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.