Imagine that ignorance is represented by a mountain. The mountain is big and in plain view of everyone. Even small children can see it clearly, and love to ask questions about it that their parents can’t answer. You know the kinds of questions I mean.
For thousands of years, humans walked around the base of the mountain, scratching their heads and having conversations like this:
“Dude, see that mountain?”
“Yep. Big isn’t it?”
“Sure is. Wonder what’s at the top.”
“No idea. Maybe God?”
“Yeah, reckon so. Know anything about God then?”
“Nope, let’s just make some stuff up.”
Then the Greeks came along and started to make some headway climbing up the foothills near the base of the mountain. The Romans were quick to stamp out that sort of time-wasting nonsense, and then not much happened for a thousand years or so.
Then came the Enlightenment, which meant that people were allowed to start asking questions again, and with it came science. Science was cool, because for the first time, people had a method for climbing the mountain, step by step. Some people thought that science was boring. Others said it would lead to trouble. But the great thing about the scientific method was that it worked. Step by step people climbed the mountain.
In the 21st century, we’ve climbed quite a long way up the mountain and we can enjoy the view.
But hold on a moment. How far have we climbed, and how much further is there to go? Science doesn’t tell us. Does this mountain even have a top? Science can’t tell us, perhaps not even if we arrive there. If there is a top, can science get us there, or will we get stuck somewhere? No one knows.
Unless, maybe philosophy can help us out. Because these are exactly the kinds of questions that philosophers ask. Philosophy asks fundamental questions about knowledge, about science, and about us. Some of these questions can be answered and can give us important clues about the mountain and our journey to the top. And even the questions that can’t be answered need to be asked, because if we don’t ask them, how will we know what the range of possible answers might be?
And if asking questions isn’t the right way to replace ignorance with knowledge, then I give up.