“How Do You Know (that you believe) You Are Wearing Socks?” from NYT Opinionator

socksJust have to share this.  A short piece on how far removed academic Philosophy (the discipline) has become  from our big perennial “burning questions” as human beings.

It struck me as hilarious and showed how potentially ridiculous academic Philosophy (the discipline) has become.  Are you wearing socks? Well, how in the hell do you know you believe you are wearing socks?

I myself never gave this much thought. I just put my socks on and moved onto, as it were, other more critical things, like eating breakfast, going to work and laughing at my own jokes (wink).

This used to be called epistemology, how we know what we know (and don’t know).

Unanswerable pointless questions philosophically. They clearly don’t have the tools for it. I think biology and neuroscience have moved in on this target most recently and cogently.

Oh, dear what will all those philosophy professors do now?  Become greeters at Wal-Mart? They are on thin ice, I think.

The writing is on the wall for these guys, though how I believe I know that, well, I just I don’t know :).


Most people wonder at some point in their lives how well they know themselves. Self-knowledge seems a good thing to have, but hard to attain. To know yourself would be to know such things as your deepest thoughts, desires and emotions, your character traits, your values, what makes you happy and why you think and do the things you think and do. These are all examples of what might be called “substantial” self-knowledge, and there was a time when it would have been safe to assume that philosophy had plenty to say about the sources, extent and importance of self-knowledge in this sense.

Not any more. With few exceptions, philosophers of self-knowledge nowadays have other concerns. Here’s an example of the sort of thing philosophers worry about: suppose you are wearing socks and believe you are wearing socks. How do you know that that’s what you believe? Notice that the question isn’t: “How do you know you are wearing socks?” but rather “How do you know you believe you are wearing socks?” Knowledge of such beliefs is seen as a form of self-knowledge. Other popular examples of self-knowledge in the philosophical literature include knowing that you are in pain and knowing that you are thinking that water is wet…. [click below to read the rest]

Know Thyself-NYT

About Margaret Jean Langstaff

A lifelong critical reader with literary tastes, a novelist, short story writer, essayist, book critic, and professional book editor for many years. A consultant to publishers and authors, providing manuscript critiques and a full range of editorial services. A friend and supporter of all other readers and writers. A collector of signed modern first editions. Animal lover and tree hugger. Follow me on Twitter @LangstaffEditor
This entry was posted in Literature and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to “How Do You Know (that you believe) You Are Wearing Socks?” from NYT Opinionator

  1. I can’t believe what I just read. Orrrr maybe it’s that I don’t know for sure that i can’t believe what i just read. Because I’m uncertain whether I actually read it or not. Or wrote this comment. I know part of me thinks, “I can’t believe I wasted my time reading that entire article,” but… do I really know that I believe that I wasted my time, or rather know what I can’t believe?

    This is why I write poetry.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You cute nut. It’s so absurd. I agree, poetry makes more sense. You cd make a neat poem out of your comment with the right line breaks and a few word and image tweaks!


    • FYI- the comments section to this NYT piece is really heating up. A humorless irate army of pale philosophy profs is duking it out with folks of my ilke on the site (see link above). Some really hooter comments there from smart alecs and wags (present company excluded) and the realist-irreverent sort. One guy said, “it’s all turtles.”


  2. jef says:

    Despite Jeff Schwaner’s sterling first name I was a little irked at his dismissive comic response…til I red his last line. He’s right! That is exactly why we write poetry, and I’m glad he pointed that up. I’m not going to read the overheating ‘dialogue’ on the NYT page, but what conclusion could it possibly come to? I just don’t think it’s that idiotic to ask those kinds of questions. I’m not in favor of diverting food from the hungry in order to plumb those depths, but all this ineffable Being Here demands (or at the least allows-without-ridicule) some sort of response, and the spectrum from the culturally laudable ‘why am I here?’ to the fat, slow-moving target of ‘How do you know that you believe you are wearing socks?’, is not a spectrum at all, and only a race of blinkered nabobs thinks otherwise (present company excepted). They’re the same question. And it’s a good one! Because we haven’t a clue what this is all about, though some of us seem pretty sure it’s about an abused woodworker’s having exited his own tomb after a fatal beating. We dismiss this stuff at our peril. But only if you consider willful ignorance imperiling. The teacher who makes you feel stupid for raising your hand should be fired. And then made to eat the cafeteria tacos. There is a great article online that touches on this stuff, called Death and the Big Wow.

    Don’t go changin’!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Me? I know nothing. A professor of mine in grad school from Estonia who escaped from both Hitler and the Russians, drew a little circle then a huge circle on the black board one day and turned to the class. “You are here,” he said pointing to the interior of the little circle, “and the circumference of the circle is what you think you don’t know.” Then he pointed to the center of the huge circle and said, “This is where you will be 50 yrs from now and the circumference, ever so much larger, will be what you are certain you don’t know and never will.” His name was Ants Oras, an Oxford don formerly, and he wrote one of the first critical appreciations of TS Eliot. He was very old then walked with a cane and had a little scotty dog he loved. So kind, unfailingly courteous to a fault, and humbled by what he had learned about what he would never know. If that sounds elliptical, it’s because it is.


    • PS I confess I love epistemology, studied it in school, and am fascinated by the questions it poses, most of which seem at bottom unanswerable, but it is the moonlight a mind can dance in with abandon chasing fire flies. (Because we WANT to know and the chase is exhilarating).


    • Where is that article. Will it make me angry or sad? I need a break from those things and may have to put off reading it. So full of YUK over the constant bitching blaming and false moral outrage au courant. I think I’ll read Spenser’s THE FAIRY QUEEN tonight again. They put traitor’s heads on stakes across London Bridge back then, but Shakespeare somehow overcame that and wrote ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL and A MIDSUMMER’S NIGHT’S DREAM walking past them every day.


Leave a Reply to Margaret Jean Langstaff Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s