What is the Definition of Ignorance?

Clearly, if we are to achieve a joint understanding of the word ‘Agniology’, then we also need to have a joint understanding of the word ‘ignorance’.

It is here that we run into a problem, as this word is widely misunderstood by the public in general.

Of course, one could argue that if enough people misuse the word, then the incorrect usage gains validity. However, whilst there may be some value in that argument, it will make sensible discussion somewhat difficult, so we need to agree to use the academically accepted definition.

First, lets look at what ignorance isn’t.

Misuse of the Word ‘Ignorance’

Ignorance is not :

  • Being ‘rude’ or offensive
    Such behaviour may be the consequence of ‘ignorance of social etiquette’, but it may also be nothing more than deliberately rude behaviour.
  • Stupidity
    Stupid people may be ignorant, but so may very intelligent people.
  • Any form of insult
    It can be part of an insult, but by itself it is clearly not. We are all ignorant. We just have our own personal collection of ‘things we are ignorant of’.
  • Willful avoidance of knowledge
    This usage usually implies some element of blame. It is incorrect as ignorance does not have to be wilful and deliberate. It is possible, indeed perhaps more common, to be ignorant of information simply because one has no idea that such information exists.

So, now we know what it ‘is not’, lets look at a what it DOES mean – here are a few dictionary definitions.

Correct Use of the Word ‘Ignorance’

Dictionary definitions of the word ‘ignorance’:

  • Lack of knowledge or information
    (Oxford Dictionaries)
  • The condition of being uneducated, unaware, or uninformed.
    (The American Heritage® Dictionary)
  • Lack of knowledge, information, or education; the state of being ignorant
    (Collins English Dictionary)
  • The state or fact of being ignorant : lack of knowledge, education, or awareness
    (Merriam Webster)
  • ‘Oxford Dictionaries’ also lists the origin as:
    “Middle English: via Old French from Latin ignorantia, from ignorant- ‘not knowing'”

Whilst it may be possible to trawl back through other Old French and Latin sources and find some element of ‘deliberation’, most reputable modern dictionaries omit this element, and so shall we.

Whilst researching these definitions, I read a comment supporting one of common ‘misuses’ of the word, which stated:

“How on Earth did it ever become a “lack of knowledge”

It didn’t become ‘a lack of knowledge’, it was always so… the poster was just displaying his ignorance of the fact, (using the word correctly, and meaning no offence to commenter).

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