The Creative Powers of a Free Civilization

“The Creative Powers of a Free Civilization.” In: Felix Morley (ed.) Essays in Individuality. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1958.


“The socratic maxim that the recognition of our ignorance is the beginning of wisdom has a profound application to social life. If we are to comprehend how society works we must first become aware, not merely of our individual ignorance of most of the particular circumstances which determine its actions, but also of the necessary ignorance of man as such regarding much or most that determines the course of his society. It is no exaggeration to say that this unavoidable ignorance of man concerning most of what affects his own action is the most important single fact from which any attempt to understand social life must start. This is so because the advantages of social life, and particularly of those more advanced forms of social life which we call civilization, rest on the paradox that the individual can use more knowledge than he possesses. It might well be said that civilization begins where the individual can benefit from more knowledge than he can himself acquire, and is able to cope with his ignorance by using knowledge which he does not possess.”