I find myself reading a hardcore philosophy book once again. I am drawn to these books. I do not mind working hard to understand a book, but working hard to achieve but little understanding seems futile. And yet, every once in a while, I run across a gem of a quote that I do understand, that I do connect with—and the whole endeavor becomes suddenly worthwhile.
Here is a gem I recently discovered. It’s on the topic of choosing a doctor, so it fits in nicely with my last blog post.
“So is it the case that the only one who can judge whether someone really has expert knowledge is the one who has it? Are we going in a circle? And Socrates says again and again that we should ask the physician, that is the expert, if we want to know anything about health. But who is really a physician, and who is a quack who poses as a physician? This question I must consider myself, without being able to consult any experts.”
—Hugo Strandberg, Self-Knowledge and Self-Deception
This is indeed a difficult question. How can I, who am not an expert, make an accurate judgement on who is an expert? I can’t ask the expert, because they could be lying or deceiving him/herself. I can’t ask another expert, because how do I know that person is an expert? I could look up what degrees, certifications, and awards the expert has gained, but how can I trust that this information is accurate? And even if it is accurate, how can I trust that the people who awarded those degrees, certifications, and awards were experts qualified to do so? I could talk to the purported expert to assess how expert-like their behavior is and whether their ideas make sense to me; but again I am limited by not being an expert myself. I could take the purported expert’s advice and see what happens, but the drawback here is that I have jumped into the deep end without first assessing whether or not this is an expert. I could ask a trusted friend to give me a recommendation, but even if the friend has already jumped into the deep end and gotten good results, how do I know whether those good results were really the result of the expert’s advice; and anyway, is my problem sufficiently the same as hers? I could go the crowdsourcing route and look at online reviews, but here again I can’t know what exactly helped all these people, if they were helped, or whether my problem is sufficiently the same as theirs. And what do I make of the inevitable negative reviews? Furthermore, not knowing these people personally, how much trust can I place in their comments? Honestly, I can’t find steady ground anywhere and don’t know how to make this decision. Is there not an expert who can guide me through this process?
Yes, I do believe we are going in a circle.
Incidentally, this is, as I understand it, the source of the political phenomenon known as populism. When enough people feel that they can’t trust the purported experts of society, like the academics, doctors, established politicians, and so on, they revolt and put their trust in someone who seems more like them. But when someone claims not to be an expert—to be an anti-expert, as it were—and claims that this is the actual source of their expertise . . . well, I do believe we are going in a circle again.
Wheeeeeeee! Are we having fun?!