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Editor's Note: I seldom hear anyone admit how little they know. In a world where everyone seems to be trying to sell something, admitting how little one knows doesn't seem to be a popular way to build confidence in oneself. This excerpt from the brilliant Nobel Prize winning Austrian born social philosopher, Friedrich A. Hayek is one statement of how little we know that makes the argument convincingly to me.
In the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is important to recognize how little we know because without being humble, we often do not welcome being taught. And there is so much to learn. Additionally, when we hear or read what others say or write in criticism of the Gospel and the Church, we can easily question how much the speaker or the author knows and realizing how little he or she knows helps us evaluate the validity of what we have heard or read.
Excerpts from The Constitution of Liberty, Chapter Two by Friedrich A. Hayek, The Creative Powers of a Free Civilization
It must be admitted, however, that our ignorance is a peculiarly difficult subject to discuss. It might at first even seem impossible by definition to talk sense about it. We certainly cannot discuss intelligently something about which we know nothing. We must at least be able to state the questions even if we do not know the answers. This requires some genuine knowledge of the kind of world we are discussing. If we are to understand how society works, we must attempt to define the general nature and range of our ignorance concerning it. Though we cannot see in the dark, we must be able to trace the limits of the dark areas.
Man prides himself on the increase in his knowledge. But, as a result of what he himself has created, the limitations of his conscious knowledge and therefore the range of ignorance significant for his conscious action have constantly increased. Ever since the beginning of modern science, the best minds have recognized that "the range of acknowledged ignorance will grow with the advance of science."' Unfortunately, the popular effect of this scientific advance has been a belief, seemingly shared by many scientists, that the range of our ignorance is steadily diminishing and that we can therefore aim at more comprehensive and deliberate control of all human activities. It is for this reason that those intoxicated by the advance of knowledge so often become the enemies of freedom. While the growth of our knowledge of nature constantly discloses new realms of ignorance, the increasing complexity of the civilization which this knowledge enables us to build presents new obstacles to the intellectual comprehension of the world around us. The more men know, the smaller the share of all that knowledge becomes that any one mind can absorb. The more civilized we become, the more relatively ignorant must each individual be of the facts on which the working of his civilization depends. The very division of knowledge increases the necessary ignorance of the individual of most of this knowledge.
It is because every individual knows so little and, in particular, because we rarely know which of us knows best that we trust the independent and competitive efforts of many to induce the emergence of what we shall want when we see it.
Humiliating to human pride as it may be, we must recognize that the advance and even the preservation of civilization are dependent upon a maximum of opportunity for accidents to happen."
All political theories assume, of course, that most individuals are very ignorant. Those who plead for liberty differ from the rest in that they include among the ignorant themselves as well as the wisest. Compared with the totality of knowledge which is continually utilized in the evolution of a dynamic civilization, the difference between the knowledge that the wisest and that which the most ignorant individual can deliberately employ is comparatively insignificant.