As statedby JW von Goethe, “We know withconfidence only when we know little; with knowledge doubt increases.” Thisstatement is somewhat similar to what we now commonly refer to as “Ignorance is bliss.” By deliberatelynot learning the full extent of a certain subject, you are preventing moreknowledge to get in, knowledge which could possibly lead to doubts.
We preferto stay in the dark on certain subjects, because we do not want to be wrong,because we know that the more we learn, the more conflict will start to arisewithin ourselves – between what we know as “the truth” and what we havelearned. The two key factors in the statement is knowledge and doubt, becausethese two aspects come together, and often lead to one another, since noknowledge is without doubt, and doubt is the foundation in which knowledge isformed. There is little knowledge that is concrete in its truthfulness, becauseas we evolve we start to see the cracks in former knowledge and will seek outto improve it with what new things we have learned. This leads to the questionof this essay: “How do we know our knowledge is valid?” To answer this questionand prove to the initial statement, I will be using the two areas of knowledge:Ethics and Human Sciences. In Ethics,we use our knowledge to see what is right and what is wrong. People often seeEthics as only black and white, in a sense that if you have done somethingwrong then you are a bad person.
That is not the case most of the times,because humans are complex in our thoughts and actions, which is why greymorality exists. Simply by knowing someone did a bad thing, we are inclined tosee them as a bad person; but if there are reasonable justifications for theiractions, the thing can appear less bad, maybe even good in terms of thecontext. By knowing more about a crime, sometimes you are less sure of whether theperson convicted is actually guilty or not, which is why it is called “grey”morality in the first place, since it’s not exactly concrete that it is rightor wrong.
When you know more about a criminal’s circumstances that caused themto do the crime, especially if it is not a big crime, we can form more opinionsabout them and how they should be treated for their crimes. It can still beconflicting because sometimes the crimes cannot be erased despite the goodintentions, which is the cause of confusion and doubt. This is an example thatthe statement by JW von Goethe is correct, since when we know little, we aresure the person is a criminal, but as we learn more and more about theirhistory and reasons, we become less convinced. Of course thestatement is not correct simply because it fits with one situation, becausethere are some cases that the grey morality previously discussed is invalid ornonexistent.
While grey morality exists to help justify certain actions, itdefinitely doesn’t excuse or erase them. In certain cases, while knowing morehelps you understand the reasoning behind a criminal’s actions, it also helpsproof that they are guilty, and even further solidifying that the action isbad. This is in cases where the reasoning behind the criminal’s action are not”pure of heart”, but in fact riddled with hatred and bigotry. By knowing moreabout the criminals’ past wrong behaviors, it is easier to draw a solidconclusion that what they’ve done is wrong. It is not so easy to ignore ordefend a person’s actions when you already know their history of doing wrong.Even when there’s no “bad history” attached with the criminal, the reasoningbehind it also works when judging their innocence. Even if they’ve done nothingwrong in the past, if their actions now are only because of their bigotry andnot reason, especially if we know more about the said bigotry, will furtherconfirm their gilt. This is a case where the statement made by JW von Goethe iswrong, because the more we know, the more we are sure that the said criminal isguilty and that their actions are in fact unethical.
Not unlikeEthics, Nature Sciences is another Area of Knowledge that is always changing.The ever changing status of it is what makes it suitable to be discussed nextwith regards to JW von Goethe’s statement, because it is the perfect example ofwhy and how it fits with said statement but also deviates from it. Everythingwe now know has been through a long and painstaking progress of experiments andresearch, what we now know has been the object of many discussions anddisagreements for it to be where it is today. With the ever changingtechnology, we are able to learn things that we never knew before, and withmore knowledge comes conflict, because in a lot of cases it will be differentfrom what we expected. This is what cause the different knowledge we now havecompared to thousands of years ago. Humans all believed in flat Earth untilthey started to be able to travel the world, which opened their knowledge butalso is evidence that their much believed theory is wrong. This caused manyconflicts and confusion back in the day, because they didn’t want to changewhat they have known for so long, and they did not want their knowledge to bechallenged.
The more discoveries we make, the more we start to realize thatsome things aren’t as we seemed – and that is always the source of confusion –but also the basis for better, more solid knowledge. This is another examplethat proves that JW von Goethe’s statement is right. Of course,the same examples given before can also be proof that JW von Goethe’s statementis wrong. The more discoveries we make, the more knowledge we obtain, that is afact. But how that knowledge affect us is different in certain cases.
It can bea cause for debate and confusion like previously mentioned, or it can only bemore concrete proof to what we know. There are certain things we know that arenot quite so clear, but with more and more knowledge backing it up, we can besure that the main knowledge we have is correct. Scientists form hypotheses,and they research to find proof that their hypothesis is correct. In thesecases, the more the know might in fact be more clarity than confusion to them,because after all, this now “knowledge” has just proven them right. Whileconflict and doubt is the basis that fixes a lot of knowledge and turn them tothe correct knowledge that we have nowadays, it is not always the case, becausesometimes you only need more proof to validate the knowledge that is alreadythere. In this case, more knowledge does not lead to doubt, but actually leadto more confidence instead. Inconclusion, while JW von Goethe’s statement can be proven to be correct, it canalso be proven to be wrong.
This is mostly because like most knowledge, nothingcan be absolutely correct all the times, and the same holds for this statement.While knowledge and doubt goes hand in hand, it does not always have to bedirectly be related together, because there are knowledge that are correct onits own and does not need to be challenged. These knowledge are like our”common sense”, and in most cases we don’t need to doubt our common sense. Whatwe do with more knowledge can depend on each individual, we can take it with agrain of salt because we don’t believe it instantly, we can take it in andstart to doubt ourselves and our knowledge – like as stated by JW von Goethe, orwe can take that knowledge and improve it alongside ours – because the more weknow the better it is – because we can continuously improve ourselves and ourknowledge, after all it is what we have been doing for most of our lives.