22 Februar 2013

No, we won't run

When Harold tried to use his research into the British Enlightenment to help Erica think about her problems, he emphasized a concept that was central to British Enlightenment thought: epistemological modesty. Epistemology is the study of how we know what we know. Epistemological modesty is the knowledge of how little we know and can.
Epistemological modesty is an attitude towards life. This attitude is built on the awareness that we don't know ourselves. Most of what we think and believe is unavailable to conscious review. We are our own deepest mystery. Not knowing ourselves, we also have trouble fully understand others. In Felix Holt, George Eliot asked readers to imagine what a game of chess would be like if all the chessmen had their own passions and thoughts, if you were not only uncertain about your opponent's pieces but also about your own. You would have no chance if you had to rely upon mathematical stratagems in such a game, she wrote, and yet this imaginary game is far easier than the one we play in real life.
Not fully understanding others, we also cannot really get to the bottom of circumstances. No event can be understood in isolation from its place in the historical flow - the infinity of prior events, minute causes, and circumstances that touch it in visible and invisible ways. And yet this humble attitude doesn't necessarily produce passivity. Epistemological modesty is a disposition of action. The people with this disposition believe that wisdom begins with awareness of our own ignorance. We can design habits, arrangements, and procedures that partially compensate for the limits on our knowledge.
David Brooks, The Social Animal


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