Known Knowns & Known Unknowns

Known Knowns:
These are things that we know we know

Known Unknowns:
These are things that we know that we do not know

Unknown Unknowns

Unknown Unknowns:
These are things that we don’t know we don’t know

The entire statement, who said this and what does it all mean?

The entire statement and who said it:

“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. These are things we do not know we don’t know.”

United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld

The video of Donald Rumsfeld’s famous speech about known unknowns and unknown unknowns

The explanation:

At a press briefing on February 12th, 2002, former US Defense Secretary made this statement relating to the absence of evidence in linking the Iraqi government to it’s alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction. At the time this statement was criticized as an abuse of language but later on defended for it’s profound and almost philosophical truth.

Rumsfeld’s defenders chimed in

Canadian columnist Mark Steyn
‘..in fact a brilliant distillation of quite a complex matter’
Australian economist and blogger John Quiggin
‘Although the language may be tortured, the basic point is both valid and important…’
Psychoanalytic philosopher Slavoj Žižek
‘If Rumsfeld thinks that the main dangers in the confrontation with Iraq were the “unknown unknowns,” that is, the threats from Saddam whose nature we cannot even suspect, then the Abu Ghraib scandal shows that the main dangers lie in the “unknown knowns” – the disavowed beliefs, suppositions and obscene practices we pretend not to know about, even though they form the background of our public values.’
Italian economists Salvatore Modica and Aldo Rustichini
‘A subject is certain of something when he knows that thing; he is uncertain when he does not know it, but he knows he does not: he is consciously uncertain. On the other hand, he is unaware of something when he does not know it, and he does not know he does not know [emphasis added], and so on ad infinitum: he does not perceive, does not have in mind, the object of knowledge. The opposite of unawareness is awareness.’

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Since then there have been humorous spoofs of Rumsfeld’s quote. For example, The Boondocks series made a funny episode with known unknowns speach.

The Boondocks Known Unknowns parody video

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