knowledge that one does not know

Even Aristotle’s views on proof and argument—which, in fact, make dialectic a subordinate element in knowledge—accord the same priority to the question, as has been demonstrated by Ernst Kapp’s brilliant work on the origin of Aristotle’s syllogistic. The priority of the question in knowledge shows how fundamentally the idea of method is limited for knowledge, which has been the starting point for our argument as a whole. There is no such thing as a method of learning to ask questions, of learning to see what is questionable. On the contrary, the example of Socrates teaches that the important thing is the knowledge that one does not know. Hence the Socratic dialectic—which leads, through its art of confusing the interlocutor, to this knowledge—creates the conditions for the questions. All questioning and desire to know presuppose a knowledge that one does not know; so much so, indeed, that a particular lack of knowledge leads to a particular question.

Plato shows in an unforgettable way where the difficulty lies in knowing what one does not know. It is the power of opinion against which it is so hard to obtain an admission of ignorance. It is opinion that suppresses questions. Opinion has a curious tendency to propagate itself. It would always like to be the general opinion, just as the word that the Greeks have for opinion, doxa, also means the decision made by the majority in the council assembly. How, then, can ignorance be admitted and questions arise?

From the chapter “Analysis of Historically Effected Consciousness” from Truth and Method (2nd edition) by Hans Georg Gadamer, translated by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall. Thanks to a friend who recently brought Gadamer to my attention again.

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