Confucius and Socrates, two cultural icons of the East and West, both declared they did “not know.” Confucius said, “Am I indeed possessed of knowledge? I do not know.” Socrates said, “As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.” The two cultural icons established their unique images of knowledge: I do not know. There are, however, rich and different implications behind their similar declarations of “not knowing.” Next, I will critically examine their dialogue teaching practices to analyze what they meant by “knowing” and “not knowing.” In this sense, I will explore the different images of knowledge and visions of pedagogy in Confucius and Socrates.
Confucius and Socrates both declared they did “not know.” Their declarations were both true and untrue at the same time. Confucius connected the accumulation of knowledge with learning. In this sense, one person always had a moment of “not knowing.” Even sages like Confucius often did not know. But though Confucius declared modestly his “not knowing,” he appeared as a knowledge image oftruth holder in The Analects of Confucius. The “not knowing” of Socrates meant actually “know nothing” which was related to his preferred orientation of searching for general knowledge. As far as a topic like “justice” is concerned, it is truly hard for us to present a general definition about it. So in this sense the declaration of Socrates is true. But Socrates appeared as a unique torchbearer and prophet when he helped by dialogue the other dialogists to realize their own “knowing nothing.”