ISECS 2023, Rome

16th International Congress for Eighteenth-Century Studies

Antiquity and the Shaping of the Future in the Age of Enlightenment

Rome,  3-7 July 2023

Image: Viktor Niniadis on Pixabay

Call for Papers, Section 45: “Non-Knowledge is Power”? Transformations of the Concept of Ignorance in Enlightenment Literature and Culture

The self-awareness of ancient philosophy is based on overcoming ignorance, which is viewed pejoratively as an ‘aberration’ of the mind (Plato), the mark of the ‘fool’ (Stoics). Medieval authors have perpetuated this by association of ignorance with sin. With Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689) and its emphasis on the limits of the human mind, however, a shift in the discussion has been initiated. In the Enlightenment period, “ignorance […] became one of the decisive terms of contrast contouring the guiding concept of the epoch” (von Wille 182). Enlightenment discourses therefore frequently advocate that non-knowledge has been elevated, by applying reason, to docta ignorantia, the recognition of one’s own imperfection. From then on, the focus has been on different kinds of ignorance, theories of cognition, the progress of reason.

This panel explores how literature and culture engage with this thesis and the surrounding discourses of non-knowledge, ancient and modern, as well as the proposed ‘breach’ with pejorative notions of ignorance. We are interested in what terms are used in negotiating epistemological limits. Specifically, we encourage papers that examine representations of ignorance through media-specific tools, for example, what types of literary characters embody different practices of dealing with non-knowledge.

Our call is now open at

Now, from October 15, 2022 until January 31, 2023, it is possible to submit proposals for individual papers for this already accepted open panel. Please download the form and submit your paper proposal directly to

Bibliographical References

Auguscik, Anna and Simone Broders. “Introduction: Limits of Knowledge – Knowledge of Limits: The Productiveness of Ignorance, Non-Knowledge, and Agnotology in Anglophone Studies, Literature and Culture”. Anglistik 33.2 (September 2022). Selection Editor: Daniela Wawra and Jonathan Rose. In Collaboration with: Anna Auguscik, Roman Bartosch, Simone Broders, Maria Fleischhack, Charlotte Hahn, Christian Ludwig, Ilka Mindt, Jonatan Jalle Steller.

Daston, Lorraine. “The History of Science and the History of Knowledge”. KNOW: A Journal on the Formation of Knowledge, 1.1 (2017), 131-154. doi:10.1086/691678.

Forster, Greg. “’Sit Down in Quiet Ignorance’: Locke’s Epistemology of Limits”. John Locke’s Politics of Moral Consensus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. 40-65.

Kourani, Janet A. and Martin Carrier. “Introducing the Issues”. Science and the Production of Ignorance. When the Quest for Knowledge is Thwarted. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press: 3-25.

Meier-Oeser, Stephan. “Unwissenheit”. Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie. Basel (CH): Schwabe, 2011. 341-348.

Proctor, Robert N. and Londa Schiebinger (eds.). Agnotology. The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2008.

Schiebinger, Londa. “Nature’s Unruly Body: The Limits of Scientific Description”. Regimes of Description, In the Archive of the Eighteenth  Century. Ed. John Bender and Michael Marinnan. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005. 25-43.

Verburgt, Lukas M. and Peter Burke. „Introduction: Histories of Ignorance”. Journal for the History of Knowledge 2.1 (2021): Special Issue Histories of Ignorance.

Von Wille, Dagmar. Lessico filosofico della Frühaufklärung, Christian Thomasius, Christian Wolff, Johann Georg Walch. Lessico Intellettuale Europeo, vol. 54 (Rome: Edizioni dell’Ateneo, 1991).

Zwierlein, Cornel. Histories of Ignorance, 1400-1800. Intersections: Interdisciplinary Studies in Early Modern Culture 46. Leiden: Brill, 2016.