Ask a Damn Question

Early philosophers made a big deal of separating “true belief” from “knowledge”.  The spiritual father of this distinction would have to be Socrates as a character in the Dialogues of Plato.  He constantly harps on about how knowing a good deed is different from knowing why it is good.  He believes strongly in the value of knowledge, mostly because it has been tested through inquiry.  Knowledge gives one a standard by which to judge other actions.  Socrates might even tell us that those with true belief are lucky, while those with a knowledge of good are truly virtuous.  Another way to understand Socrates would be thinking about the difference between people who are intuitive versus people who have researched a topic.  The intuitive thinker may get the right answer, but Socrates fears that without research he may not completely understand the core of the topic.

Philosophical inquiry is not the only field in which this distinction makes an appearance.  Imagine you are collaborating with a coworker, Drake.  We have had several stories of “Drake” and his foibles in the office setting.  In this case Drake is working with you on implementing a solution to a Customer Experience issue in a retail setting.  Drake previously worked in retail and is ready and willing to throw all else to the side and dredge up his considerable experience.  Here Drake runs into an issue, he has had success with specific approaches in the past and refuses to investigate our topic any further.  He has confidence that he knows what the issues are, because he has had success solving problems before.

Now when you believe you know something you do not have to ask others about it.  You do not conduct interviews, nor do you examine the core of the issue at hand.  Drake quickly deploys tactics he has used before.  He fails spectacularly.  Drake is a failure because he does not understand the difference between “true belief” and “knowledge”.  Socrates would righteously chastise Drake for failing to ask the right questions.  Drake did not test his belief to see if he had knowledge.

The take away is simple.  Ask a damn question.  All inquiry begins and grows by asking questions.  If Drake had gotten of his high horse and asked questions of those who he was professing to help he may have realized that he didn’t actually “know” what was going on.  He merely had beliefs informed by previous success.  You cannot be sure of knowledge unless you have tested it, all else is equivalent to belief.  Who would rather act on belief over actually knowledge when given the choice?

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