Docta Ignorantia

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Docta ignorantia, or learned ignorance, is a Latin expression designating the limitations of human knowledge. Man knows and affirms what is true but in an incomplete and partial manner. As a consequence, he should be constantly aware of personal limitations and discover in this consciousness the beginning of true wis dom. The phrase itself comes from St. Augustine (Epist. 130.28; Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne, 33:505) and was used by St. Bonaventure to describe an aspect of mystical knowledge (Brevil. 5.6.7). nicholas of cusa, in the light of St. Paul's teaching (1 Cor 1.1831;13.912), stressed the incompleteness and imperfection of man's knowledge. Although the principle of docta ignorantia permeated medieval philosophical and theological thinking, it received particular elaboration in Cusa's major work, De docta ignorantia (1440). His epistemological idea of limitation pervades modern philosophy.

Bibliography: e. vansteenberghe, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951 ) 11.1:601612; Autour de la docte ignorance (Münster 1915). r. haubst, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 3:435. f. l. cross, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (London 1957) 955956. É. h. gilson, History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages (New York 1955) 534540. j. marÉchal, Le Point de départ de la métaphysique, v. 2 (Paris 1944) 1535. v. martin, "The Dialectical Process in the Philosophy of Nicholas of Cusa," Laval théologique et philosophique 5 (1949) 213268.

[n. sharkey]