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Episode 32: Jennifer Lockhart discusses ignorant knowledge

This month we’re joined by Jennifer Lockhart, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in the Humanities at Stanford University and recent graduate of the PhD program in Philosophy at the University of Chicago.  Click here to listen to our conversation with her.

You’re at a party. Some guy is dominating the conversation, holding forth loudly and at great length about the importance of politeness. “Politeness,” he says as he cuts off another guest’s attempt to get a word in, “is all about consideration for others. It’s about the little things, like making eye-contact,” he adds, failing to make eye contact. As you look for an opportunity to get away, you ask yourself: “What is wrong with this guy?”

Jennifer Lockhart would reply: he’s an ignorant knower. Everything that he says about politeness is true, but he doesn’t seem to be capable of applying it himself. Not that he’s aware of this, of course – he thinks he’s the politest guy around. Whatever you tell him about being polite, he just agrees enthusiastically and goes on acting in exactly the opposite way. When faced with such a person, we might wonder whether there’s anything we could possibly tell them that would have any chance of getting them to act better.

The guy at the party represents an extreme case, but Lockhart argues that the problem of ignorant knowledge is a significant one for philosophers. She traces its roots back to Aristotle, and argues that it constitutes one of the central motivations behind the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s pseudonymous writings. In this conversation, she explains Kierkegaard’s strategies for confronting ignorant knowledge, and discusses the relation of ignorant knowledge to some other important problems in ethics.

Mark Hopwood

Posted in Podcast.


4 Responses

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  1. Peter Adamson says

    This was a really interesting episode (yet again!). I liked how she is thinking about Kierkegaard in dialogue with Aristotle. So one thing I was wondering, and I thought that Matt might ask this right at the end, was this: how exactly does ignorant knowledge differ from plain old akrasia? Is it that the person has an ability explicitly to articulate what he or she knows to be the right thing to do?

  2. Jeff says

    Hey all. Just wanted to say that I am a huge fan of the podcast. It is truly among the best of the philosophy shows on the web (though I must say that I have been listening to Mr Adamson quit a bit these days as well).

    Another fun episode. I will take a walk and have another listen . . . few joys in life better than a nice walk with some some deep thinkers . . . many thanks!

  3. Mark J. Balaz says

    This may very well be my favorite podcast to date. I have always enjoyed the frustration of not fully getting many of the ideas expressed…as I have no formal philosophical training. This podcast seemed to hit a spot with me as a special education teacher and martial arts student.
    I can easily make relations with these people who “know” things but appear to not know.
    “To know and not to do is really not to know.”
    I can talk to one of my martial arts compadres and talk till I am blue in the face about focus. He may honestly never get it. I could explain it 9 ways to Sunday. If we line up to spar…I guarantee I can teach him about focus in about 5 seconds. He can tell me all he wants to about his philosophical basis for focus as I am pounding him. He thought his focus was good…it was, but we can always get better.
    I have many special education students that purport to “know how to do it.” Whether this is a math problem, book report, or simply having a mature conversation is not the point. I can tell the student the rules till I am blue in the face and have students yes me to death. When I make the students responsible for their learning they actually get it. Think of it like this…a student writes sloppy and rushes. I can respond one of two ways: “I do not grade sloppy papers” or “I accept neat papers.” The first makes it my problem and the second makes it their problem. Rhw students should not be solving my problems, they should solve their own…especially if they don’t now but think they do!
    I appologize for my lack of philosophical lingo and the like as I am aware that I am lacking in this area and listen to this podcast to correct this undeveloped area of my life.
    Lastly, I want to bring up awareness. The fact that these people are not aware that they are not practicing what they preach…comes down to mindfulness and analysis. Be prudent, planned and determined. Awareness is another great lesson to learn in a martial arts class. (at least for me)
    If you choose to live life and not be aware, I hope it is only you that suffers the consequences…but looking a the world, I sadly know this is not the case.

    “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
    Hellen Keller I believe…
    “Learn by doing.”
    John Dewey

    Thank You,
    Mark J. Balaz

  4. douglas curriden says

    totally new concept to me. providing cause for self reflection.



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