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Ignorance is trending. Politicians boast, "I'm not a scientist". Angry citizens object to a proposed state motto because it is in Latin, and "This is America, not Mexico or Latin America". Lack of experience, not expertise, becomes a credential. Fake news and repeated falsehoods are accepted and shape firm belief. Ignorance about American government and history is so alarming that the ideal of an informed citizenry now seems quaint. Conspiracy theories and false knowledge thrive. This may be the Information Age, but we do not seem to be well informed. In Understanding Ignorance, philosopher Daniel DeNicola explores ignorance – its abundance, its endurance, and its consequences.
DeNicola aims to understand ignorance, which seems at first paradoxical. How can the unknown become known – and still be unknown? But he argues that ignorance is more than a lack or a void, and that it has dynamic and complex interactions with knowledge. Taking a broadly philosophical approach, DeNicola examines many forms of ignorance, using the metaphors of ignorance as place, boundary, limit, and horizon. He treats willful ignorance and describes the culture in which ignorance becomes an ideological stance. He discusses the ethics of ignorance, including the right not to know, considers the supposed virtues of ignorance, and concludes that there are situations in which ignorance is morally good.
Ignorance is neither pure nor simple. It is both an accusation and a defense ("You are ignorant!" "Yes, but I didn't know!"). Its practical effects range from the inconsequential to the momentous. It is a scourge, but, DeNicola argues daringly, it may also be a refuge, a value, even an accompaniment to virtue.
Daniel R. DeNicola is Chair and Professor of Philosophy at Gettysburg College and the author of Learning to Flourish: A Philosophical Exploration of Liberal Education.
"A wonderfully engaging and thoughtful treatment of a topic that one simply ought not to be ignorant of."
– Duncan Pritchard, Professor of Philosophy, University of Edinburgh; author of Epistemic Angst: Radical Skepticism and the Groundlessness of Our Believing
"What do we need to know? What are our epistemic obligations as philosophers and as citizens? In this important book, Dan DeNicola charts varieties of ignorance – culpable ignorance, circumstantial ignorance, politically engineered ignorance, etc. – and explores their sources, consequences, and ethical import. This clearly, responsibly written multidisciplinary work should be mandatory reading for epistemologists and reflective citizens concerned about the range of our epistemic obligations – our moral duties of 'due diligence.'"
– Amelie Rorty, Visiting Professor, Tufts University; Lecturer, Harvard Medical School