Blog Post: Discover Your Ignorance

Linda Elder
Oct 27, 2020 • 3y ago
Discover Your Ignorance

{"ops":[{"insert":"Most of us assume whatever we believe to be “right.” Though we were taught much of what we believe before we could critically analyze our beliefs, we nevertheless defend our beliefs as the truth. Good thinkers know this is absurd. When you actively focus on uncovering your ignorance, you realize you are often wrong. You look for opportunities to test your ideas for soundness. You recognize that much of what people believe is based on prejudice, bias, half-truths, and sometimes superstition. You routinely question your beliefs. Your beliefs do not control you; you control your beliefs. You develop intellectual humility—awareness of the extent of your ignorance.\n \nIntellectual humility is the disposition to distinguish, at any given moment and in any given situation, between what you know and what you don’t know. People disposed toward intellectual humility recognize the natural tendency of the mind to think it knows more than it does, to see itself as right when the evidence proves otherwise. They routinely think within alternative viewpoints, making sure they are accurately representing those viewpoints. They consider other viewpoints to understand them in good faith—not to dismiss them.\n \nSocrates, an early Greek philosopher and teacher (c. 470–399 B.C.E.), was a living model of intellectual humility. Consider:\n\n“Socrates philosophized by joining in a discussion with another"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"person who thought he knew what justice, courage, or the like"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"was. Under Socrates’ questioning, it became clear that neither"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"[of the two] knew, and they cooperated in a new effort,"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"Socrates making interrogatory suggestions that were accepted"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"or rejected by his friend. They failed to solve the problem, but,"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"now conscious of their lack of knowledge, agreed to continue"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"the search whenever possible (p. 483).”1"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" "},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"“Profoundly sensible of the inconsistencies of his own thoughts"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"and words and actions, and shrewdly suspecting that the like"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"inconsistencies were to be found in other men, he was careful"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"always to place himself upon the standpoint of ignorance and to"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"invite others to join him there, in order that, proving all things,"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":"he and they might hold fast to that which is good (p. 332).”2"},{"attributes":{"indent":2},"insert":"\n"},{"insert":" \nPeople with a high degree of intellectual humility (and they are rare) understand that there is far more that they will never know than they will ever know. They continually seek to learn more, to develop their intellectual abilities, and to expand their knowledge base, always with a healthy awareness of the limits of their knowledge.\n \n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"Be on the lookout for…"},{"insert":"\n… intellectual arrogance in the way you function day to day, the tendency to confidently assert as true what you do not in fact know to be true. Try to discover the limitations and biases of your sources of information. Question those who speak with authority. Question the information they use in their arguments, the information they ignore, the information they distort. Question what you read and see in the media. Notice the confidence with which “the news” is asserted. Question the sources that “produce”\nthe news. Whenever you feel inclined to make a bold statement, stop and ask how much you really know about what you’re asserting.\n\n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"Strategies for developing intellectual humility:"},{"insert":"\n1. When you cannot find sufficient evidence that proves your belief to be true, begin by saying: “I may be wrong, but what I think is…” or “Up to this point, I have believed…” or “Based on my limited knowledge in this area, I would say…”.\n\n2. Notice when you argue for beliefs without evidence to justify them. Recognize why you are doing this.\n\n3. Actively question beliefs that seem obviously true to you, especially deeply held beliefs such as religious, cultural, or political beliefs.\n\n4. Find alternative sources of information that represent viewpoints you have never considered.\n\n5. Don’t be afraid to “explore” new beliefs, and hence, be open to new insights.\n\n6. Make a list of everything you absolutely know about someone you think you know well. Then make a list of things you think are true about that person, but that you cannot be absolutely sure about. Then make a list of things you do not know about that person. Then, if you can trust the person, show him or her the list to see how accurate you are. What insights emerge for you after you get feedback on such lists?\n \n"},{"attributes":{"bold":true},"insert":"Questions you might ask to identify weaknesses in your thinking:"},{"insert":"\n• What do I truly know (about myself, about this or that situation, about another person, about my nation, about what is going on in the world)?\n• To what extent do my prejudices or biases influence my thinking?\n• To what extent have I been indoctrinated into beliefs that might be false?\n• How do the beliefs I have accepted uncritically keep me from seeing things as they are?\n• Do I ever think outside the box (of my culture, nation, religion, and so on)?\n• How knowledgeable am I about alternative belief systems?\n• How have my beliefs been shaped by the time period in which I was born, by the place in which I was raised, by my parents’ beliefs, by my spouse’s beliefs, and by my religion, culture, politics, and so on?\n \n1. Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 1972.\n2. Encyclopedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, 1911, Cambridge, England: the\nUniversity Press.\n\nThis blog piece was adapted from "},{"attributes":{"italic":true},"insert":"30 Days to Better Thinking and Better Living"},{"insert":" by Linda Elder and Richard Paul, 2013, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, pp. 47-50.\n"}]}

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