Sta Hungry Stay Foolish

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

A blog by Leon Oudejans

Is ‘false knowledge’ an oxymoron?

Recently, a friend sent me a quote by George Bernard Shaw (see image below). That quote puzzled me. Something felt wrong. Then I realized it’s an oxymoron: “a figure of speech that juxtaposes concepts with opposing meanings within a word or phrase that creates an ostensible self-contradiction.”

Snopes and Quote Investigator both confirm that George Bernard Shaw indeed wrote this in his 1903 play Man and Superman.

To be fair, the full quote reveals some important nuances:

“A learned man is an idler who kills time with study. Beware of his false knowledge: it is more dangerous than ignorance.”

The subtitle of this play might be important too: “A comedy and a philosophy.” Note: markings in quote by LO

The abbreviated quote is indeed an oxymoron (eg, Academia, Quora). However, George Bernard Shaw never wrote that shortened quote. His full quote displays a combination of humour and philosophy. Up to a point, the full quote is also about me: “an idler who kills time with study”.

As an auditor, I separate my facts from my opinions. It’s a professional habit. I must, however, acknowledge that it is sometimes tempting to pretend that opinions are facts, which is a politician’s habit.

The problem is that opinions are not necessarily falsehoods.

Hence, I prefer the views of Karl Popper (1902-1994), “one of the 20th century’s most influential philosophers of science”. He separated objective truths (ie, facts) from subjective truths (ie, opinions).

I suppose this might be the point that George Bernard Shaw was trying to make: beware of false prophets claiming subjective truths; it’s more dangerous than ignorance.

False Prophet (2020) by Bob Dylan
artist, lyrics, video, Wiki-artist, Wiki-album, Wiki-song

I ain’t no false prophet – I just know what I know

Note: all markings (bolditalicunderlining) by LO unless in quotes or stated otherwise.

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