Deliberate ignorance

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Deliberate ignorance (sometimes willful ignorance) is the practice of refusing to consider or discuss logic or evidence disproving ideologically motivated positions. Related concepts are wishful thinking and the fallacy of invincible ignorance. Examples of deliberate ignorance include:

Common expressions of deliberate ignorance include:

  • "I find that hard to believe!" (Howard Dean, June 11, 2008, in response to a fact ignored by liberals[2])
  • "I'm not aware of that!" (without admitting a failure to look)
  • "I've never seen that in the New York Times!"
  • "That's not what it said in my (public school) textbook!"
  • "Let's talk about something else!"
  • "I'm not interested in that!"
  • "That offends me!" (used as an excuse not to consider facts or logic)
  • "You're persecuting me!" (when the "persecution" consists only of pointing out inconvenient facts or logic)
  • "That's not true in my experience," with the implication that it therefore cannot be true at all

Deliberate ignorance is clearly quoted from the Bible in 2 Peter 3:3-6: "Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed." (NIV) This is only referring to the denial of God's magnificent handiwork in the creation.

Crime of deliberate ignorance

Deliberate ignorance can be a crime. For example, jurors were instructed "to consider whether ... former Enron Corp. executives deliberately ignored accounting fraud as the energy trader fell into bankruptcy."[3]

Shift of meaning of "ignorance"

The word "ignorance" used to pertain more to the willful act of ignoring information more than "not knowing" it. So phrases like "willful ignorance" or "deliberate ignorance" would mean "willful willful not knowing" or "deliberate willful not knowing".

A translation of a 13th-century Church doctor completed in the 1920s[4] retains this definition of "ignorance" as ignoring. As a solution for referring to a lack of knowledge that may or may not be willful, the word "nescience" is used. However, this word is virtually unknown today.


  4. Aquinas, Thomas (1274). "Whether ignorance is a sin?" Summa Theologica, translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Burns, Oates and Washbourne and New York: Benzinger Brothers, 1915), part I of second part, Q. 76, A. 2, Answer.