Ignorance & Agnosticism

Sunday, 3 April 2011

There isn’t a lot of dif­fer­ence be­tween the root mean­ings of ig­no­rant and ag­nos­tic; but there is a vast dif­fer­ence in their mod­ern con­no­ta­tions. Ignorance is es­sen­tially the re­sult of hold­ing a point of view due to lack of facts or a rea­son­able thought process. For the most part, it is a pas­sive sit­u­a­tion. We are, by na­ture, ig­no­rant. At some point in our de­vel­op­ment as peo­ple, we reach a place where we have a choice to re­main ig­no­rant or to ed­u­cate our­selves on a given topic. Since ed­u­ca­tion is al­ways a dif­fi­cult task, it’s of­ten eas­ier to re­main ig­no­rant, and mask that ig­no­rance by ac­cept­ing what­ever po­si­tion ap­peals most uniquely to our­selves and then sound­ing au­thor­i­ta­tive about it.

Agnosticism is a bit of a dif­fer­ent beast. I can see two ways of defin­ing ag­nos­ti­cism, but they both have the same re­sult. The first an­gle is the re­sult of hav­ing plenty of facts about a cer­tain topic, but when ap­ply­ing rea­son to those facts, there is in­suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to meet the stan­dards of rea­son set by the mind try­ing to make that judg­ment call. The re­sult is ab­sten­tion from mak­ing a de­ci­sion. The sec­ond an­gle is a bit broader in its ap­pli­ca­tion and ef­fects. It prob­a­bly shouldn’t even be called ag­nos­ti­cism, but I can’t think of an­other word that fits. It is a gen­eral prin­ci­ple of which any fact-gath­er­ing and sub­se­quent de­ci­sion is a speci­fic case.

What I’m try­ing to say is that once some­one has cho­sen to ed­u­cate them­selves, and if they do so ag­nos­ti­cally (gath­er­ing facts but mak­ing no judg­ment), at some point it is pos­si­ble to be ag­nos­tic about any topic on which you are ig­no­rant. Once you’ve come to the con­clu­sion that you’re ag­nos­tic about a few things, you can start to as­sume ag­nos­ti­cism about any topic in­stead of ig­no­rance.

Here’s a speci­fic case:

I went to the shoot­ing range with some cowork­ers to­day. I hadn’t used a firearm in over 20 years, and through­out my life those clos­est to me have had ig­no­rant views re­gard­ing firearms. Guns are bad, full stop. I could have cho­sen to ac­cept that for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons, but my knowl­edge didn’t meet the stan­dard for me to make that de­ci­sion. So, I re­mained ag­nos­tic about guns. I needed more in­for­ma­tion, so I went to the shoot­ing range with my cowork­ers and learned more. I’m still ag­nos­tic right now, or rather, I still haven’t fully thought through my feel­ings on the mat­ter.

By rec­og­niz­ing my ig­no­rance, I was able to turn it into ag­nos­ti­cism. I will make no judg­ment un­til I feel that I know enough to do so.

Agnosticism is ba­si­cally the stance of open-mind­ed­ness. It is ca­pa­ble of see­ing both sides and none, is sym­pa­thetic, em­pa­thetic and the in­her­ently most re­spect­ful po­si­tion to take on a topic where one is not an ex­pert. It is hard to be an ag­nos­tic though; es­pe­cially in re­gards to re­li­gion. You get caught be­tween the mys­tics (like my­self and other be­liev­ers) and the skep­tics. So it goes for re­li­gion, and so it goes for any other topic.

Fidelity to your own stan­dard of truth is hard to hold on to when you’re a big hair­less mon­key that like to con­vince and be con­vinced with all the other hair­less mon­keys in your world.

Applied Philosophy

Saturday, 25 May 2002


i know why i like an­thro­pol­ogy so much. i think i have fi­nally un­der­stood the holism of an­thro­pol­ogy. an­thro­pol­ogy is ap­plied phi­los­o­phy. i’ve read so many things that de­scribe types of be­hav­ior and dis­cus­sions of what de­fines re­al­ity, etc that seem to­tally un­aware that an­thro­pol­o­gists deal with these con­cepts as a mat­ter of course, not only meta­phys­i­cal, but doc­u­mented and ob­served in a va­ri­ety of cul­tures. i was dis­cussing with Hani the other day about con­cep­tions of re­al­ity and this man named Rorty says every­one has their own re­al­ity, some­thing sim­i­lar is posited in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. i heard/​read these things and thought…of course! the re­al­ity i know is struc­tured from the so­ci­ety and mythos i am sur­rounded by. my re­la­tion­ship as sub­ject to ob­ject, “Quality” in the book, is de­ter­mined by the as­so­ci­a­tions learned and ex­pe­ri­enced by ex­is­tence. those who are ter­med ‘in­sane’ are those whose learn­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence have formed ana­logues that are sig­nif­i­cantly dif­fer­ent from the so­ci­etal norm. their re­al­ity is not invalid…just dif­fer­ent. the con­flict arises be­cause the re­al­i­ties can­not co­ex­ist and re­main in har­mony.

af­ter that di­gres­sion i will at­tempt to be suc­cinct.

i think when­ever a new philo­soph­i­cal ar­gu­ment arises, the per­son who comes up with it should head to their lo­cal an­thro­pol­o­gist to find out if there is doc­u­men­ta­tion of the be­lief sys­tem in the re­ally real world.

chances are there is.

the more i shuf­fle my an­thro­po­log­i­cal knowl­edge and sup­ple­ment it with other forms, the more i un­der­stand what the hell hu­mans are.