Apologies. I'm not sure what I'm asking and I'm not a philosopher.

It's about knowledge acquisition.

If you lack knowledge about a certain subject it's difficult to evaluate the quality of the answers you receive for questions regarding that subject.

However, as I notice participating of StackExchange's Q&A sites, one can actually affirm an answer or combination of answers did improve her knowledge on the given subject. She can even measure (subjectively) how far an answer improved her understanding of that problem compared to or combined with other answers.

So up to a point we can effectively say our knowledge improves even if we are mostly ignorant in that subject. Perhaps we cannot tell for sure if what we have read is true, only that it did improve our understanding given our current knowledge.

I think my question is, how does that compare with Socrates' saying, "All I know is that there is nothing I know" (or similar saying, sorry. I'm translating from my native language).

What I mean is, isn't it conflicting that the more we know the less knowing we are, while on the other hand it seems that we can effectively (apparently) measure our knowledge acquisition?

And is it true that we can assure we are learning more about a subject even if we are mostly ignorant about it (in the sense that we will naturally have difficulty evaluating that)?

Any appealing introductory material on the subject for the layman?


2 Answers 2


The recent literature on epistemology has sought to differentiate between knowing and understanding. Understanding is taken to be a higher-order epistemic achievement with respect to knowledge. My knowing p is not sufficient for my understanding p, but it is necessary.

I think that what you're trying to get at is that the more I understand, the less I think that I know. And this might point to some grander point about all that there is to know. Objectual understanding (understanding of a particular subject) is said to have been reached when one truly grasps the relation between propositions, not just the propositions themselves. What might be said then, is that the more we understand about a subject the more we know how small the amount of knowledge we have is in relation to the whole subject matter.

Consider a map. I spend all my time focusing on the river. It flows north to south and empties into a body of water nearby, but I'm not really paying attention to that. Trout swim in the river and during certain seasons even attempt to swim up stream to get to their mating grounds. I know all there is to know about this river. Now once I take a step back from my intensive study of this river, I notice that the body it empties into is a lake. I notice that the river fertilizes the ground nearby and farmers use it to irrigate their crops. While I previously could be said to know things about the river, the higher-order cognitive achievement of understanding things about the river was only reached when I grasped the relation of the river to nearby geography and people.


The things you say are true only in certain ways and only up to a point.

It can be true that the more you read about a subject, the more vast you discover it is, and therefore you realise that you know even less about it than you first thought. In that case, your absolute knowledge of a subject has increased, but so has your estimate of how much is still to be learned, so in that sense you could say that your assessment of your relative knowledge of the subject has decreased.

When you learn a new subject, unless it is extremely esoteric, there is usually a wealth of published material about it from sources that are taken to be reliable, so you can compare your new knowledge and insights against the published sources, and therefore have some measure of confidence that you are making good progress. Of course, good, in that sense, simply means that your knowledge agrees with conventional wisdom, and if the conventional wisdom proves to be wrong, then your new knowledge will turn out to be wrong too. Then there are some forms of knowledge that don't have reliable sources, because they are effectively related to matters of opinion or judgement. You can, for example, read much about literary criticism and thus increase your knowledge in that field, but what you are learning for certain is just what some critics say about some books, and there is no reason to suppose that one critic's opinion is more valid than any other.

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