General Question

wundayatta's avatar

Is willful ignorance evidence of maliciousness?

Asked by wundayatta (58525points) October 5th, 2011

I think that in law, if you create harm due to ignorance, you can be accused of negligence, but you are not usually considered to have committed willful harm. I struggle with this idea because sometimes I think that ignorance is willful. It sometimes seems like people deliberately avoid learning about things that would prevent them from negligently creating harm.

Probably unfairly, there are times when I don’t want to consider willful ignorance of consequences to be an acceptable excuse. In such situations, I think a person is malicious, even if they can’t see it.

But who am I to decide if a person is willfully ignorant? And if they are ignorant, how can I hold them responsible? So if I really care about the consequences of their ignorance, is it my duty to try to educate them?

What, then, am I to conclude if they do not accept any information I try to provide them with? Should I conclude that I am not persuasive enough? Should I conclude that maybe my position is not as correct as I thought it was? Should I conclude they don’t want to learn due to reasons having nothing to do with the truth?

I use myself as an example, but please, I am not looking for any personal attacks or judgments. It’s just a starting point for the discussion. Please be kind. These are issues I struggle with. I am not malicious. I just don’t know what to do with issues I care passionately about where I believe people are willfully or negligently committing harm.

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51 Answers

GabrielsLamb's avatar

But I think that you of all people must see the variables hidden within these instances. There are many things to factor in to considering these things. Time is one very important sensitive aspect of this. Think along the lines of “At this time, I was in a completely different mindframe.” Time dictates much of the events of our lives. In a moment, things happen, and often times those moments tend to hold us to these events. I’m sure you know this concerning your own conditions that you have shared. There have probably been times where your inner biology betrayed your better judgement.

Events took place within those moments that you can’t always easily set down again as time passes, which other people tend to forget willfully… People ENJOY holding grudges with intent using integrity and morality as their platform, and then crying foul and creating MORE problems compounded on top of the original event just because they are now in a superior position that they feel affords them that right.

Making mistakes should serve to teach us all… Sometimes people enjoy punishments more and that being the case, what makes them any better than those they accuse?

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

People internalize beliefs on an emotional level. They then look for supporting evidence.

Logic is a secondary function of the human mind. A person who feels something strongly, will then apply logic to support their feeling.

Attempting to use logic to sway them from a belief that is wrapped up in their identity often triggers a fight or flight response.

People often attempt to use logic to sway people from a belief that they have internalized as part of their identity, and are shocked when the other person takes it personally; especially if the facts in evidence are obviously true.

It does no good to keep trying to convince a person who feels something with logic; you are making them more and more emotional and less and less likely to listen. It is best to provide them with the evidence and hope that they change their opinion slowly over time in their calm reflective moments.

GabrielsLamb's avatar

@Imadethisupwithnoforethought Sometimes “Evidence” can be wrong. Hence every disproven scientific theory and each and all of their latter amendments. Hawking radiation comes to mind here.

Embarassing public retraction via genius anyone?

Sometimes is… is really only “seems to be” in a carefully hidden disguise

JLeslie's avatar

I say no. It is not evidence of maliciousness. It is evidence of other things, but not that. i think you have to accept that some people are limitied, well we all are limited in one way or another. People who appear to be willfully ignorant either psychologically, or at times IQ reasons, cannot handle or listen to the truth. For them they can only know their own truth for their view of the world, or their world falls apart. And, I don’t mean they necessarily have mental health issues or a diagnosis, or are mentally challenged outside of what we as a society consider to be normal, only that people seem to have a need to make sense of things, and information contrary to existing beliefs can be difficult to assimilate into their world construct.

Coloma's avatar

Scott Peck says that ” willful stubborness” is the very definition of “evil.”

I do think there is such a thing as willful ignorance.

An example I could give was an ex friend that wanted to breed her two boxer dogs.

She willfully rejected all of my input against her desire to breed her dogs for money, based on the facts of pet over population, ethics, the fact that she did not need the money, the fact that there are thousands of “purebred” dogs in shelters.

IMO she willfully CHOSE to disregard any facts or info. that put a cramp in her greedy desire to exploit “pets” she didn’t even really care for to begin with.

For those greedy, self serving types, you bet, willful ignorance is a CHOICE they choose to not take into consideration.

GabrielsLamb's avatar

@JLeslie Sometimes as well, I feel that people would rather blame and condemn sight unseen rather than to correct, to make that expenditure which really is a kindness, even if it is harsh, but because people don’t like to confront, they self preserve, judge, and pack hunt instead.

most of the things that take place in life are hardly ever what they appear to be really. It is one of the main reasons I am often confused, I’m very hard to bullshit and I take offence at someone asking me to not only eat it, but like it too.

Im sorry, no matter how you sugar coat bullshit… it just tastes BAD!

GabrielsLamb's avatar

@Coloma I think he is an idiot! *Sorry Scott Peck whomever you are??? that is just me being willfully ignorant. AKA “Evil” *Smiles. Booga booga! *Showing by example how words can sometimes be used intentionally and as well in a condition OF willful ignorance to a bit of a drastic extreme which serves a personal agenda!

It’s Swifts glass. “Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own; which is the chief reason so few have issue with it.

Jonathon Swift. (30 November 1667 – 19 October 1745)

Willful ignorance is called stupidity… Stupidity used to hurt someone with no clear or good reason *As if there ever really is a “good” reason to hurt someone, is evil!

Evil is the stab wound, not the weapon used.

“Stupidity doesn’t kill people, stupid people kill people.” LOL <——- (Connundrum)

JLeslie's avatar

@Coloma Interesting example. Made me think about how I still eat meat. I willfully ignore my feelings regarding the animal. I don’t eat veal, that one I just cannot ignore, and I usually buy cage free eggs and organic milk from farms that supposedly are nice to their cows, but the truth is if I had to kill the cow myself, I would probably never eat beef again, or any other animal. I always considered hypocrisy, not willful ignorance. What do you think?

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snowberry's avatar

Regarding veal: Anyone ever have lamb? Here in the USA, unless you purchase a sheep and arrange to have it slaughtered, you won’t get mutton.

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

@JLeslie If I may, you don’t have strong feelings about eating meet, so you deem that as a minor hypocrisy.

Someone who cares about cows very strongly will look at your behavior and deem it “willful ignorance” and interpret it almost in the same manner as a personal attack.

Coloma's avatar


I dunno, he had his own issues, but, I like some of his works.

His point is that it is not the “sin” or mistakes humans make that denote “evil”, it is the willful REFUSAL to take responsibility for the harm they cause.

“Evil” is not “outside” ones self, it is in the condition of pride and ego preservation.

snowberry's avatar

Oh, and in the case of veal and lamb, if it’s under 6 months old, it’s OK to sell it as such. So they’re not really babies…

GabrielsLamb's avatar

@snowberry It’s not their age, it’s not really about the fact that they are cute as hell… It is about the way they treat them. If you’re going to only live a few years or months even… How cruel is it to chain it to a cage restrict its movement and force feed it fattening things and chemicals to alter the very flesh of the animal to be more preciously palletible to some fat rich bastard? Nay Nay!


Coloma's avatar


Well, as always there are varying degrees of everything.
I feel as you do, I eat little meat, but, when I do I try to buy from organic “growers” and free range local ranches in my area. I agree, if I had to kill it I wouldn’t want to eat it.

Then again, considering that the meat industry is never going to go away, the best we can do if we choose to eat some animal products is to be discerning and go for as much cruelty free methods of raising.

I am more concerned about humane treatment and quality of life for the animal prior to it’s being “dispatched.”

JLeslie's avatar

@Imadethisupwithnoforethought But, I am not ignorant to the matter. I guess now I am trying to get a handle on what willful ignorance really means. Although, I am choosing to ignore which is obviously the root of the word ignorance. Interesting, I never really took apart the word ignorance.

Going back to my answer at the top, my first answer, take the idea that gay people should be able to marry, that it is a civil rights issue. A couple months ago I had a conversation with a man, who is very intelligent, he is lawyer, he is a Baptist, and he is against civil marriage for gay people. During the conversation I saw he recognized the logic in my argument, but then he said, “well I just don’t want them to be able to get married.” So, I guess I know put him into being willfully ignorant regarding gay marriage. But, then there are people who really don’t see or understand the logic as to why gay people should be ale to legally marry, their belief system creates a construct in their minds that they honestly, not maliciously in my opinion, think it is wrong, and will lead to worse things.

But, even the lawyer I spoke of who understood my logic, because of his belief system he is not purposefully malicious, I don’t think he wants to hurt anyone, he just does not want his idea of how things should be disrupted.

Imadethisupwithnoforethought's avatar

@JLeslie the emotional part of ours brains is in charge, not the logical, even in highly logical persons.

Your lawyer friend likely takes a secret pride in his own logic and rationality, and eventually was intellectually honest enough to admit it was just a feeling.

Most people take no secret pride in their own logic and rationality, and therefore, will state to you out loud something just “Feels wrong”.

Willful ignorance is something said of those people who openly state it “Feels Wrong” when their feelings are opposed to ours, out of frustration that they refuse to engage with us on a logical battlefield, upon which we “Feel” we have an advantage.

thorninmud's avatar

Just to look at a narrow instance of willful ignorance, in the fundamentalist religion of my upbringing I was strongly discouraged from reading material that was critical of that sect. At one point, one of the directors of the denomination was drummed out for failing to toe the doctrinal line, and he then wrote an expose of the underbelly of the organization. Just reading something like that would have almost guaranteed some kind of official censure. Kids were actively discouraged from going to college, for fear that the ideas they were exposed to would undermine their faith.

The rationaIe behind all this was that there were wily forces of disinformation at work in the world, forces that were far cleverer than mere humans. To expose one’s self to their malevolent deceptions was to court falling under their spell.

From my current perspective as a free-thinking adult I deplore this kind of willful ignorance, but I’m reluctant to call it malicious. It’s more a pitiable mistrust of one’s own judgment and a deference to those who supposedly know better.

CWOTUS's avatar

Whenever I see these types of question from you – and particularly from you – I consider your own “willful ignorance” on the topics of money and economics. I don’t think that it’s at all malevolent, but it is sad.

And just now reading the response just above mine from @thorninmud, it seems that we have the same conclusion from different avenues.

GabrielsLamb's avatar

@JLeslie Many people who are openly and willfully ignorant toward gay people are REALLY against hubris. That’s it and that’s all… and they really need to take the religious “Get out of moral jail free card.” which states how “The marriage bed is undefiled.” and take it in the pumper once or twice just for shits and giggles so that if for no other reason, they can just get over themselves and deal with their own squeemish idiocys and learn to deal with preferences and differences other than their own.

Honestly… I seriously believe that most people who have gay issues, have those issues with gay MEN only and they are concerning not much more than anal sex. WHich is such a small part of what makes people gay it is freaking rediculous, not to mention lesbians mostly don’t tend to do that so… that is why people don’t really see that type of relationship as anything other than something for them to feel they have some right to oogle over and challenge for themselves… *Hence the whole “I’m gonna make her straight” or… the ever popular “Can I watch” bullshit.

People reduce everything to sex and that is only a small part of any relationship period.

TexasDude's avatar

I think willful ignorance is more a sign of tardfuckery than malevolence, usually.

I would chalk up “willful and calculated defiance to objective righteousness” as something more malicious.

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GabrielsLamb's avatar

@JLeslie Willful ignorance = Stupidity… Not “Evil”

wundayatta's avatar

Ah, thank you @CWOTUS, my friend from the other side of the aisle.

Of course that issue goes both ways. I figure it is a complex issue and that you haven’t investigated it far enough. I think you are blinded by your Libertarian ideology since you are otherwise very sensible. It’s not willful ignorance. It’s nothing that couldn’t be solved by a weekly meeting at a pub. You never know. After a few beers we might find there is far more agreement than we thought. ;-)

JLeslie's avatar

@GabrielsLamb I don’t think willful ignorance always equals stupidity. I never said it was evil.

You are sort of new so you have not seen me post before how I find it ironic that men voice being disgusted by anal sex, when almost every man I know likes or wants to at least try anal heterosexual sex.

CWOTUS's avatar


You misunderstand again. It is my sensibility and my understanding of the way things work that informs my libertarianism, not the other way ‘round. When I’m faced with doubts about any type of ‘policy’ issue I consider, “How would people do this if they were free to act in any way that they chose and which didn’t cause direct harm to others?” What would be the benefits and what drawbacks? The ‘benefits’ list is usually longer and more compelling. There are always drawbacks, too.

That’s usually at odds with anything that governments attempt to force, compel or cajole. (Not always, but often enough to be “the rule”.) I continue to hold out hope that your sense will someday overcome your “sensitiveness” about these types of things. I know you’re a bright guy; what I don’t understand is the refusal to investigate and comprehend. But I know it’s not “evil”.

If you know of a pub at a near-halfway point then we can make arrangements to hoist a few.

koanhead's avatar

Certainly willful ignorance exists, but without an understanding of individual cases it’s not possible to determine whether or not the particular instance of ignorance is willful or accidental.
Obviously people aren’t born with all the knowledge that they will ever need to get by, so unless they are very careful and lucky they will eventually run afoul of their own ignorance even if they spend all their time learning as hard as they can. Unfortunately some folks don’t bother; they don’t like to learn, or they believe they should be taken care of, or some other reason. Sometimes they pay the price, sometimes the price is imposed upon others.
Even if ignorance is forgivable and understandable on an interpersonal level, it doesn’t excuse anything. It’s not a defense in law, and it certainly won’t save you from the consequences of physics or the depredations of malicious network users (which latter is why I am writing this guide to basic computer security and trying to get folks here to read it and comment on it).

Mariah's avatar

I think all people have a (moral, not legal) responsibility to get educated on a subject before making any big decisions in that arena. Choosing not to do so shows a great disrespect for the people affected by that decision. I think that’s malicious, sure.

LostInParadise's avatar

This topic is the subject of the philosophical book On Bullshit The term bullshit is defined in the book to mean things that people say without regard for whether or not it is true.

And to answer your question, it is definitely malicious.

Scooby's avatar

In the work place especially, that’s why there’s such a thing as corporate manslaughter…….. People die or get seriously injured every day through wilful ignorance in the work place, I see it every day…….. :-/
Of course it’s malicious, those in charge should know what they are doing, health & safety ,risk assessment etc, etc, etc………

Coloma's avatar

I agree with a definition of “malicious” as being informed, but not caring, and doing whatever you want anyway, regardless of the potential for causing harm.

This would be the definition of manipulation as well.

You KNOW it is wrong to conceal your motives from another, use trickery, lies, deceit to get what you want, but, you don’t give a flying fuck as long as you get your way.

JLeslie's avatar

@Coloma But don’t you think that with issues like gay marriage the majority of people against it are like a kid with his fingers in his ears shouting, “la la la la, I can’t hear you.” they never even hear the explanation. They remain uninformed. Wouldn’t you say that is still willful ignorance? Or, just not beng open? Or, what?

Coloma's avatar


I’d say it’s fear. ;-)

tinyfaery's avatar

I don’t know. Are you being malicious? You sure keep beating the same dead horse.

Coloma's avatar


Huh? Clarify?

JLeslie's avatar

@Coloma Me too.

@tinyfaery Who do mean? @wundayatta? I think he is trying to have a conversation about what he interested in without it getting derailed.

tinyfaery's avatar

Last post directed at OP. The topic of willfull ignorance needs a break.

JLeslie's avatar

@tinyfaery But previously the Q’s were hijacked back to athiesm v. theism. He never got to really discuss the main question well.

YARNLADY's avatar

I came in late to this discussion, but I would not assign a motive behind willful negligence, because I have no way of knowing a person’s hidden motive.

wundayatta's avatar

@tinyfaery I didn’t realize you had been appointed topic police chief again. Congratulations! I thought your regime term had ended some time ago. However, I will bow to your great wisdom and refrain from asking questions that should go on hiatus. Better yet, I will run all my questions past your review before posting them. Since surely none of them will pass muster, I look forward to your illuminating questions that will serve in the stead of mine. I have always enjoyed the flair you have for expressing your bon mots. I must say that I am forever grateful for your calming presence on fluther.

tinyfaery's avatar

I’m a volunteer.

snowberry's avatar

@tinyfaery Hey, I give dressage lessons on dead horses. So don’t get me started.

choreplay's avatar

The line of thought and reason your question is suggesting is used to lynch people of opposing view points in less free societies! This question is not only bad but dangerous. But I guess I will be proving your point because when you or anyone else asks to have my post mod-ed off you’ll be willfully ignoring this. Sometimes when people seem to fly in the face of reason or reasonableness they see purpose in a bigger picture or with different information that pulls them in another direction. Sometimes this is for a greater long term good but sometimes those ends are selfish and without regard for others. All humans need to open their ears, shut their mouths and practice humility. What I hear in your question is if people don’t accept truth (your opinion) they are criminal and dangerous. That in itself is dangerous.

wundayatta's avatar

@choreplay So you are saying that all points of view are equally valid, whether spoken by someone who is an expert or someone who doesn’t even understand the words he is saying? You are saying that no points of view should not be tolerated? That laws regarding hate speech should be removed from the books and that you would respect someone who hated you because, say, your name was choreplay, had just as much right to have you respect their point of view as someone who loved you because you take in orphans and send them to college? Is there no place you will draw a line at which you will say this person is stupid or ignorant, perhaps willfully so?

If you do think willful ignorance is possible, and that it is evidence of maliciousness, where do you draw the line? Why do you draw the line at that place?

Oh wait. Let me run the prior question past @tinyfaery first. Don’t answer it until she gives her approval. We all know she is a great supporter of censorship—purely in the best interests of jellydom, of course. @choreplay. You wouldn’t have a problem with her censoring the question, would you?

koanhead's avatar

@choreplay “The line of thought and reason your question is suggesting is used to lynch people of opposing view points in less free societies!”
[citation needed]

@wundayatta @tinyfaery et al. This question appears to be descending to a personal bicker-fest. Surely those of you who are arguing back and forth about past behavior in other threads can start a Meta thread, or take it to the chat channels?

Also, attacking the question is not helpful. If you don’t like the topic, why post an answer? Why not just flag it and move on? This is a moderated forum, after all.

FInally: Everyone, please note that the word is not “maliciousness” but “malice”. My vote is for a reduction in malice and and end to “maliciousness”.

CWOTUS's avatar

GA to @koanhead if only for the final sentence. Nothing wrong with the rest of the post, either.

Coloma's avatar

I think we can sum it up as one jelly said, once upon a time:

” If one person says you are a donkey, ignore it, if 10 say you’re a donkey, buy a saddle.” lol

That is branded in my mind, we could live our entire lives on metaphorical wisdom. ;-)

koanhead's avatar

@Earthgirl So, Merriam-Webster has not only added a superfluous “word” to their thesaurus but also, in their usage example, ended a sentence with a preposition. Further, although their alleged thesaurus uses the identical definition for both words, “malice” is listed neither as a related word nor as a synonym for “maliciousness”. I am not impressed with Merriam-Webster.

As far as I can tell there is no meaningful difference at all between “malice” and “maliciousness” except that “malice” sounds better and is easier to type and to say. On the other hand, “maliciousness” rhymes with “viciousness” and with “deliciousness” and could conceivably fit the meter of certain verse forms better than “malice” does. I certainly wouldn’t kick if someone used “maliciousness” to good effect in a poem, or even in ad copy.
In ordinary prose, however, it’s use is clumsy and inconvenient to both reader and writer, rather like “orientate” instead of “orient”.

Coloma's avatar


haha, well said, might I suggest that all those definitions could, simply, be translated to “asshole.” lol

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