Quotations about   willful ignorance

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Politeness is a tacit agreement that people’s miserable defects, whether moral or intellectual, shall on either side be ignored and not made the subject of reproach; and since these defects are thus rendered somewhat less obtrusive, the result is mutually advantageous.

[Sie ist eine stillschweigende Übereinkunft, gegenseitig die moralisch und intellektuell elende Beschaffenheit von einander zu ignoriren und sie sich nicht vorzurücken; – wodurch diese, zu beiderseitigem Vorteil, etwas weniger leicht zutage kommt.]

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) German philosopher
Parerga and Paralipomena, Vol. 1, “Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life [Aphorismen zur Lebensweisheit],” “Counsels and Maxims [Paränesen und Maximen],” ch. C, § 36 (1851) [tr. Saunders (1890)]

Source (German). Alternate translation:

Politeness is a tacit agreement that we shall mutually ignore and refrain from reproaching one another's miserable defects, both moral and intellectual. In this way, they do not so readily come to light, to the advantage of both sides.
[tr. Payne (1974)]

Added on 16-Jun-22 | Last updated 16-Jun-22
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Once you have discovered what is happening, you can’t pretend not to know, you can’t abdicate responsibility. Knowledge always brings responsibility.

James - Knowledge always brings responsibility - wist.info quote

P. D. James (1920-2014) British mystery writer [Phyllis Dorothy James White]
Devices and Desires, Book 6, ch. 10 (1990)
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I have no idea what your generation will be like. In mine we were to enjoy “Peace in our time.” A very well meaning gentleman waved his umbrella and shouted those very words … less than a year before the whole world went to war. But this gentleman was suffering the worldly disease of insufferable optimism. He and his fellow humans kept polishing the rose colored glasses when actually they should have taken them off. They were sacrificing reason and reality for a brief and temporal peace of mind, the same peace of mind that many of my contemporaries derive by steadfastly refraining from remembering the War that came before. All this was in my time, youngster — I hope not in yours.

Rod Serling (1924-1975) American screenwriter, playwright, television producer, narrator
“First Squad, First Platoon,” Dedication (c. 1947)

Dedication to his unborn children, in one of his first (unpublished) works of fiction, while at Antioch College under the GI Bill. In Anne Serling, As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling (2013).
Added on 25-Jan-22 | Last updated 25-Jan-22
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The point is that we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.

Orwell - Sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality usually on a battlefield - wist.info quote

George Orwell (1903-1950) English writer [pseud. of Eric Arthur Blair]
“In Front of Your Nose,” Tribune (22 Mar 1946)
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Protects itself
Promotes suspicion.
Engenders fear.
Fear quails,
Irrational and blind,
Or fear looms,
Defiant and closed.
Blind, closed,
Suspicious, afraid,
Protects itself,
And protected,
Ignorance grows.

Octavia Butler (1947-2006) American writer
Parable of the Talents, ch. 12, epigram (1998)
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The instinct for self-deception in human beings makes them try to banish from their minds dangers of which at bottom they are perfectly aware by declaring them non-existent.

Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) Austrian novelist, playwright, journalist, biographer
Beware of Pity (1939)
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He is free to make the wrong choice, but not free to succeed with it. He is free to evade reality, he is free to unfocus his mind and stumble blindly down any road he pleases, but not free to avoid the abyss he refuses to see. Knowledge, for any conscious organism, is the means of survival; to a living consciousness, every “is” implies an “ought.” Man is free to choose not to be conscious, but not free to escape the penalty of unconsciousness: destruction. Man is the only living species that has the power to act as his own destroyer — and that is the way he has acted through most of his history.

Ayn Rand (1905-1982) Russian-American writer, philosopher
“The Objectivist Ethics,” University of Wisconsin Symposium on “Ethics in Our Time” (9 Feb 1961)

Possibly the source of the attributed-but-unlocated Rand quotation "You can avoid reality, but you cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality." See also Stamp. More discussion about this quotation and related ones here.
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There are crimes I don’t commit mainly because I don’t want to find out I could.

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays #124 (2001)
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Ignorance is not bliss — it is oblivion. Determined ignorance is the hastiest kind of oblivion.

Philip Wylie (1902-1971) American author
Generation of Vipers (1942)
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Throughout our nervous history, we have constructed pyramidic towers of evil, ofttimes in the name of good. Our greed, fear and lasciviousness have enabled us to murder our poets, who are ourselves, to castigate our priests, who are ourselves. The lists of our subversions of the good stretch from before recorded history to this moment. We drop our eyes at the mention of the bloody, torturous Inquisition. Our shoulders sag at the thoughts of African slaves lying spoon-­fashion in the filthy hatches of slave-ships, and the subsequent auction blocks upon which were built great fortunes in our country. We turn our heads in bitter shame at the remembrance of Dachau and the other gas ovens, where millions of ourselves were murdered by millions of ourselves. As soon as we are reminded of our actions, more often than not we spend incredible energy trying to forget what we’ve just been reminded of.

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) American poet, memoirist, activist [b. Marguerite Ann Johnson]
“Facing Evil,” Interview by Bill Moyers (1982)
Added on 30-Apr-21 | Last updated 30-Apr-21
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You submit to tyranny when you renounce the difference between what you want to hear and what is actually the case. This renunciation of reality can feel natural and pleasant, but the result is your demise as an individual — and thus the collapse of any political system that depends upon individualism.

Timothy Snyder (b. 1969) American historian, author
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (2017)
Added on 28-Apr-21 | Last updated 28-Apr-21
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See no evil, hear no evil, makes you seem really evil.

Stephen Colbert (b. 1964) American political satirist, writer, comedian
Late Show (9 Feb 2021)
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There are a lot of things we don’t want to know about the people we love.

Chuck Palahniuk (b. 1962) American novelist and freelance journalist
Fight Club ch. 13 (1996)
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The truth which makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear.

Herbert Agar (1897-1980) American journalist and historian
A Time for Greatness, ch. 7 (1942)

Cf. John 8:32.
Added on 13-Oct-16 | Last updated 13-Oct-16
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But freedom isn’t free. It shouldn’t be a bragging point that, “Oh, I don’t get involved in politics,” as if that makes someone cleaner. No, that makes you derelict of duty in a republic. Liars and panderers in government would have a much harder time of it if so many people didn’t insist on their right to remain ignorant and blindly agreeable.

Maher - involved in politics - wist_info quote

William "Bill" Maher (b. 1956) American comedian, political commentator, critic, television host.
When You Ride Alone You Ride With Bin Laden (2002)
Added on 16-Feb-16 | Last updated 1-Jun-16
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We lie to ourselves, in order that we may still have the excuse of ignorance, the alibi of stupidity and incomprehension, possessing which we can continue with a good conscience to commit and tolerate the most monstrous crimes.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) English novelist, essayist and critic
“Words and Behavior,” The Olive Tree and Other Essays (1936)
Added on 28-Oct-15 | Last updated 28-Oct-15
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Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed.

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) English writer and scholar [Clive Staples Lewis]
The Magician’s Nephew (1955)
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There are conditions of blindness so voluntary that they become complicity.

Bourget - There are conditions of blindness so voluntary that they become complicity - wist.info quote

Paul Bourget (1852-1935) French critic, poet, novelist
Cosmopolis, ch. 5 (1892) [tr. Arnot (1905)]

Alternate translation:

There is such a thing as voluntary blindness which is little better than collusion.
[tr. Moffett (1898)]
Added on 2-Oct-13 | Last updated 24-Mar-22
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Men more frequently require to be reminded than informed.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) English writer, lexicographer, critic
The Rambler, #2 (24 Mar 1750)
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A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]

First attributed to Twain in 1945, but not found in his works. Earliest appearances of the quote date back to 1910, but are unattributed. It's often attributed to Abigail Van Buren (Dear Abby), but she didn't say it until 1966. See here for more information. Variants:
  • "Who can see the barely perceptible line between the man who can not read at all and the man who does not read at all? The literate who can, but does not, read, and the illiterate who neither does nor can? [Original form.]
  • "The person who does not read has no advantage over the person who cannot read." ["Dear Abby", 19 Oct 1966]
  • "The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them."
Added on 13-Dec-12 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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Reality cannot be ignored, except at a price; and the longer the ignorance is persisted in, the higher and more terrible becomes the price that must be paid.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) English novelist, essayist and critic
“Religion and Time” (1943)

Reprinted in Christopher Isherwood, Vedanta for Modern Man (1951).
Added on 29-Nov-12 | Last updated 4-Jan-22
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The know-nothings are, unfortunately, seldom the do-nothings.

Mignon McLaughlin (1913-1983) American journalist and author
The Neurotic’s Notebook, ch. 5 (1963)
Added on 8-Aug-12 | Last updated 10-Mar-22
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Who is so deafe, or so blynde, as is hee,
That wilfully will nother heare nor see?

[Who is so deaf, or so blind, as is he,
That willfully will neither hear nor see?]

John Heywood (1497?-1580?) English playwright and epigrammist
Proverbes, Part 2, ch. 9 (1546)
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Far more crucial than what we know or do not know is what we do not want to know.

Eric Hoffer (1902-1983) American writer, philosopher, longshoreman
The Passionate State of Mind, Aphorism 58 (1955)
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Wisdom cries out in the streets, and no man regards it.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Henry IV, Part 1, Act 1, sc. 2, l. 94ff [Hal] (1597)
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A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.

Saul Bellow (1915-2005) Canadian-American writer
To Jerusalem and Back (1976)
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There are two things which cannot be attacked in front: ignorance and narrow-mindedness. They can only be shaken by the simple development of the contrary qualities. They will not bear discussion.

John Dalberg, Lord Acton (1834-1902) British historian
Letter (23 Jan 1861)
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To be born enlightened: that is highest. To study and so become enlightened: that is next. To feel trapped and so study: that is third. To feel trapped and never study: that is the level of the common people, the lowest level.

[孔子曰、生而知之者、上也、學而知之者、次也、 困而學之、又其次也、困而不學、民斯爲下矣。]

Confucius (c. 551- c. 479 BC) Chinese philosopher, sage, politician [孔夫子 (Kǒng Fūzǐ, K'ung Fu-tzu, K'ung Fu Tse), 孔子 (Kǒngzǐ, Chungni), 孔丘 (Kǒng Qiū, K'ung Ch'iu)]
The Analects [Lúnyǔ, 论语], Book 16, ch. 9 (16.9) (6th C. BC) [ed. Lao-Tse, tr. Hinton (1998)]

(Source (Chinese)). Alternate translations:

Those who are born with the possession of knowledge are the highest class of men. Those who learn, and so, readily, get possession of knowledge, are the next. Those who are dull and stupid, and yet compass the learning, are another class next to these. As to those who are dull and stupid and yet do not learn; -- they are the lowest of the people
[tr. Legge (1861), sec. 2]

They whose knowledge comes by birth are of all men the first (in understanding); they to whom it comes by study are next; men of poor intellectual capacity, who yet study, may be added as a yet inferior class; and lowest of all are they who are poor in intellect and never learn.
[tr. Jennings (1895)]

The highest class of men are those who are born with a natural understanding. The next class are those who acquire understanding by study and application. There are others again who are born naturally dull, but who yet by strenuous efforts, try to acquire understanding: such men may be considered the next class. Those who are born naturally dull and yet will not take the trouble to acquire understanding: such men are the lowest class of the people.
[tr. Ku Hung-Ming (1898)]

Those who have innate wisdom take the biggest rank. Those who acquire it by study rank next. Those who learn despite natural limitations come next. But those who are of limited ability and yet will not learn, -- these form the lowest class of men.
[tr. Soothill (1910)]

Those who know instinctively (as at birth) are the highest; those who study and find out, come next; those who are hampered and study come next. Those who are boxed in and do not study constitute the lowest people.
[tr. Pound (1933)]

Best are those who are born wise. Next are those who become wise by learning. After come those who have to toil painfully in order acquire learning. Finally, to the lowest class of the common people belong those who toil painfully without ever managing to learn.
[tr. Waley (1938)]

Those who are born with knowledge are the highest. Next come those who attain knowledge through stud. Next again come those who turn to study after having been vexed by difficulties. The common people, in so far as they make no effort to study even after having been vexed by difficulties, are the lowest.
[tr. Lau (1979)]

Those who know things from birth come first; those who know things from study come next; those who study things although the find them difficult come next to them;and those who do not study because they find things difficult, that is to say the common people, come last.
[tr. Dawson (1993)]

Those who have innate knowledge are the highest. Next come those who acquire knowledge through learning. Next again come those who learn through the trials of life. Lowest are the common people who go through the trials of life without learning anything.
[tr. Leys (1997)]

It is the first class that one gets the knowledge because of one's innateness, it is the second class that one gets the knowledge because of one's studying, it is the third class that one gets studying because of one's encountering the difficulty, and it is under the class that one who does not study even if one encounters difficulties.
[tr. Cai/Yu (1998), #435]

Knowledge (zhi 知) acquired through a natural propensity for it is its highest level; knowledge acquired through study is the next highest; something learned in response to difficulties encountered is again the next highest. But those among the common people who do not learn even when vexed with difficulties -- they are at the bottom of the heap.
[tr. Ames/Rosemont (1998)]

Those who know from birth are the highest, those who know it from study are next, those who despite difficulties study it are next after that. Those who in difficulties do not study: these are the lowest.
[tr. Brooks/Brooks (1998)]

This appears to be the source of the following aphorism frequently attributed to Confucius, and recorded in James Wood, ed., Dictionary of Quotations (1893):

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.

For more discussion of that Wood "translation":
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 6-Jun-22
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