Jun 102016

by Kim Pederson…….

The word “nescience” came up as word for the day recently. I’ve mentioned this word in passing in a previous blog (“Doorways to Nescience: Mind the Gap“) but never really explored it. The primary meaning for the term, which you might think of as “no science” based on the Latin roots, is lack of knowledge or awareness. Ignorance, in other word. That seems simple enough. But, as I should have known, nothing is ever simple. In this case, ignorance is not simple because it comes in more than one flavor.

Why someone would use me to illustrate the word "ignoramus" I just don't know.*

Why someone would use me to illustrate the word “ignoramus” I just don’t know.*

Here are a few examples:

  • Rational ignorance is refraining from acquiring knowledge when the cost of educating oneself on an issue exceeds the potential benefit that the knowledge would provide.
  • Pluralistic ignorance is a situation in which a majority of group members privately reject a norm but incorrectly assume that most others accept it and therefore go along with it (hmm, who does that make us think of right now?).
  • Ignorantia juris non excusat is a legal principle holding that a person unaware of a law may not escape liability for violating it merely because he or she is unaware of its content.
  • Avidya (in the Hindu faith) is a Sanskrit word whose literal meaning is ignorance, misconceptions, misunderstandings, incorrect knowledge. (It has a similar meaning in the Buddhist religion.)

Also, just to make sure you (or I) don’t embarrass yourself (myself) when dissing someone, the related term “ignoramous” just means “I don’t know”; it does not mean stupid.

If these things don’t make it difficult enough to keep track of ignorance, nescience also denotes “a conviction or doctrine that ultimate or immaterial realities cannot be known through the rational processes of the mind.” Another word for this mindset is agnosticism, one of several well-known irreligions. The latter is a little more specific than nescience in its pronouncement. It is “the view that the truth values of certain claims–especially metaphysical and religious claims such as whether God, the divine, or the supernatural exist–are unknown and perhaps unknowable.”

Nineteenth century biologist Thomas Henry Huxley coined the term “agnostic” and makes a very interesting statement about it:

Agnosticism, in fact, is not a creed, but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle…. Positively the principle may be expressed: In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable.

If the world needs words to live by these days, perhaps these should be them.

*Early image of the “Me Worry?” kid, from the early 1950s. By unknown. Public Domain.


Visit Kim Pederson’s blog RatBlurt: Mostly Random Short-Attention-Span Musings.

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 June 10, 2016  Posted by at 12:42 am Issue #170, Kim Pederson  Add comments

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