Define “dunce”

How do you spell "nihil"?

The second most frequent question we get here at the dunce academy is “how can you become smart if you are dunce?” (for some reason, the first most frequent questions we get are about how to become a csi agent; I don’t know why people keep coming here for those questions; we dunces are nerds, certainly, but not science nerds, and I think that is the number one prerequisite).

But back to our dunce definition.  The most important thing is knowledge.  Knowledge and intelligence.  Plato, in his Apology,  attributes to Socrates the phrase “scio me nihil scire” or “I know that I know nothing.”  Actually, more broadly, Plato is describing Socrates’ statement “this man, on one hand, believes that he knows something, while not knowing anything.  On the other hand I- equally ignorant- do not believe that I know anything.”

This might not pass for a dictionary-type definition, but your answer is in there.  “How can you become smart if you are dunce?”  Well, if you are dunce and you know you are dunce, you are already well on your way.  The only thing you can really know is that you know nothing.  Supposing you know anything more than that is just ignorance.  But knowing you know nothing is the key to wisdom, intelligence, or smart-ness.  So a dunce is smart, almost by definition.

Knowing nothing, or knowing you know nothing, rather, is the most intelligent thing you can know.

But thanks for the questions; and keep them coming!

5 thoughts on “Define “dunce”

  1. Excellent question, C.E.! The true dunce answer would be “I don’t know” or more completely “all I know is that I don’t know.” Dunces come in all shapes and sizes, and from all walks of life. They embrace all different forms of speech and have widely varying levels of education, both formal and in-. Were someone to say “I is dunce,” then they would be proving their point, certainly. But to say “I is smart,” I guess it depends on their intent. If said in seriousness, the irony is too glee-inducing to berate. And they are also not wrong. My response to “I is smart” would be “yes, you is, you just don’t know it yet.” Or “you just don’t not know it, yet,” depending. Because not being smart is the only kind of smart that matters, provided you know you’re not. Thinking you are when you are in fact not you are about as close as you can be without actually being there. So there are definitely worse places to be.

    As with questions, I firmly believe there are no stupid impostors. Trying to pose as a dunce, by pretending to be smart, when the only smarts a dunce has is that he is not smart, is smart, if only by its absence. See how that works?

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