This word is related to the Socratic paradox, which is the phrase "I know that I know nothing."

I'm looking for a word which describes the extent to which one is aware of one's own ignorance. A techno mumbo jumbo, unsexy way to say this would be one's "Dunning-Kruger index", where, for example, the higher your index, the more ignorant you are of your own adequacy.

I feel like there exists a French or German sounding word which I can use here. Kind of like "naivete", except this word would describe the extent to which one is aware of one's own naivete.

  • 1
    I was about to answer in self-ignorance, then thought better of it. My command of English is definitely weaker than the average English major.
    – phyrfox
    Jun 16, 2015 at 2:05
  • 1
    Look up the "orders of ignorance". There is one in particular that might be very close to what you are referring to.
    – KnightHawk
    Jun 16, 2015 at 3:42
  • 1
    Self-aware, right?
    – Lambie
    Jun 1, 2018 at 15:30
  • Seems to me you're describing Schultziness.
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 1, 2018 at 23:23

5 Answers 5



Recognizing the limits of one's talents, ability, or authority. Literally "on the ground."
Kant's view of humility has been defined as "that meta-attitude that constitutes the moral agent's proper perspective on himself as a dependent and corrupt but capable and dignified rational agent".

Humility seems to more specifically deal with one's limitations than the concept of becoming self-conscious or enlightened, though one could say it's hard to become awakened to one's self and not become aware of their own limitations to some degree.


In a word, wisdom. I think the phrase that best captures the idea is, "You don't know what you don't know." This, to me, expresses the vastness of ignorance and possible unintended consequences.


Agnostic might be a good option:

< Greek ágnōst (os), variant of ágnōtos not known, incapable of being known ( a- a-6+ gnōtós known, adj. derivative from base of gignṓskein to know) + -ic, after gnostic; said to have been coined by T.H. Huxley in 1869

The original usage of the term was confined to philosophy and religion, and referred to Huxley's assertion that anything beyond the material world, including the existence and nature of God, was unknowable. Today the word can be seen applied to questions of politics, culture, and science, as when someone claims to be a 「political agnostic.」 In a more recent trend, one can be agnostic simply by not taking a stand on something. In 2010, President Obama called himself 「agnostic」 on tax cuts until he had seen all available options. At a forum on sustainable energy in 2008, GE CEO Jeff Immelt said he was 「fuel agnostic fundamentally.」 In technology, software or hardware can be said to be agnostic as well. Computer code that can run on any operating system is called 「platform agnostic,」 and such services as phone and electric may be considered 「agnostic」 if not dedicated to a particular carrier, device, or user interface.

cited from http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/agnostic

  • Another option I can think of could be cognizant nescience

It's a great question. You'd think there would be such a word, but I can't think of one. Now, there's a common phrase:

A man should know his own limitations.

and variations on that.

The only other thing I can really think of to describe this is "overreach" .. so , you might here in the office "be careful not to overreach," or something like "I might study medicine but I don't want to overreach - I know my limitations."

I appreciate these could refer to any quality (physical abilities, etc); you are asking more specifically I think about "knowledge in a field" (ignorance).

Note that there's the common phrase "ignorance is bliss" which is rather related to your query.


If you want a single word to amaze your audience, you can consider akrasia. (from ancient Greek ἀκρασία impotence, want of self-command).

The state of mind in which someone acts against their better judgement through weakness of will. [OD]

It is often interpreted as awareness of ignorance or willful ignorance in philosophical contexts; and you can consider using these phrases too. OED mentions that akrasia is sometimes used with reference to Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.

From Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, Volume 47 edited by Brad Inwood:

I identify akrasia not with ignorance but with an (imperfect) awareness of ignorance. Ignorance can be continuously present without being continuously experienced: akratics, when they are not being akratics, lapse into foolishness.

From Weakness of the Will in Medieval Thought By Risto Saarinen:

According to the Franciscan view, the akratic person's erroneous behaviour is totally due to a willful ignorance; the most radical Franciscans even hold that the akratic person definitely wills to act against reason's judgment.24

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