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Socratic Knowledge of Ignorance vs. Descartes’ Doubt Essay

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Updated: Aug 17th, 2020

The value of Socratic doubt or “knowledge of ignorance”

Throughout history, the most prominent wise men admitted their ignorance while the others considered them the smartest. The recognition of your own lack of knowledge, in my opinion, is an advantage that allows seeing things deeply and invokes a more profound understanding of nature and life. In this regard, knowledge can be viewed as intellectual frames. It is very solid, and it creates preconceptions and prejudices in the human mind. On the contrary, when a person accepts his or her ignorance, the mind becomes free of all constraints. The mind of an ignorant person, therefore, is more flexible and perceptive. When you are perceptive and free of the previously formed beliefs, you become open and, no matter how contradictory it may sound, more intelligent.

The dangers of this kind of doubt

In the modern and rapidly developing world, the value of knowledge is ubiquitously praised. The new technologies appear, the scientists discover new phenomena, and the flow of information is ever-changing. Although ignorance helps to be perceptive, it is harmful when applied in the wrong way. There are basically two ways to apply it wrongly: the first one makes a person insecure and diffident under the high demands of the present-day society, and the other one literally causes the intellectual degradation and loss of the ability to sense and comprehend.

In the first case, an ignorant person simply can’t keep up to the pace of changes and suffers from the inability to cope with things in the various aspects of life: social, professional, and personal. This kind of ignorance creates a lack of confidence in person; it causes low performance and psychological oppression. However, a person can improve these states by studying and training and ultimately grow knowledgeable and smart. And if a person becomes really intelligent he or she eventually recognizes the value of doubt and ignorance and then accepts it in the right way.

The situation is much worse when a person earnestly believes in his or her knowledge and becomes unable to take into account the opposite opinions and views. Life consists of millions of variations, and each person has his own worldview and unique mindset. The strong conviction in own rightness thus deprives of the opportunity to comprehend the vastness and beauty of life and to wonder. A person with strong convictions is usually tense and loses all the liveliness. The absence of freedom to understand is the real stupidity.

How might “knowledge of ignorance” about death inspires courage in the face of death

There are numerous conceptions of life after death in the cultures of the world. Religious beliefs affect people in their lives and often instill them with the fear of death. Unlike the majority of people, Socrates saw a great meaning and purpose in “search into true and false knowledge” with an immense determination (Plato 12). He was an authentic truth seeker, and being a seeker of truth means to be constantly aware and conscious. It requires a skill of receiving any knowledge with judgment and doubt. The seeker of truth cognizes the world through his or her personal experience; the mere acceptance of the knowledge of others is not enough. Since the real knowledge of death and life after it is not available during the lifetime, the only way to obtain this knowledge is to experience it. For such people like Socrates, death is one more opportunity to find the truth. And the strong urge to find it inspires with great courage.

Socrates considered that body creates hindrances for attaining genuine wisdom with its continuous lusts, fears, and desires. Socrates claimed the soul has the truth in itself, but the body prevents the perfect comprehension of it. “While in the company with the body, the soul cannot have pure knowledge, one of the two things follows – either knowledge is not to be attained at all, or, if at all, after death” (Plato 43). This opinion is rather idealistic yet it gives courage while facing death and helps to pass through it with the awareness.

Socrates’ knowledge of ignorance with the radical doubt of Descartes in his Meditations

Descartes and Socrates attempted to find truth through doubt, but their approaches are slightly different. They both emphasized the importance of experience and examination of the received information. However, Descartes’ perception seems to be rather based on negating. The issues Descartes investigated were of the metaphysical character, and he contrasted the things that he believed to be imagining or real. He admitted that the human mind is prone to false perceptions and that the true cognition is thus impossible. Socrates’ knowledge of ignorance seems to be more holistic. According to Socrates’ perspective, wisdom can be attained through self-cognition. When full self-knowledge is attained a person becomes aware of the futility of any knowledge.

The philosophers applied judgment and doubt as to the instruments for finding the truth. Nevertheless, Socrates and Descartes come to different conclusions. For example, Descartes settles in the idea of God while Socrates can’t find it evident enough until it is experienced. Descartes’ cognition is of mind while Socrates attempts to experience knowledge with the whole being. However, the fact that both of the philosophers perceived the consciousness and soul as the sources of the superior wisdom and measured knowledge according to this idea can be regarded as the similarities of two philosophical views.

Works Cited

Plato. Apology, Marblehead, MA: Trajectory, 2014. Print.

Plato. Phaedo, New York, NY: Start Publishing, 2012. Print.

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