Penn Jillette doesn’t know

August 20, 2011

There’s lots of good stuff in this opinion piece by Penn Jillette, especially for those who had trouble with Epistemology 101.

I’ve always thought that people shouldn’t be embarrassed to admit ignorance. I’d much rather hear that you don’t know than to hear some face-saving claim to knowledge that you don’t have. I’m reminded of the aphorism, "It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so."

Here’s a snippet from Jillette’s op-ed.

My friend Richard Feynman said, “I don’t know.” I heard him say it several times. He said it just like Harold, the mentally handicapped dishwasher I worked with when I was a young man making minimum wage at Famous Bill’s Restaurant in Greenfield, Massachusetts.

“I don’t know” is not an apology. There’s no shame. It’s a simple statement of fact. When Richard Feynman didn’t know, he often worked harder than anyone else to find out, but while he didn’t know, he said, “I don’t know.”

When I found Jillette’s piece linked in a Samizdata post, this was ‘graph it quoted.

It’s amazing to me how many people think that voting to have the government give poor people money is compassion. Helping poor and suffering people is compassion. Voting for our government to use guns to give money to help poor and suffering people is immoral self-righteous bullying laziness.

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