I’ve pondered over the whole concept of ignorance quite a bit in the past. I always understood it to be the lack of knowledge about a certain matter. Based on that understanding, I would always come to the conclusion that we are all ignorant since no one knows everything. Socrates also believed in the same thing and he made it his life’s mission to prove to people how ignorant they really are.

However, these conclusion did not sit well with me. I didn’t like the idea of saying that we are all ignorant. We can all intuitively tell the ignorant fool from the wise man; what is it that sets them apart I wondered. I didn’t want to put the ‘wise man’ in the ignorant category just because he/she was uninformed of certain matters. My philosophy prof once said that ‘If you don’t know that Russia is a country then you are ignorant’. He implied that if you are unaware of very general knowledge, then you are an ignorant person. That seemed to be a better understanding of the concept. But then again his definition isn’t very concrete as ‘general knowledge’ is time dependent. Anyhow, I put those thoughts to rest and basically concluded that the reason I was having a problem with this entire concept was because of the negative connotations associated with the word itself. So whether I like it or not, I had to accept that we are all ignorant one way or another.

I recently found a new definition of ignorance in the most unexpected place. I was skimming through Kitab al-Waraqat ,which is a text in Islamic jurisprudence, when I came across a definition of ignorance that I hadn’t seen before. This book defined it as follows,

“Ignorance is conceptualizing something contrary to what it is in reality”

Wallah! There it is. Something that makes perfect sense and is yet so simple; almost makes me wonder why I didn’t think of this before. The interesting thing is that it makes no explicit references to knowledge or the lack of it. It is certainly implied since the lack of knowledge is what to leads to a distorted view of reality. My search for ignorance finally comes to an end. I’ve found an understanding which,as of now, makes sense. Perhaps it is flawed, I don’t know yet. Lets see if it can stand the test of time.

“The unexamined life is for man not worth living” – Socrates