The Profession of Ignorance: With Constant Reference to Socrates

University Press of America (1999)


The Profession of Ignorance provides a readable discussion in dialogue form of the philosophy of "ignorance" as practiced by Socrates, who claimed a kind of knowledge of ignorance as human wisdom. Martin McAvoy shows that understanding this profession of ignorance is essential to understanding the character of Plato's Socrates. He begins by explaining that to comprehend this concept, Socrates' repeated claim that he is ignorant must be believed. In claiming this ignorance, Socrates claims a kind of knowledge. This knowledge of ignorance is the central paradox of Socrates' wisdom, generating his mission and elenchus. McAvoy presents the concept of thinking as a dialogue between knowledge and ignorance. In this dialogue, one asks as if ignorant, and one answers as if knowing. This very form questions the reality of knowledge. McAvoy questions the nature of knowledge, since it appears that one can not be sure exactly what is knowledge, but can recognize that it exists, though always ignorant of precisely what it is. He acknowledges and utilizes the presence of a double irony, that in an important sense, makes the profession of ignorance sincere. The use of the dialogue form reflects this double irony, and exhibits McAvoy's profession of ignorance as a claim to knowledge, just as in the case of Plato's

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