Understanding Ignorance: The Surprising Impact of What We Don't Know

Understanding Ignorance: The Surprising Impact of What We Don't Know

by Daniel R. Denicola

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Overview

An exploration of what we can know about what we don't know: why ignorance is more than simply a lack of knowledge.

Ignorance is trending. Politicians boast, “I'm not a scientist.” Angry citizens object to a proposed state motto because it is in Latin, and “This is America, not Mexico or Latin America.” Lack of experience, not expertise, becomes a credential. Fake news and repeated falsehoods are accepted and shape firm belief. Ignorance about American government and history is so alarming that the ideal of an informed citizenry now seems quaint. Conspiracy theories and false knowledge thrive. This may be the Information Age, but we do not seem to be well informed. In this book, philosopher Daniel DeNicola explores ignorance—its abundance, its endurance, and its consequences.

DeNicola aims to understand ignorance, which seems at first paradoxical. How can the unknown become known—and still be unknown? But he argues that ignorance is more than a lack or a void, and that it has dynamic and complex interactions with knowledge. Taking a broadly philosophical approach, DeNicola examines many forms of ignorance, using the metaphors of ignorance as place, boundary, limit, and horizon. He treats willful ignorance and describes the culture in which ignorance becomes an ideological stance. He discusses the ethics of ignorance, including the right not to know, considers the supposed virtues of ignorance, and concludes that there are situations in which ignorance is morally good.

Ignorance is neither pure nor simple. It is both an accusation and a defense (“You are ignorant!” “Yes, but I didn't know!”). Its practical effects range from the inconsequential to the momentous. It is a scourge, but, DeNicola argues daringly, it may also be a refuge, a value, even an accompaniment to virtue.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780262536035
Publisher: MIT Press
Publication date: 09/04/2018
Series: The MIT Press
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 264
Sales rank: 640,726
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.80(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Daniel R. DeNicola is Chair and Professor of Philosophy at Gettysburg College and the author of Learning to Flourish: A Philosophical Exploration of Liberal Education.

Table of Contents

Preface xi

I Images of Ignorance 1

1 The Impact of Ignorance 3

Public Ignorance 5

A Culture of Ignorance 7

Knowledge over Ignorance 9

Understanding Ignorance 10

The Study of Ignorance 11

2 Conceiving Ignorance 15

Negative Concepts 16

Paradox 18

The Language of Ignorance 21

Ways of Knowing and Not Knowing 23

Metaphors of Ignorance 27

II Ignorance as Place 29

3 Dwelling in Ignorance 31

Ignorance as Hell or Heaven 32

In Plato's Cave 33

Recognizing Ignorance 34

A Basic Typology from Rurnsfeld to &Zcirc;i&zcirc;ek 39

The Vagaries of Knowing and Not Knowing 42

Introspection and Agnosognosia 43

Skepticism 44

4 Innocence and Ignorance 47

The Garden of Eden 48

The Cave and the Garden 50

The Concept of Innocence 52

Learning and Loss 55

Epistemic Community 57

Places of Ignorance as Thought Experiments 59

III Ignorance as Boundary 63

5 Mapping Our Ignorance 65

Boundaries, Borders, and Maps 66

Mapping Professional Ignorance 68

Natural and Constructed Boundaries 70

Locating the Boundary of the Known 71

Borderlands and Public Ignorance 74

6 Constructed Ignorance 79

Rational Nescience 80

Strategic Ignorance 82

Willful Ignorance 84

Privacy and Secrecy 88

Forbidden Knowledge 91

Constructing Ignorance Inadvertently 94

7 The Ethics of Ignorance 97

The Ethics of Belief 98

From Possibility to Moral Necessity 100

Epistemic Rights 103

Epistemic Obligations 107

Ignorance, Action, and Responsibility 111

Epistemic Injustice and Ignorance as Privilege 112

8 Virtues and Vices of Ignorance 115

The Moral Assessment of Learning 116

Curiosity 118

Epistemic Restraint 120

Discretion 122

Trust 123

Intellectual Humility 125

Modesty as a Virtue of Ignorance 126

The Virtuously Ignorant Schoolmaster 129

Epistemic Achievement 133

IV Ignorance as Limit 135

9 The Limits of the Knowable 137

Temporality 139

Biological Limits 142

Conceptual Limits 144

The Limits of Science and Mathematics 147

The End of Knowledge 149

Omniscience 151

Arguments from Ignorance 153

10 Managing Ignorance 157

Responding to the Unknown 158

Coping with Ignorance 160

Transformations in the Dark 162

Unpredictability and Commitment 163

Chance 164

From Possibility to Probability 167

The Chance of Rain 172

Other Intellectual Tools 175

V Ignorance as Horizon 177

11 The Horizon of Ignorance 179

Epistemic Luck 180

How Learning Creates Ignorance 183

Freedom, Creativity, and Ignorance 186

Ignorance and the Possible 188

Wonder and the Shepherd of Possibilities 189

Ever More: A Conclusion 192

Epilogue: Ignorance and Epistemology 195

Epistemology: Context and Content 195

Beyond Propositional Knowledge 197

Negation and Complexity 199

Bivalency and Scalar Gradience 202

Discovery and Justification 203

Individual Knowers and Epistemic Communities 204

Epistemic Value 206

Conclusion 208

Notes 209

Bibliography 233

Index 245

What People are Saying About This

Amelie Rorty

What do we need to know? What are our epistemic obligations as philosophers and as citizens? In this important book, Dan DeNicola charts varieties of ignorance—culpable ignorance, circumstantial ignorance, politically engineered ignorance, etc.—and explores their sources, consequences, and ethical import. This clearly, responsibly written multidisciplinary work should be mandatory reading for epistemologists and reflective citizens concerned about the range of our epistemic obligations—our moral duties of 'due diligence.'

Duncan Pritchard

A wonderfully engaging and thoughtful treatment of a topic that one simply ought not to be ignorant of.

Endorsement

"[A] breath of fresh air.... [A] lively, wide-ranging, yet systematic study of the inter-relationships between knowledge and ignorance and the agents involved with both."

Choice

From the Publisher

A wonderfully engaging and thoughtful treatment of a topic that one simply ought not to be ignorant of.

Duncan Pritchard, Professor of Philosophy, University of Edinburgh; author of Epistemic Angst: Radical Skepticism and the Groundlessness of Our Believing

What do we need to know? What are our epistemic obligations as philosophers and as citizens? In this important book, Dan DeNicola charts varieties of ignorance—culpable ignorance, circumstantial ignorance, politically engineered ignorance, etc.—and explores their sources, consequences, and ethical import. This clearly, responsibly written multidisciplinary work should be mandatory reading for epistemologists and reflective citizens concerned about the range of our epistemic obligations—our moral duties of 'due diligence.'

Amelie Rorty, Visiting Professor, Tufts University; Lecturer, Harvard Medical School

"It is an enjoyable read and points to a variety of historical and emerging areas of research in multiple domains... the text is accessible and addresses many very interesting and important topics in an interesting and often compelling way."

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

"[A] breath of fresh air.... [A] lively, wide-ranging, yet systematic study of the inter-relationships between knowledge and ignorance and the agents involved with both."

Choice

Customer Reviews