Our own ignarance is implicit when we say that everything is
provisional. The oracle at Delphi said that Socrates was the wisest
of all men, while Socrates claimed ther he was ignorant. There is no
contradiction here: Socrates was wise *because* he understood the
limits of his knowledge. Sometimes we do things based on theories
which turn out to be completely wrong. In the 1930's doctors
recommended that patients with asthma or bronchitis smoke cigarettes.
What are the possibilities here?
(a) The doctors were paid by the cigarette companies, in which case the
advice was wrong, unscientific and unethical.
(b) The doctors were not paid by cigarette companies but based the advice
on what seemed a good idea at the time: cigarettes make you cough up
the phlegm, which has to be better leaving it in there to fester; in which
case the advice was wrong and unscientific, but by the standards of the
time not unethical.
(c) The doctors based their advice on the best available clinical trials, in
case the advice was wrong but not unscietific or unethical by the standards
of the time.
Given that even in case (c) doctors were completely wrong, the way we test
new treatments now is more stringent. However, evidence is still evidence,
including evidence of past failures from medical history, which must be
included in any risk/benefit analysis. You can criticise someone for making a
decision without fair consideration of all the evidence, but you can't
him if he does.
> From: [EMAIL PROTECTED]
> Subject: Re: Can we ever know truth?
> To: email@example.com
> Date: Sun, 13 Aug 2006 12:17:37 -0500
> According to Stathis Papaioannou:
> >The best we can do in science as in everyday life is to accept
> >provisionally that things are as they seem. There is no shame in
> >this, as long as you are ready to revise your theory in the light
> >of new evidence, and it is certainly better than assuming that
> >things are *not* as they seem, in the absence of any evidence.
> The process isn't quite that benign, especially when applied to
> one's treatment of others. There will always be unknowable truths,
> one should proceed with an acute sense of one's own ignorance. Yet
> with each advance in science people and their institutions act
> increasingly recklessly with regard to unanticipated consquences.
> How can we perceive and measure our own ignorance?
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