Willful ignorance

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Not just a river in Egypt
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The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.
Richard Feynman[1]
Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.
Aldous Huxley, who later went on to fool himself[2]

Willful ignorance is the state and practice of ignoring any sensory input that appears to contradict one's inner model of reality. At heart, it is almost certainly driven by confirmation bias and/or avoidance of cognitive dissonance.

Willful ignorance differs from ordinary “ignorance“ — when someone is simply unaware of something — in that willfully ignorant people are fully aware of facts, resources, and sources, but refuse to acknowledge them. Indeed, calling someone "ignorant" shouldn’t really be a pejorative, but intentional and willful ignorance is an entirely different matter. In practice, though, the word "ignorance" has often come to mean "willful ignorance", and indeed, in many non-English languages, the word based on the same stem ("ignore") actually carries that meaning.[citation needed]

Willful ignorance is sometimes referred to as tactical stupidity.

Depending on the nature and strength of an individual's pre-existing beliefs, willful ignorance can manifest itself in different ways. The practice can entail completely disregarding established facts, evidence, and/or reasonable opinions if they fail to meet one's expectations. Often the willfully ignorant will make excuses, claiming that a source is unreliable, suggesting that an experiment was flawed, or asserting that an opinion is too biased. More often than not, this is simple circular reasoning: “I cannot agree with that source because it is untrustworthy because it disagrees with me”.

In other, slightly more extreme cases, willful ignorance can involve outright refusal to read, hear, or study, in any way, anything that does not conform to the willfully ignorant person's worldview.Wikipedia

With regard to oneself, this can even extend to fake locked-in syndrome with complete unresponsiveness. Or with regard to others, to outright censorship of the material from others. As an example of the latter, conservative sites often delete without explanation any statement that contradicts their preferred narrative and links to any evidence supporting such a statement or calling into question such a narrative.

Examples of willful ignorance[edit]

’Tis but a scratch.
The Black KnightWikipedia after losing an arm in battle, Monty Python and the Holy Grail

This is some suggested reading for willful ignorance.

Snarl word[edit]

Creationists and other supporters of pseudoscience may use this as a snarl word against people who don't conform to their views.

See also[edit]

Want to read this in another language?[edit]

Se você procura pelo artigo em Português, ver Teoria da cegueira deliberada.

External links[edit]


  1. Cargo Cult Science: Some remarks on science pseudoscience, and learning how to not fool yourself. Caltech's 1974 commencement address. by Richard P. Feynman (June 1974) Engineering and Science 10-13.
  2. Proper Studies by Aldous Huxley (1927) Chatto & Windus.