Of Knowledge and its Relation to Happiness

It is often said that ignorance is bliss.  Mostly, this cliché assertion is made in jest, but it may contain more truth than supposed.  If ignorance is to be understood as a lack of knowledge, and bliss is to be understood as the personification of happiness, then as an individual develops, potential happiness cannot be constant.  For the contention does not permit an increase of happiness equivalent to an increase in knowledge.  Likewise, it supposes that happiness is the derivative of ignorance; resulting in a balance between the two.  This is, of course, only true if we are dealing with absolutes.  Thus, if we add exceptions to the extent that some individuals only find happiness through acquiring knowledge, two paradigms have been created.  Discovering if there is truth in either is our goal.

First, what is happiness?  Happiness can be expressed as the absence of pain, or the fulfillment of one’s goals, or the feeling of contentment, and so on.  In truth, the state known as ‘happiness’ is too subjective to quantify universally, so the definition must be left open-ended.  Despite this, the will to attain happiness is universal and as a result, variations to the original contention are permitted.

Second, what is knowledge?  Knowledge is information collected through sensory experience.  This includes a priori knowledge – deductive reasoning only begins after information is accumulated through experience.  Rationalists will certainly disagree with this, but the intent of this analysis is not to debate epistemologies.

That out of the way, we can examine the original premise.  To do this, we must review knowledge that carries the potential for despair; and in doing so, we shall demonstrate happiness occurring from a lack of knowledge.

Many scientific discoveries have caused a great deal of angst.  For example, the discovery that the Andromeda Galaxy is on a collision course with our own is understandably demoralizing.  Moreover, the universe is expanding at an ever increasing rate; ultimately, the universe will exhaust itself unspectacularly.  This presents a very bleak future – one that can be quenched by ignoring the evidence, thereby choosing the path of ignorance.  Hence, our first premise – knowledge carries the potential for despair – has been demonstrated.

Pages: 1 2

Categories: Philosophy

Tags: , , , , , , ,

10 replies

  1. This is very deconstructive. Do you think it is possible that the phrase “Ignorance is bliss” could be interpreted in a simpler manner.? For example, could it simply refer to the ‘ease’ that comes with not taking responsibility for events and not having knowledge about certain things? Rather than defining the two terms seperately and then interpreting them together.

    • It can certainly be interpreted in a simpler manner! I would agree that there are various applications for this expression, but I think the example you provided is related to the level I examined. Isn’t the feeling of ‘ease’ an expression of happiness, or am I misunderstanding you?

  2. “the discovery that the Andromeda Galaxy is on a collision course with our own is understandably demoralizing”

    Brilliant! Very Douglas Adams 🙂

    • It took a lifetime of experiences for someone to come up with that quote, and experience whether its good or bad is knowledge, so ignorance is bliss is somewhat an oxymoron.

      • I would argue that experience can only be translated into knowledge if the individual is cognizant of the said experience. If he is unaware, than he is ignorant – with regards to the specific subject – because he has learned nothing from it. If ignorance is a lack of knowledge, than it is also a lack of experience – see my epistemology point that I touched on. I believe I demonstrated that it is not contradictory on page two, but to each his own. Thanks for commenting!

  3. I don’t think the phrase being discussed here was ever intended to be applied or interpreted so broadly.

    It simply means that a lack of knowledge regarding the more unpleasant realities of Life make for a “happier” or more blissful existence. The less people know about the abundance of crucial problems facing us, the more “content” they are.

    Such ignorance, most of it quite willful, has contributed significantly to the enabling of forces that have created the very crises the blissful are desperate to remain ignorant of.

    “The American public is now so receptive to indoctrination that willful ignorance has become the new intellectualism.”
    Richard William Posner, 2010

  4. Point well taken, Richard. You are correct. This phrase was never meant to be interpreted in this way. However, as trite as my application may be, I think it’s demonstrable.

    Nice quote, by the way. It’s certainly true.

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