“We know with confidence only when we know little; with knowledge doubt increases” (adapted from JW von Goethe). Discuss this statement with reference to two areas of knowledge.
“We know with confidence only when we know little; with knowledge doubt increases” – JW von Goethe. Therefore, I can only be certain about something when my range of information is limited, while if I were to have a wider range of information available to me, I would have less confidence in my ideas. The two subject areas I will be exploring in this essay are history and religious knowledge systems. In my history classes, I have found that events are often taught as a superficial representation of facts. However, once historical events are examined more closely, there appears to be several different explanations for the same event. A prime example of this is the claim that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand started World War I. However, when examined more closely, there appears to be several other leading factors to the onset of the war, such as globally expanding militarism and nationalism.
Therefore, in this case, greater knowledge does not necessarily increase doubt, but actually
increases my acceptance of more knowledge; it makes me more confident that there is more than one answer. A similar situation occurs in religious knowledge systems. Raised in a religious household, I have grown up as a Catholic. As a result, I find myself using my faith to give myself the confidence in what I personally believe in. Even with an increase of other knowledge about science or other people’s perspectives such as Darwin’s theory of evolution, my beliefs are still not shaken, because I have confidence in my faith. Therefore, although it may be supported by other subject areas, my personal experiences in history and religion have shown that greater knowledge does not necessarily lead to greater doubt, but allow for an improved understanding of acceptance.
Considering the historic body of knowledge, the increase of knowledge leads to a greater confidence with which one may draw conclusions from all the information and details made available. In the field of study where even the tiniest details may effect for certain facts are perceived and interpreted, it is crucial that one makes all the effort to obtain all the knowledge he or she can before jumping to conclusions. The more knowledge is available to test certain historian’s assumption about what has happened at the given place on the given day, the stronger is one’s confidence that he or she has made the right conclusion.
For instance, identifying one plausible but limited explanation of what caused the Great Depression may be a simple, elegant, and appealing way to explain this phenomenon. However, identifying one possible cause and attempting to explain everything by appealing to this single cause may in fact cast doubt on the quality of this explanation as sooner or later historians, social scientists, and the general public will inevitably spot certain inconsistencies between the known facts and this simple explanation. Instead, accounting for all the known facts and details when trying to explain the Great Depression will increase the confidence associated with this conclusion. Hence, when it comes to history, the increase of knowledge actually allows the historians to draw better-informed conclusions and to build confidence regarding their accuracy.
Some might argue that the increase of knowledge might cast doubt on what is already known because the new facts inevitably introduce a new point of view on the old issues. I have to admit that this statement might prove true but only if one is set up for protecting the old or traditional account of historical events and not for reaching accurate knowledge. Historians may feel that what they already know about some event or about a certain period in history is shaken with the revealing of new facts. However, honest historians who are dedicated to restoring an objective account of the past would view this new knowledge as an opportunity to reconsider certain conclusions and present the world with a more accurate interpretation of the past events. They would not treat the new knowledge with hostility as if it ruins something they created. After all, the scholarly study of history is aimed at reaching truth and objectivity, not at creating persuasive stories people would believe in.
In the case of the religious body of knowledge, the increase of knowledge also does not necessarily lead to doubt. Instead, for a person with strong faith, all new knowledge offers an opportunity to widen their understanding of God and His ways. Each new fact about the world around me helps to strengthen my faith by offering the chance to reason and contemplate in search of an explanation that would be consistent with my religious worldview. If anything, my religious upbringing encourages being curious and open-minded about the world around me, even if certain subjects I dwell on may seem contradictory to how Christianity views the world. In the end, my beliefs stay unshaken and even get stronger as I gain new knowledge.
Critics might argue that gaining new knowledge may lead one to abandon his religious beliefs. I have to admit that this may be true for some people, especially for those for whom their religious beliefs represent merely a convenient worldview they adopted from their parents or some other significant others. However, for the person who consciously and honestly believes, new knowledge rarely contradicts his faith. In the end, confident faith always allows one to be open to other intellectual experiences while remaining strong and unshaken at the same time.
In the world that is obsessed with knowledge and information, the doubt does not increase with knowledge. On the contrary, we are constantly pursuing new knowledge and dwell on matters we know little about to be confident in the conclusions and decisions we make. We value the security offered by the sense of confidence and therefore we look to find out everything we can about a certain thing to have some real, objective support for this confidence. Equipped with powerful learning approaches and tools of the modern world, we look to know as much as we can about the topics of interest precisely to build confidence in our knowledge and understanding as accurate knowledge is the biggest asset in the modern world. Perhaps, in the time of JW von Goethe certain people did derive power and influence out of people’s confidence in the limited knowledge they had which could have been shaken by any new piece of knowledge they obtained. Yet, in today’s world, this approach is neither possible nor successful as knowledge is more accessible and valuable than ever. Therefore, considering the state of affairs in today’s world it is difficult to agree that doubt increases with knowledge.
Drawing conclusions, the claim the knowledge increases doubt does not stand up to a critical exploration of its relevance to history and religions body knowledge. In history, the more knowledge is available regarding a certain matter, the more confident the scholar can be about the conclusions he reaches. Hence, knowledge increases confidence and helps to safeguard certain conclusions from doubt. In the case of religion, too, knowledge does not necessarily shake one’s beliefs. Instead, it may help with building confidence in one’s faith, as it is true for myself. Overall, today is not the time to avoid increasing one’s knowledge because of the fears of doubt, but it is high time to seek new knowledge to obtain confidence in what we know and understand.