How Little We Know and Can Know: Epistemological Modesty in The Social Animal

A wonderfully relevant passage from David Brooks’ terrific book The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources […]

David Zahl / 4.14.11

A wonderfully relevant passage from David Brooks’ terrific book The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement, ht NM:

Epistemology is the study of how we know what we know. Epistemological modesty is the knowledge of how little we know and can know.

Epistemological modesty is an attitude toward 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 understanding others… Not fully understanding others, we cannot get to the bottom of circumstances… 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.

And yet this humble attitude doesn’t necessarily produce passivity. Epistemological modesty is a disposition for action. The people with this disposition believe that wisdom begins with an awareness of our own ignorance.

The modest disposition begins with the recognition that there is no one method for solving problems. It’s important to rely on the quantitative and rational analysis. But that gives you part of the truth, not the whole. – pg 245-46

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYmIkiaR9oc&w=600]

COMMENTS


12 responses to “How Little We Know and Can Know: Epistemological Modesty in The Social Animal

  1. Orrey says:

    But are we pawns in a game whose Triforce we largely fail to comprehend?

  2. Tom says:

    And yet, we have science, medicine, architecture, engineering, literature, and the other not inconsiderable achievements of western civilization. Surely one would call these, in part at least, the fruits of rationality successfully brought to bear on reality. If so, what lesson ought we to draw from our susceptibility to error of various kinds? We cannot simply give up on our efforts to be rational, can we?

  3. Todd says:

    Ha, Orrey, the Triforce? I’m sure that the triforce is both revealed and known (Gal. 4.6.), though the ‘other’ force of Sin complicates things, to be sure.

  4. On The Mark says:

    Given no more than this tiny post to go on, I must say Epistemological Modesty sounds a lot like Relativism.

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