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The virtues of unknowing

Smith, R.D.

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Traditional epistemology is often said to have reached an impasse, and recent interest in virtue epistemology supposedly marks a turn away from philosophers’ traditional focus on problems of knowledge and truth. Yet that focus re-emerges, especially among ‘reliabilist’ virtue epistemologists. I argue for a more ‘responsibilist’ approach and for the importance of some of the quieter and gentler epistemic virtues, by contrast with the tough-minded ones that are currently popular in education. In particular I make a case for what I here call ‘unknowing’: a positive state that is not the same as ignorance. I acknowledge the mystical connotations of the term, and suggest that there is a strong interest in unknowing in writers such as Plato, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. In their style of philosophising they also address the paradox of being knowing about unknowingness itself.


Smith, R. (2016). The virtues of unknowing. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 50(2), 272-284.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Aug 7, 2015
Online Publication Date Jun 16, 2016
Publication Date May 1, 2016
Deposit Date Dec 11, 2015
Publicly Available Date May 1, 2018
Journal Journal of Philosophy of Education
Print ISSN 0309-8249
Electronic ISSN 1467-9752
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 50
Issue 2
Pages 272-284


Accepted Journal Article (336 Kb)

Copyright Statement
This is the accepted version of the following article: Smith, R.D. (2016). The virtues of unknowing. Journal of Philosophy of Education 50(2): 272-284, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance With Wiley Terms and Conditions for self-archiving.

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