Introduction: Alexander Pope, the celebrated English poet, says ‘A little learning is a dangerous thing; Drink deep or taste not the Pierian Spring’.
Meaning: When we only know a little, we can cause a lot of damage. This proverb aims to combat the pernicious effects of inadequate learning such as pride, confusion, poor decisions, etc.
This saying means that ‘knowing just a few things is dangerous‘. In particular, it may be taken to mean that:
- A little learning is worse than vast learning.
- A little learning is even worse than ignorance.
- The harm done to society by men of a little learning is incalculable.
- The pride of learning causes great harm not only to the individual with shallow knowledge but also to the society.
- Knowledge knows no end and people with a shallow knowledge of things often do positive disservice to society.
- A small knowledge may mislead a person to overestimate his or her abilities.
Explanation: What counts as ‘a little learning’ depends on the context. In some contexts, someone with a BA degree may be thought to have vast learning. However, in others, this qualification may simply seem to be a little learning.
It is often seen that a person with little learning tries to show that he knows more that he actually does. In trying to prove his wisdom, he may do such acts that may put him to danger.
Nature of men with little learning: A quack, for example, may pass for a very good doctor among illiterate people. He carries on with his practice doing the greatest possible harm to people who need good medical treatment. He may be the cause of many deaths in the society to which he belongs.
Real fault of a man with little learning: The real fault of a man with a little learning consists not so much in his learning as in his self-conceit and proud behavior. He follows his false theories, regardless of the instructions of the wise. He ignores the sensible advice of experts in any particular branch of knowledge and clings to his own erroneous opinions. He is a fool who rushes in where angels fear to tread.
Remedies: The real remedy for this lies in getting rid of one’s pride. If a man with a little knowledge can assess the value of his knowledge correctly, the evils of a little learning will disappear. Humility and self-criticism in men will prevent a little learning from doing any harm.