Monday, October 17, 2005

Known knowns

"As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know."
-- Donald Rumsfeld

This fragment has often been taken in argument to show that D.R. has a muddle-headed way of thinking. I take it, on the other hand, to describe something which I think is true and important.

Frequently in philosophy, one is presented with statements which are potentially meaningless, perhaps unresolvable, rely on possibly suspect evidence, etc. The primary method of philosophy here is clarification and doubt.

If I wanted to see the different ways I could doubt the truth of some argument, I could break each of its propositions down into whether they express something I know (an axiom), something I don't know but could check (a known unknown) and whether the arguments depend on any implicit assumptions (corresponds to an unknown unknown).

For example, a discussion about the nature of light might depend on it having a particle nature. However, light in fact has a dual wave-particle nature. If this is not accounted for, yet is true, then it constitutes an unknown unknown.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was Rumsfeld that you quoted, not Powell.

See here.

10/17/2005 01:21:00 PM  
Blogger MelbournePhilosopher said...

Quite correct, my apologies. I blame external misinformation -- I googled for the quote and didn't verify.


10/17/2005 03:29:00 PM  

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