I know that I know nothing

I know that I know nothing

"I know that I know nothing" (Ancient Greek: ἓν οἶδα ὅτι οὐδὲν οἶδα "en oída hoti oudén oída"; Latin: "scio me nihil scire") is a well-known saying which is attributed to the Greek philosopher Socrates.

Meaning

The well-known, paradoxical translation of οἶδα οὐκ εἰδώς, "oída ouk eidós" misses the point of the statement. It literally means "I know as a non knowing" or "I know that I don't know". The phrase "I know that I know nothing" would be translated into Ancient Greek as "polytonic|οἶδα οὐδὲν εἰδώς", "oída oudén eidós", IPA| [oi̯dɐ ou̯ˈdɛn ei̯dɔːs] .

The impreciseness of the English translation stems from the fact that the author is not saying that he does not know anything but means instead that one cannot know anything with absolute certainty but can feel confident about certain things [Michael Stokes: "Apology of Socrates", Warminster: Aris & Phillips, 1997, p. 18] .

Origin

The citation is probably borrowed from Socrates' Apology which Plato handed down: [Plato, "Apology" 21d.]


—"This one means to know anything, although he doesn't know it, but I, as I don't know it now, don't believe it either."

Socrates then continued Xenophanes' thoughts from 500 B.C.:


—"To seem to know is prepared on all."

Socrates also deals with this phrase in Plato's dialogue Meno where he says: [Plato, "Meno" 80d.]


—" [...] certainly you maybe knew anything, before you came in contact with me, now you're certainly similar to a non knowing."

Here, Socrates aims at the change of Meno's opinion, who was a firm believer in his own opinion and whose knowing Socrates disproved before. This also happened with Protagoras, who changed his mind after Socrates' objection.

See also

* Gnothi seauton
* Ignoramus et ignorabimus
* Maieutics
* Münchhausen Trilemma
*
* Unknown unknown

References

Literature

* Michael Stokes: "Apology of Socrates", Warminster: Aris & Phillips, 1997.


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