Sunday, March 30, 2014


Philosophers are mistake makers… While other disciplines specialize in getting the right answers to their defining questions, philosophers specialize in all the ways there are of getting things so mixed up, so deeply wrong, that nobody is even sure what the right questions are, let alone the answers. Asking the wrong questions risks setting any inquiry off on the wrong foot. Whenever that happens, this is a job for philosophers! Philosophy – in every field of inquiry – is what you have to do until you figure out what questions you should have been asking in the first place.

Mistakes are not just opportunities for learning; they are, in an important sense, the only opportunity for learning or making something truly new. Before there can be learning, there must be learners. There are only two miraculous ways for learners to come to existence: they must either evolve or be designed and built by learners that evolved. Biological evolution proceeds by a grand, inexorable process of trial and error – and without the errors the trials wouldn’t accomplish anything.

Trials can be either blind or foresighted. You, who know a lot, but not the answer to the question at hand, can take leaps – foresighted leaps. You can look before you leap, and hence be somewhat guided from the outset by what you already know. You need not be guessing at random, but don‘t look down your nose at random guesses; among its wonderful products is … you!

The chief trick to making good mistakes is not to hide them – especially not from you. Instead of turning away in denial when you make mistake, you should become a connoisseur of your mistakes, turning them over in your mind as if they are works of art.Daniel C. Dennett

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