and the future generations who will depend on it." —Abstracts of Public Administration, Development, and Environment" —

"The questions raised throughout the book encourage a pause for reflection — on what we think we know and the implications our knowledge has on the world around us." —International Journal of Illich Studies" —

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813192581
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
  • Publication date: 4/15/2010
  • Series: Culture of the Land
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 1,155,839
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Bill Vitek, professor of philosophy at Clarkson University, is the author of several books, including Promising, Rooted in the Land: Essays on Community and Place, and Applying Philosophy. He lives in Postdam, New York.Wes Jackson, president of the Land Institute and former professor at Kansas Wesleyan and California State universities, is the author of several books, including Rooted in the Land: Essays on Community and Place, Becoming Native to this Place, and Altars of an Unhewn Stone. He lives in Salina, Kansas.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments     vii
Introduction: Taking Ignorance Seriously   Bill Vitek   Wes Jackson     1
First Cut
Toward an Ignorance-Based Worldview   Wes Jackson     21
The Way of Ignorance   Wendell Berry     37
Ignorance-an Inner Perspective   Robert Perry     51
Human Ignorance and the Limited Use of History   Richard D. Lamm     59
Ignorance and Know-How   Conn Nugent     67
Second Cut
Optimizing Uncertainty   Raymond H. Dean     81
Toward an Ecological Conversation   Steve Talbott     101
Ignorance and Ethics   Anna L. Peterson     119
Imposed Ignorance and Humble Ignorance-Two Worldviews   Paul G. Heltne     135
Precursors and Exemplars
Battle for the Soul of Ignorance: Rhetoric and Philosophy in Classical Athens   Charles Marsh     151
Choosing Ignorance within a Learning Universe   Peter G. Brown     165
The Path of Enlightened Ignorance: Alfred North Whitehead and Ernst Mayr   Strachan Donnelley     189
Joyful Ignorance and the Civic Mind   Bill Vitek     213
I Don't Know!   Robert Root-Bernstein     233
Lessons Learned from Ignorance: The Curriculum on Medical (and Other) Ignorance   Marlys Hearst Witte   Peter Crown   Michael Bernas   Charles L. Witte     251
Economics and the Promotion of Ignorance-Squared   Herb Thompson     273
Educating for Ignorance   Jon Jensen     293
Climate Change and the Limits of Knowledge   Joe Marocco     307
Can We See with Fresh Eyes? Beyond a Culture of Abstraction   Craig Holdrege     323
Contributors     335
Index     341

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