"With Knowledge Doubt Increases, We Know with Confidence when we Know a Little"

High School ・Philosophy ・MLA ・3 Sources

Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that has captured the interest of many academics. Philosophers assume that the degrees of the individual's wisdom and behavior should be balanced by their analytical ability (Williams 4). Awareness theory is also instrumental in explaining human behavior, assumptions and values. One of the greatest German thinkers, John Wolfgang von Goethe, introduced the sentence "we know confidently when we know a little, with knowledge increasing doubt." The quotation attracted varied reactions and interpretations from numerous academics in the field of philosophy. The study of Wolfgang Goethe's quotation is the primary objective of this article.The claim by John Wolfgang von Goethe that limited knowledge makes an individual more confident than when the knowledge increases is right. The Cartesian theory of doubts helps in expounding this point. Most scholars utilize the Cartesian theory of doubt to query their beliefs (Williams 147). Based on this theoretical model, the more an individual knows, the higher their doubt. For example, religion is a concept that humans learn from their childhood. Different parents subscribe to various religions making children religiously diverse. Whenever a child grows to teenage or adulthood and is predisposed to other forms of religious beliefs, the individuals tend to query the authenticity of their faiths (Williams 11). Therefore, the claim that the increase in knowledge raises doubt while its decrease increases confidence is true, especially in the field of religious philosophy.

The theories regarding the earth’s origin are other key concepts that can be employed in justifying the claims by John Wolfgang von Goethe. Different theories have emerged regarding the origin of the globe, natural scientists and religious philosophers have had divergent opinions regarding the creation or emergence of the universe with most of the theories emerging from the fields having both strengths and weaknesses. When a scholar is introduced to the concepts of the creation theory and told that God created the universe, he or she would be confident and would believe on the theoretical model supported by most religious philosophers (Williams 11). However, when geographers and other natural scientists begin introducing the concepts of the big bang and the evolution theories, the scholar who initially believed that the world was created by God would begin to have doubts and query their confidence. In short, the introduction of many concepts to an individual makes them more confused than when they had fewer ideas. Scholars always strive to satisfy their quest for knowledge by conducting numerous pieces of research, but mostly, they turn out to be confusing. Therefore, the little that an individual knows makes them more confident that when their knowledge increases and they begin to have doubts and query their understanding.

According to Lehrer (176), knowledge and confidence have an inverse relationship. Exposure to different kinds of theories makes most individuals confused as humans tend to have a fixed mind on a particular aspect (Lehrer 177). An example that could be utilized in supporting this claim is the concepts of life after death. Different religious philosophers and natural scientists have divergent opinions regarding the topic of eternal life (Lehrer 105). However, the concept of life after death has is critical and has never been answered to satisfaction by any scholar from the field of philosophy. Plato, a renowned western philosopher, opined that there exists life after death. The dead only live the spiritual form. Socrates states that individuals should welcome death as there exists an afterlife. According to the ancient Egyptian traditions, there existed an afterlife whereby the dead would reunite with their ancestors and loved ones. The death of a Pharaoh was historical as it was marked by both mourning and celebrations. The individuals were then buried together with their slaves and servants who would offer different services in the life after their death. Most cultures and traditions also have divergent opinions and thoughts regarding eternal life and the existence of a lifecycle after death. The emergence of science transformed all these beliefs as most modern scholars believe that the death of an individual marks the end of their lives (Lehrer 165). Therefore, for philosophers who believed in the concepts of life after death would begin having doubts when his or her knowledge increases or when they are introduced to scientific reasoning. In summary, the concept of life after death and the contradictions that emerge due to scientific studies certify the claims by John Wolfgang von Goethe that “we know with confidence when we know a little, with knowledge doubt increases.”


Based on the epistemological theory of philosophical skepticism, knowledge and confidence run concurrently. The theory aids scholars in querying the possibility of the occurrence of certain types of knowledge (Lehrer 176). According to Lehrer (122), proposed knowledge can be doubted. Therefore, most scholars aim at justifying their claims through the provision of evidence to satisfy the curiosity of their colleagues and audiences. Philosophical skepticism goas against John Wolfgang von Goethe’s claim that increased knowledge is equivalent to reduced confidence and elevated doubt as it claims that all claims by philosophers can be justified through research. For instance, the issues of the roundness of the earth drew heated and intensified debates in the past. Most physical scientists disagreed whether or not the universe is round. However, with increased knowledge, the doubts regarding the roundness of the world was eliminated and the confidence that the proponents of this theory had increased. Many natural scientists devoted their time and resources in investigated the clams by Plato and other Greek philosophers and defined that the globe was indeed spherical. Therefore, the claim that “we know with confidence when we know a little, with knowledge doubt increases,” is questionable and can be disapproved.

The more the knowledge an individual has, the higher their confidence level. Based on the theory of conceptualism, most scholars gather information from their interaction with the different concepts. The philosophical theory of conceptualism aids in the explanation of the universality of particulars and claims that knowledge and confidence are gathered through learning (Williams 246). Education provides an opportunity through which intellectuals can gather knowledge that would help in eliminating the doubts of an individual. For example, natural scientists such as astronomers have in the past been curious of knowing life outside the earth. Most of these scholars depended on the assumptions as they had little knowledge but a lot of doubt. However, with the emergence of space or rocket science, the knowledge of most natural scientists increased. Currently, the scholars in the field of rocket science can put up arguments and confidently support their facts and claims with the numerous pieces of evidence that they have gathered through space exploration. Based on this example, it is manifest that the theory of conceptualism is true and that John Wolfgang von Goethe theory that limited knowledge can be attributed to high confidence levels while those with increased understanding have doubts is outpaced.

The final counterclaim for the notion that “we know with confidence when we know a little, with knowledge doubt increases,” is that discovery and validation of information increase confidence in a particular concept. According to Polanyi and Nye (p.1), the knowledge of a particular art makes the knower have a particular set of unique skills that would guide his or her personal commitment towards increasing contact with reality. The scholar also notes that knowledge is an integral part of human life that gives humankind the confidence to communicate their thoughts. For example, the philosophy of human mental growth has it that a child grows to have a fixed mindset that continues to become flexible as they gather information. The brain is capable of accommodating different concepts that would increase the intellectual capacities of an individual (Polanyi and Nye 8). Therefore, knowledge, the flexibility of the mindset, and confidence levels of an individual increase concurrently.


In summary, different philosophers have divergent opinions regarding the quote by John Wolfgang von Goethe that “we know with confidence when we know a little, with knowledge doubt increases.” The pieces of evidence discussed in this paper supporting the claims by the renowned German philosopher outweigh the counterclaims as increased knowledge regarding a particular concept would prompt doubt. The key driving force behind innovation and research is doubt caused by the increase in intellectual capacities of individuals. Most scholars with limited understanding are confident, and their knowledge is questionable. Although some philosophers might claim that knowledge, the flexibility of the mindset, and confidence levels of an individual increase concurrently, the fact remains that doubt will always remain a key component of increased knowledge

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Works Cited

Lehrer, Keith. Theory of Knowledge. London: Routledge, 2015.

Polanyi, Michael, and Mary Jo Nye. Personal Knowledge. Chicago (Ill.): University of Chicago Press, 2015.

Williams, Bernard. Descartes: The Project of Pure Enquiry. New York: Routledge, 2014.

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