This question has been plaguing me for quite some time now and I can't seem to find an answer.

Because its purely mental, it can hardly be measured and I have seen many examples of ignorant people thinking that they're the "enlightened" ones and this has made me question my own self.

Due to me being a teenager I can hardly trust myself, even if a decision or argument seems perfectly logical, I cant help but wonder if I'm missing something due to inexperience and am constantly unsure of myself due to fear of ignorance.

So is there any reliable way to know if I'm being ignorant or must I forever toil in the purgatory of uncertainty?

  • From a less philosophical and more therapeutic point of view: To what degree do you think any of us have enough experience to make even a tiny dent in the vast ocean of inexperience created by the comparative experiences of other people? Socrates has a point in claiming to know nothing. Manipulatively overstated, but still a good point. At some point decisions are made, but it is not because there is ever enough information to actually decide, it is because action must be taken. People become attached to their decisions, and that makes them effective, not correct.
    – user9166
    Aug 6, 2016 at 15:59
  • I suppose that there will never be enough information to make a perfect decision or argument and perhaps trying to escape the ignorance inherent in humanity is as foolish a task as trying to attain perfection. Aug 6, 2016 at 21:37

2 Answers 2


The terms are explained in this wikipedia article:


"Unconcious incompetence" happens when you are so incompetent that you cannot even realise how incompetent you are. "What could be difficult about parking a car?" "Conscious incompetence" is one level better - you realise your incompetence. "I can't park this car without hitting others". Then comes "conscious competence" - you are competent when you think about things. "I learned to park my car without bumping into things following these simple steps..." And then "unconscious competence", when you are so good at something you don't even think about it. "What could be difficult about parking a car?"

Or look at books. A child goes through the stages: Not knowing what written text in a book is. Knowing that there is written text in a book, but you can't read it. Working hard to read. Reading without thinking.

"So is there any reliable way to know if I'm being ignorant or must I forever toil in the purgatory of uncertainty?" Lack of uncertainty doesn't mean you are competent. Actually it indicates you are either very competent or very incompetent. Total fools often have not the slightest doubt in their competence.

The only reliable way is to make decisions that can be judged later, and judge their outcomes. Since you start with low competence that hopefully improves over time, it's best to start with decisions that make little impact if you get them wrong. When you must make decisions (have no choice), just do your best. Don't worry, because worrying doesn't improve your decision making, and it doesn't improve how you implement decisions.


From a point of view between Wittgenstein and Feyerabend, one can propose this criterion: competence is competence to the degree that it is effective, there is no shared notion of what 'effective' means, but in the end it is obvious.

From Wittgenstein -- human experience is not part of a consistent whole, but is instead organized into sets of overlapping 'games' where we get continuous feedback about whether what we are doing, thinking, or being is 'right'. So there are not really enlightened or ignorant individuals (of equal intelligence) there are only those more or less attuned to the games they are expected to play.

From Feyerabend -- Since games evolve over time, no game ever really completely captures the proper perspective on any issue. If it did, it would cease to be interesting to play, and would no longer be attractive to humans. It would simply end. Therefore we are always somewhat wrong, except about things in which we are wholly uninterested. As animals, driven to some degree by a will to control things, we will always be interested in what is effective. So this is a game that we cannot allow to converge, and it won't.

From basic biology -- At the same time, we are strongly evolved toward knowing what is and is not effective. It is obvious, even if we cannot express it or agree upon it, because insensitivity to it would be quite devastating to our chances of surviving.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .