The Agnorant Personality, When Arrogance and Ignorance Combine

Arrogance is the sister of ignorance. It's a characteristic that reveals a type of personality we see more and more frequently and in which the substrates of narcissism also hide.
The Agnorant Personality, When Arrogance and Ignorance Combine

Last update: 18 September, 2021

The agnorant personality combines the two subtle and dangerous traits of arrogance and ignorance. However, you won’t find this personality profile in any scientific manual nor are there any studies that have investigated it. Nevertheless, it seems that in recent times this behavior that’s always existed has become more visible.

We’re talking here about those figures in our society who are completely ignorant on one or more topics, yet actually conceive of themselves as authentic gurus of absolute truth. They’re arrogant, narcissistic men and women who lack intellectual humility. As a matter of fact, as curious as it may seem, this quality is something that Charles Darwin himself defined and predicted would come about.

We must be careful with ignorance, he said, because it’s what instills in the human being the confidence and the belief that they’re a depository of great knowledge. He further claimed that the effects of this could be devastating. That, in fact, we could have a legion of real “fools” operating among us.

“We are all very ignorant. What happens is that not all ignore the same things.”

-Albert Einstein-

man pointing to symbolize agnorant personality

Agnorant personality, I know everything and you know nothing

Agnorant personality is a term that first appeared on social media in 2012. It’s a  neologism that you tend to see in many memes. However, as we mentioned earlier, you won’t find it in any manual of personality psychology.

With regards to the terms that define it (ignorance and arrogance), they make up a relationship that’s long been studied by science. Furthermore, it’s safe to say that one usually accompanies the other.

study conducted in 2020 revealed something interesting. It concluded that ignorance and arrogance correlate with privilege. In other words, people who hold positions of power often reveal a clear agnorant personality. These are figures who, by dominating in one field (being CEO in a car company, for example), believe themselves to be experts in others, such as medicine, for instance.

This suggests that, in some cases, power isn’t related to intellectual humility. Let’s take a look at some more of the characteristics of an arrogant personality.

When incompetence leads to inflated self-assessments

On April 19, 1995, McArthur Wheeler robbed two banks in Pittsburgh with no mask. He did it because, according to him, bathing his face with lemon juice made him invisible. When he gave his statement to the police, he seemed amazed. In fact, he couldn’t work out what had gone wrong. He was absolutely convinced that his technique should’ve worked.

Mr. Wheeler was unaware of his own ignorance. What’s more, he had a clearly inflated vision of himself. As a matter of fact, he became the object of a study by social psychologists, David Dunning and Justin Kruger.

These experts observed a specific bias that frequently appears. It’s known as illusory superiority and is extremely common in the agnorant personality. It derives from the inability of some people to recognize their lack of competence.

As John Cleese, the well-known Monty Python’s Flying Circus star and comedian explains, “The problem with people like this is that they are so stupid, they have no idea how stupid they are”.

The Dunning-Kruger effect and the agnorant personality

As a matter of fact, the agnorant personality doesn’t need to be used as a new psychological term. That’s because there’s already one to describe this kind of personality. It’s the Dunning-Kruger effect. Indeed, it was the psychologists we mentioned earlier who introduced this cognitive bias. It describes those people who show low competence, but who overestimate their own ability.

Likewise, and as curious as it may seem, the opposite phenomenon is also extremely common. In other words, there are those who, despite being highly competent, completely underestimate their skills. This kind of behavior is often related to impostor syndrome.

It’s interesting to see how the Dunning-Kruger effect perfectly outlines the subtle combination of arrogance and ignorance:

  • They’re people with clear anosognosia of their own skills. As a matter of fact, the more brilliant and credible they consider themselves, the more inept they turn out to be.
  • They also have low self-awareness of their metacognition. That is, they’re unable to reflect on their own thought processes in order to realize that they’re sometimes wrong. Consequently, by not recognizing their mistakes, they’re unable to learn new things or to reformulate their approaches.
  • The greater the illusory superiority, the greater the ignorance. This suggests that arrogance is the basic problem. The people see themselves as possessing superior minds. Indeed, they have absolutely no room for doubt in their minds, or to even consider any other perspectives. In fact, they believe they’re the possessors of the absolute truth. However, this arrogance is what leads them to their irremediable ineptitude.
Boss angry with employees representing his agnorant personality

The importance of developing intellectual humility

We should remember the words of Socrates. He said that the only true wisdom is knowing that you know nothing. Indeed, that’s the key. To understand that knowledge means being open, to reformulate again and again what you learn so you can continue moving forward.

However, the agnorant personality reflects the opposite of intellectual humility, the approach that allows itself to be flexible and open to new ideas.

Nowadays, more than ever we need people who don’t adopt lofty positions in life. Men and women who put aside their arrogance, who know that science is learning, that life is trial and error. In fact, only humble hearts and minds facilitate the true development of societies.

As Albert Einstein himself said, “a true genius admits that he/she knows nothing”.

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  • Gallagher, Brian (23 April 2020). “The Case for Professors of Stupidity: Why aren’t there more people studying the science behind stupidity?”. Nautilus.
  • Tanesini, Alessandra. (2020). Ignorance, arrogance, and privilege. 10.4324/9781315146058-5.
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