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Are They Stupid, or Just Ignorant?

Are They Stupid, or Just Ignorant?

Here’s a definition subtlety for you: What’s the difference between ignorance and stupidity?

Here’s what has to say:


  1. lacking in knowledge or training; unlearned:
    an ignorant man.
  2. lacking knowledge or information as to a particular subject or fact:
    ignorant of quantum physics.
  3. uninformed; unaware.
  4. due to or showing lack of knowledge or training:
    an ignorant statement.


  1. lacking ordinary quickness and keenness of mind; dull.
  2. characterized by or proceeding from mental dullness; foolish; senseless:
    a stupid question.
  3. tediously dull, especially due to lack of meaning or sense; inane; pointless:
    a stupid party.
  4. annoying or irritating; troublesome:
    Turn off that stupid radio.

So, if a person is ignorant, they are missing information or experience. That’s easily fixed.

If someone is stupid, on the other hand, something more is going on. Nowhere in the definition of stupid do you see reference to information, knowledge, or even understanding. Instead we see words like dull, senseless, and inane (lacking sense, significance, or ideas; silly). Stupidity seems to be a character flaw.

My Take

A stupid person doesn’t care. This person doesn’t care about facts, just about what they think. When presented with arguments or data counter to what s/he thinks, they ignore it. Or, better yet, claim that the person in dissent is actually the stupid one.

To make matters worse, stupidity is the type of character flaw that people don’t see in themselves. And that is what makes stupid so hard to fix. A person will not fix a problem they don’t think they have.

On the other hand, an ignorant person knows that they are missing something. If they care about that lack, they can do something about it.

Before you get offended, not all ignorance needs fixing. Consider this: I am ignorant about climbing Mt. Everest. I have little knowledge and no experience with the topic. And I’m just fine with that. I have no desire to climb Mt. Everest so I have no need to learn about it. Conversely, when I get a new client, I’m generally ignorant about their specialty – I certainly know less about it then they do. I care about that ignorance, so I ask my clients lots of questions, do research, and fix the ignorance.

Society Today

It is rather distressing how many people seem to confuse ignorance and stupidity.

It is even more distressing how many stupid people are in positions of power. People who won’t even acknowledge other points of view, let alone give the credence.

That said, this is not about politics. (I just like to get my digs in where I can.)

My Advice

When dealing with someone who you want to label as stupid, ask if they are just missing some information. If that’s the case, provide the information. The ignorant person will appreciate it, the stupid one will ignore or deny it. From there, you can approach the person accordingly.

How to Approach Ignorance

  • Offer information, experience, or directions to them.
  • Encourage the person to find what they need.
  • Applaud them for overcoming the lack of information.

How to Approach Stupidity

Don’t. The stupid person doesn’t deserve the resources you may consume on them.