As stated
by JW von Goethe, “We know with
confidence only when we know little; with knowledge doubt increases.” This
statement is somewhat similar to what we now commonly refer to as “Ignorance is bliss.” By deliberately
not learning the full extent of a certain subject, you are preventing more
knowledge to get in, knowledge which could possibly lead to doubts. We prefer
to 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 arise
within ourselves – between what we know as “the truth” and what we have
learned. The two key factors in the statement is knowledge and doubt, because
these two aspects come together, and often lead to one another, since no
knowledge is without doubt, and doubt is the foundation in which knowledge is
formed. There is little knowledge that is concrete in its truthfulness, because
as we evolve we start to see the cracks in former knowledge and will seek out
to improve it with what new things we have learned. This leads to the question
of this essay: “How do we know our knowledge is valid?” To answer this question
and 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 see
Ethics as only black and white, in a sense that if you have done something
wrong 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 grey
morality exists. Simply by knowing someone did a bad thing, we are inclined to
see them as a bad person; but if there are reasonable justifications for their
actions, the thing can appear less bad, maybe even good in terms of the
context. By knowing more about a crime, sometimes you are less sure of whether the
person 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 right
or wrong. When you know more about a criminal’s circumstances that caused them
to do the crime, especially if it is not a big crime, we can form more opinions
about them and how they should be treated for their crimes. It can still be
conflicting because sometimes the crimes cannot be erased despite the good
intentions, which is the cause of confusion and doubt. This is an example that
the statement by JW von Goethe is correct, since when we know little, we are
sure the person is a criminal, but as we learn more and more about their
history and reasons, we become less convinced.

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Of course the
statement is not correct simply because it fits with one situation, because
there are some cases that the grey morality previously discussed is invalid or
nonexistent. While grey morality exists to help justify certain actions, it
definitely doesn’t excuse or erase them. In certain cases, while knowing more
helps you understand the reasoning behind a criminal’s actions, it also helps
proof that they are guilty, and even further solidifying that the action is
bad. 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 more
about the criminals’ past wrong behaviors, it is easier to draw a solid
conclusion that what they’ve done is wrong. It is not so easy to ignore or
defend 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 reasoning
behind it also works when judging their innocence. Even if they’ve done nothing
wrong in the past, if their actions now are only because of their bigotry and
not reason, especially if we know more about the said bigotry, will further
confirm their gilt. This is a case where the statement made by JW von Goethe is
wrong, because the more we know, the more we are sure that the said criminal is
guilty and that their actions are in fact unethical.

 

Not unlike
Ethics, 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 next
with regards to JW von Goethe’s statement, because it is the perfect example of
why and how it fits with said statement but also deviates from it. Everything
we now know has been through a long and painstaking progress of experiments and
research, what we now know has been the object of many discussions and
disagreements for it to be where it is today. With the ever changing
technology, we are able to learn things that we never knew before, and with
more knowledge comes conflict, because in a lot of cases it will be different
from what we expected. This is what cause the different knowledge we now have
compared to thousands of years ago. Humans all believed in flat Earth until
they started to be able to travel the world, which opened their knowledge but
also is evidence that their much believed theory is wrong. This caused many
conflicts and confusion back in the day, because they didn’t want to change
what they have known for so long, and they did not want their knowledge to be
challenged. The more discoveries we make, the more we start to realize that
some 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 example
that 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 statement
is wrong. The more discoveries we make, the more knowledge we obtain, that is a
fact. But how that knowledge affect us is different in certain cases. It can be
a cause for debate and confusion like previously mentioned, or it can only be
more concrete proof to what we know. There are certain things we know that are
not quite so clear, but with more and more knowledge backing it up, we can be
sure that the main knowledge we have is correct. Scientists form hypotheses,
and they research to find proof that their hypothesis is correct. In these
cases, 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. While
conflict and doubt is the basis that fixes a lot of knowledge and turn them to
the correct knowledge that we have nowadays, it is not always the case, because
sometimes you only need more proof to validate the knowledge that is already
there. In this case, more knowledge does not lead to doubt, but actually lead
to more confidence instead.

 

In
conclusion, while JW von Goethe’s statement can be proven to be correct, it can
also be proven to be wrong. This is mostly because like most knowledge, nothing
can 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 be
directly be related together, because there are knowledge that are correct on
its 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. What
we do with more knowledge can depend on each individual, we can take it with a
grain of salt because we don’t believe it instantly, we can take it in and
start to doubt ourselves and our knowledge – like as stated by JW von Goethe, or
we can take that knowledge and improve it alongside ours – because the more we
know the better it is – because we can continuously improve ourselves and our
knowledge, after all it is what we have been doing for most of our lives.