Communicating Uncertainty: The Importance of Acknowledging Limitations

“I know one thing; that I know nothing.”

If you recognize the quotation above as one commonly attributed to Socrates, congratulations. You are probably someone who does well in trivia contests.

If you recognize the quotation as one that is commonly incorrectly attributed to Socrates, greater congratulations. You may well be someone who has had to dispel plausible but false notions on more than one occasion.

Refuting falsehoods that are widely held to be true is not a task for the faint of heart, as the example of Socrates shows. For leading his pupils in critical examinations of their society’s accepted verities, he was charged with corrupting the youth of Athens and promoting “false gods,” adjudged guilty, and sentenced to death. Socrates’ defense at his trial is commemorated in Plato’s Apology, which quotes him as stating not that he knows nothing, but rather that he is wiser than those who imagine they know things that they do not, for he is fully aware that there are certain things he does not know. The apocryphal quotation presented above is suspected by some of being an oversimplification of Socrates’ actual remarks as presented by Plato.

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Up to Code - July/August 2018, David Driscoll


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