In this post, Professor and Chair of Philosophy at Gettysburg College, Daniel DeNicola, introduces his just-released book, Understanding Ignorance: The Surprising Impact of What We Do Not Know (MIT, August 2017). He writes on a range of ethical and epistemic issues, usually related to education. His new book grew from an earlier work, Learning to Flourish: A Philosophical Exploration of Liberal Education (Continuum/Bloomsbury, 2012).
Ignorance, it seems, is trending. Political ignorance has become some so severe that the democratic ideal of an informed citizenry seems quaint. Willful ignorance is the social diagnosis of the moment: critics found to be implicated in prejudice, privilege, ideology, and information cocoons. Ignorance is used both as accusation and excuse. In the broadest sense, it is a ineluctable feature of the human condition.
And yet, philosophers have ignored ignorance. While occupied with the sources and structure of knowledge, epistemologists for centuries have dismissed ignorance as simply the negation of the proposition, “S knows that p.”
Within the last two decades, however, scholarship on various aspects of ignorance has popped up in several disciplines. My book, Understanding Ignorance, draws on these multi-disciplinary works and presents what is likely the first comprehensive, philosophical treatment of ignorance—comprehensive, in that it addresses conceptual, epistemological, ethical, and social dimensions.
My explication is organized by four spatial metaphors: ignorance as a place or state, as boundary, as limit, and as horizon. Among the topics discussed are the relation of ignorance and innocence, the technique of mapping our ignorance, and our intellectual tools for ignorance management. I also offer a critique of “the virtues of ignorance” as proposed by various writers.