2. thing that drives humanity to move forward

2. “We know with confidence only when we know little; with knowledge
doubt increases” – JW von Goethe


Word count: 1150 words

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pursuit of knowledge is the one thing that drives humanity to move forward
intellectually. We pursue knowledge because we want to know our past, our
present and our future as curiosity is a large part of the human nature. We
want to know what caused our existence, what is happening around us and what
will happen in the (near) future. This has caused governments and individuals
to invest great amounts of resources into the pursuit of knowledge. Although
this has greatly benefitted humanity as a whole, it does lead to two questions:
when can we be certain that something we say we ‘know’ is really true and
doesn’t our certainty of ‘knowing something’ distract us from the actual truth?
These two questions become more obvious when our pursuit of knowledge has lead
us to theories that are contradicting our current theories about a specific
subject. When a contradicting theory is found, experts on that subject aren’t
so sure which theory should be accepted as ‘the truth’, until further evidence
proves or disproves the contradicting theory. This is what Johann Wolfgang von
Goethe argues too in his statement “We know with confidence only when we know
little; with knowledge doubt increases.” Therefore, this statement will be
reviewed using the areas of knowledge that are the Natural Sciences and History
as these two areas of knowledge show two sides of the argument given by von
Goethe. The perspectives of these two areas of knowledge will show that the
statement made by JW von Goethe is true for some cases, but not for all.

First of all, in order to truly
understand the statement given, some of the terms from the statement must be
defined. The first term to be defined is ‘knowing
with confidence’. Knowing with
confidence means knowing something, while being certain that that specific
thing is true, and that there aren’t conflicting theories. ‘Knowing little’ at the other hand literally means knowing little
about a specific topic. It means that there isn’t much known about that
specific topic, that there are little known facts and that there is no real
clarity of knowledge. The phrase “with
knowledge doubt increases” means that when there is more knowledge about a
specific topic (there are more known facts), it then becomes less clear what is
actually true about that topic.


In the natural sciences, it is
quite normal that there is relatively little known about certain subjects. This
can be seen clearly in nuclear and quantum physics, where many theories have
been accepted because of consensus among expert physicians. In the case of the
natural sciences, the statement of von Goethe is true, though up to a certain
extent. It is true, until the point where there is so much known about a topic
that all of that knowledge leads to the agreement that the theory based on that
knowledge will be accepted forever. However, in many topics related to the
natural sciences, this is not the case.

This can be seen in the history of
the atomic theory. The atomic theory is the theory about what the shape of an
atom looks like and what matter the atom itself consists of. In the very early
days of society, in Ancient Greece, Aristotle argued that matter was made of an
infinite number of infinitely small particles. (Born) The ancient Greek people
believed Aristotle and his atomic theory, as he did experiments using the
scientific method. However, he could never definitively prove it, as he could
not look into the infinitely small parts of matter himself. The lack of
technology at the time was basically stopping Aristotle from proving his
theory. However, because of that lack of technology, his theory was the
accepted truth. Because of Aristotle’s credibility, people believed him even
though he could not definitively prove his theory. At the time, the people of
Ancient Greece knew with confidence due to the lack of knowledge about the
atomic model.

In the 19th century,
many more models were proposed by scientists like Rutherford, Thompson and
Dalton that would contradict each other. They had more knowledge about the
subject as they had the possibility to use newer, better technology in order to
do much more thorough experiments than the classical Greek philosophers were
ever able to do. This allowed them to gain more knowledge, and also more
developed theories about the atomic model and its structure. However, since all
these scientists were now developing their own atomic model, which contradicted
each other, it now became unclear as to what theory was the right one, and if
one of them was even the right one. Later on, it would of course be discovered
that, unlike what the 19th century scientists thought, the electron
is not the smallest particle there is, as the protons and neutrons of the atoms
can be divided up further into quarks. This theory however, is especially
strange as it involves lots of quantities and values that are unique to the
study of quarks (such as baryon number, strangeness etc.). In short, these new theories
in the natural sciences lead to more questions than answers, they also lead to
more confusion.


In the area of knowledge that is
history however, the given statement does not apply as much as it does to the
natural sciences. This can be seen from the events around the ‘Marco Polo
Bridge Incident’ in 1937. The Marco Polo Bridge Incident is an incident between
the Japanese and Chinese military that eventually lead to the start of the
Second Sino-Japanese War. What basically happened was that the Japanese
military was doing exercises near the Chinese border, without informing the
Chinese authorities. Eventually, shots were exchanged between Chinese and
Japanese soldiers, and after some bad communication between Chinese and
Japanese authorities Japan declared war on China. (Szczepanski, 2017) At the
time, it was very unclear as to what had happened exactly. However, as time
progressed and more became clear about the incident, people started to find out
that it was probable that Japan intentionally started the incident in order to
have an excuse for war with China. This changed the way the incident was viewed
by the public and the whole situation became clearer. In other words, in the
case of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, the more knowledge was gained, the
clearer the situation became and doubt was decreased. Therefore, this example
goes against the statement made by von Goethe.


In conclusion, the statement made
by von Goethe is true up to a certain extent, as it can be applied to the
natural sciences, as shown by the development of the atomic theory. At the
other hand, it isn’t always true as shown by the example of the Marco Polo
Bridge Incident, where more knowledge about the subject actually decreased the
doubt about it. Therefore, Johannes Wolfgang von Goethe was right to a certain
extent when making his statement.

Works Cited


Born, Kristin. “Early Atomic Theory: Dalton, Thomson, Rutherford
and Millikan.” Study.com, Study.com, study.com/academy/lesson/early-atomic-theory-dalton-thompson-rutherford-and-millikan.html.


Szczepanski, Kallie. “What Was the Marco Polo Bridge
Incident?” ThoughtCo, 18 Feb. 2014,