Woman covering her ears

Some people prefer not to watch the news and remain ignorant of all horrible things going on in the world. So, is it true that ignorance is a bliss? Idiomatic phrases describing the blissful life of people who lack knowledge and realistic assessment of matters are popular in many cultures. Take for instance the common idiomatic phrase a fool lives in his paradise. When this phrase is used it is usually meant to express the tranquillity enjoyed by deluded and uninformed individuals. Truly, unawareness of facts may spare us much anxiety and deludes us to a happy approval of situations that are inherently dangerous. By contrast, knowledge opens our eyes to many dilemmas of life and their resistance to reasonable solutions.

On some occasions, knowledge can be an overwhelming cause of distress. The more knowledge the person gains the further she steps away from the blissful life of the fools paradise, the psychological serenity formed by delusion and ignorance.

Idiomatic phrases about the bliss of ignorance go back to ancient and mediaeval cultures, but views of the nature of ignorance and its link to happiness were not restricted to the psychological aspect. Other dignifying meanings were present most noticeably in the philosophical and mystical discourses.

Socrates’ famous statement, “I know only one thing - that I know nothing” introduces ignorance as a form of wisdom; it’s wisdom rooted in the acknowledgment of what one does not know. Likewise, some mediaeval thinkers adopted positive views of ignorance, in specific, with respect to certain domains of knowledge. Phrases like, “the incapacity to attain the knowledge of God is a perception in itself,” that were widespread in the Sufi tradition point to an agreeable state of ignorance that, paradoxically, dwell on a recognition of the epistemological limitation of human beings with respect to God.

Mediaeval thinkers were persistently interested in inquiries about the nature of God and His governance of the world. Knowing these aspects of the divine was deemed the most sublime quest that, if appropriately fulfilled, would lead to the ultimate intellectual and spiritual bliss. While unlearned individuals may mistakenly think that they know God, truly learned individuals realise, upon reflection on the world, the inaccessibility of God. The more they reflect the more they become aware of their ignorance of the true reality of God. And the more they become aware of this fact, the nearer they are to God and spiritual bliss. Recognition of one’s incapacity to know God, as the Muslim theologian Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (12th century) says, is “the culmination of the path of the gnostic.”

The Jewish philosopher, Moses Maimonides (12th century) reaches the conclusion that reason and language fall short of appropriately capturing and expressing the true reality of God. Admitting this is not necessarily derogatory of one’s religious and intellectual devotion, but can be a sign of nearness to God. The point is that only learned individuals that devote themselves to reflecting on the world and the divine realm could come to know the deficiency of human reason and linguistic tools with respect to the true reality of God. And the more convinced of this conclusion, the more aware we are of the transcendence of God and the less susceptible we are to inculcating false beliefs about Him.

Alternatively, we can only speak of God through a language of negation; what God is not. This language conducts us towards the deity; “whence knowledge turns into ignorance and when tongues aspire to magnify Him by means of attributive qualification, all eloquence turns into weariness and inadequacy.” Another Jewish philosopher, Isaac Albalag (13th century), affirms that truly learned individuals should not feel ashamed of their incapacity to apprehend and express the true reality of God. Wise individuals are paradoxically aware of their ignorance, which is a natural consequence of our material component and the gap separating us from the divine realm. But this awareness should not be discouraging. On the contrary, it should motivate us to engage with further reflection. Our awareness of ignorance thus becomes a vehicle for pursuing knowledge and intellectual bliss.

While ignorance typically features unawareness and lack of knowledge, the ignorance of the learned individual is associated with awareness and knowledge. Either way, ignorance involves bliss, though of different types.