To Accept or Reject the Risk of Error

“To accept anything as true means to incur the risk of error. If I limit myself to knowledge that I consider true beyond doubt, I minimize the risk of error, but at the same time I maximize the risk of missing out on what may be the subtlest, most important, and most rewarding things in life”. That was on page three of E. F. Schumacher’s A Guide for the Perplexed. It was included on the third page on the text because it is one of the most important reoccurring themes throughout the book. Schumacher means that if we only consider things of proven fact then we would be missing out on the rest of the world.

If we only concentrate on what is proven then we will miss out on what is unproven thus far but could eventually be proven. Schumacher stresses his point by using the philosopher Renee Descartes. Schumacher says, “Descartes limits his interest to knowledge and ideas that are precise and certain beyond any possibility of doubt, because his primary interest is that we should become masters and possessors of nature. ‘ Nothing can be precise unless it can be quantified in one way or another” (9). Descartes means that humans are the Supreme Being reining the earth and we should know everything about it.

We should only accept the facts that are precise and clear cut. Everything has a reason, and it is our job as humans to know what that reason is. Schumacher takes this discussion further by analyzing the ideas of the philosopher Immanual Kant. In talking about Kant, Schumacher said, “Neither mathematics nor physics can entertain the qualitative notion of higher’ or lower. ‘ So the vertical dimension disappeared from the philosophical maps, which henceforth concentrated on somewhat farfetched problems, such as Do other people exist? or How can I know anything at all? ‘ or Do other people have experiences analogous to mine? ‘” (11).

Vertical dimension is clarified on page 12 where Schumacher states, “The loss of the vertical dimension meant that it was no longer possible to give an answer, other than a utilitarian one”. Schumacher also discusses Plorinus’s Adaequatio philosophy. Schumacher said, “This is the Great Truth of “adaequatio” (adequateness), which defines knowledge as adaequatio rei et intellectus – the understanding of the knower must be adequate to the thing to be known” (39).

By knowing just the things that are adequate for our understanding we are leaving so much behind. All of these things being left behind have question marks surrounding them because it is beyond our Level of Being and furthermore our level of understanding. Schumacher later says, It is claimed that only such knowledge can be termed scientific’ and objective’ as is open to public verification or falsification by anybody who takes the necessary trouble; all the rest is dismissed as scientific’ and subjective.

The use of these terms in this manner is a grave abuse, for all knowledge is subjective’ inasmuch as it cannot exist otherwise than in the mind of a human subject, and the distinction between scientific’ and unscientific’ knowledge is question-begging, the only valid question about knowledge being that of its truth (57). Schumacher continues to express his views by saying that the only question we should ask of knowledge is the validity of its truth. We should not classify knowledge in any of category except for true or false.

Any other category could contain error because it could beyond a human’s capability of understanding. This quote is related to Schumacher’s level of being (17). Mineral can be written as m. Plant can be written as m + x. Animal can be written as m + x + y. Man can be written as m + x + y + z. A mineral does not live nor does it have consciousness. A plant is living but lacks consciousness. Animals live and have a sense of consciousness but lacks self consciousness. Man is living, has consciousness, and a sense of self consciousness.

Each level has an increasingly important factor. Each level has a parameter of understanding with concrete boundaries, even humans. Humans do not even understand a higher being. Some believe that a supreme being exists but they are those who accept the risk of error. A supreme being whether it be Jesus Christ, Buddha, or any other deity adds an important dimension to most humans lives. Some people even live their lives for their God. If these people didn’t accept the risk of error then their lives would lack meaning and be completely different.

Schumacher says, “The claim that Science’ brings forth Truth’ – certain, unshakable, reliable knowledge which has been scientifically proved’ – and that this unique ability gives it a status higher than that of any other human activity (106). If something is scientifically proven then it means that is 100% free of error. That means that the fact in question will never change no matter what situation it is in. Schumacher goes on further by defining pragmatism. “Pragmatism is the philosophy which holds that the only valid test of truth is that it works.

The pragmatist advises: It is irrational to say: When an idea is true, it works’; you should say: When an idea works, it is true. ” In its purest form, however, pragmatism has the relative sterility of a hit-and-miss method. All sorts of instructions, taken in isolation, may be found to work; but unless I have some idea of a principle of law’ that makes a given system work, my chances of extending the range of instructional knowledge are slim” (107). Someone who doesn’t accept the risk of error wouldn’t consider a pragmatist’s view.

As Schumacher said, you should say “pragmatism has the relative sterility of a hit-and-miss method”. Someone who embraces truth without error would say the same thing. A hit-and-miss method is just that, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. The best way to test truth is to see if it holds up in life experiences. One who would accept the risk of error in order to find more truth would welcome this idea.

Schumacher said, “The idea of proof, and there with the idea of truth, in the instructional sciences is thus twofold: The instruction must work, i. e. lead to predicted result, and it must also be intelligible in terms of established scientific principles” (107). If the instruction does not lead to the predicted results every time then it is not truth and does have a risk of error. As Schumacher also stated it should be understood and defined by science. If it is really truth, then is has an explanation. I believe that sometimes we have to take chances in order to get an accurate view of the world. If I limited myself to things that are only 100% true then my life would be very empty. Take religion for example, I am Catholic.

Do I believe in God? Yes, but am I sure that a man named Jesus will come again and resurrect from the dead? No, I am not but I personally still believe in him. Religion is pretty important to me and it would be something that I would not be able to embrace if I did not risk the chance of error. To limit ourselves to truth without error is stunting our personal growth. What in life are we actually even sure of? Most of the things have no meaning whatsoever but they make us happy. It’s the things that could contain some error that we hold deep because it gives us something to believe in.


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