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Naivety (or naïvety, naïveté, etc.), is the state of being naive—having or showing a lack of experience, understanding or sophistication. One who is naive may be called a naif.

Etymology Edit

In early use, the word "naive" meant natural or innocent, and did not connote ineptitude. As a French word, it is spelled naïve or naïf. (French adjectives have grammatical gender; naïf is used with masculine nouns.) The dots above the i are a diaeresis (see also Ï). As an unitalicized English word, “naive” is now the more usual spelling,[1] although “naïve” is unidiomatic rather than incorrect; “naïf” often represents the French masculine, but has a secondary meaning as an artistic style. “Naive” is now normally pronounced as two syllables, with the stress on the second, in the French manner.

The noun form can be written naivety, naïvety, naïveté, naïvete, or naiveté.


In the sciences, and technical professions, it is used to refer to a lack of experience or avoiding the obvious with a specific stimulus (e.g., an image, a drug, a method for solving math problems) and does not carry broader negative connotations about the individual. In computer science, a naive algorithm is one that is correct and simple, but not efficient, e.g. bubble sort for sorting or linear search to find a value in a list.


The naif appears as a cultural type in two main forms. On the one hand, there is 'the satirical naïf, such as Candide'.[2] Northrop Frye suggested we might call it 'the ingenu form, after Voltaire's dialogue of that name. Here an outsider...grants none of the premises which make the absurdities of society look logical to those accustomed to them',[3] and serves essentially as a prism to carry the satirical message. Baudrillard indeed, drawing on his Situationist roots, sought to position himself as ingenu in everyday life: 'I play the role of the Danube peasant: someone who knows nothing but suspects something is wrong...I like being in the position of the primitive...playing naïve '.[4]

On the other hand, there is the artistic 'naïf - all responsiveness and seeming availability'.[5] Here 'the naïf offers himself as being in process of formation, in search of values and models...always about to adopt some traditional "mature" temperament'[6] - in a perpetual adolescent moratorium. Such instances of 'the naïf as a cultural image...offered themselves as essentially responsive to others and open to every invitation...established their identity in indeterminacy'.[7]

During the Sixties, 'the naifs turned toward mysticism and Eastern religions',[8] feeding into the Hippie movement. 'Hippie culture, bastard of the beat generation out of pop, was much like a folk culture - oral, naive, communal, its aphorisms ("Make love, not war", "turn on, tune in, drop out") intuited, not rationalized'.[9] Its druggie protagonists 'had a childlike wonder that we could produce such weirdness from ourselves...assumed with the bravado of youth that we'd make it back to tell of what we saw'.[10]

A "recovering" naïf might have to learn that 'I had to stop presenting myself as a blank canvass to others. I was allowing people to paint their fantasies on to me so that when I finally let them know what I was like...I was already in too deep for the extrication to be painless'.[11]


The naif represents 'a common intellectual type among women...Rosamond Lehmann, Katherine Mansfield, and Jean Rhys all wrote naïvely'.[12] Alongside the literary 'survival of a tender, untried female naif from modern Gothic tradition',[13], the role remains a perennial possibility in everyday life. Often in a family 'the youngest sister, the most undeveloped one, plays out the very human story of the naive woman. The naive woman tacitly agrees to remain "not knowing"'.[14]

Yet any woman may adopt the position in a relationship, so that 'from the moment she uses the word love, there is the birth of naivety': she 'put her intelligence to sleep...the knowing, doubting, sophisticated [side]', exchanging it for ' the power to create through naivety '[15]

Transactional AnalysisEdit

In Eric Berne's terminology, the naif is very close to 'the Schlemazl...a man who gives too much away';[16] as well as to the game of "Peasant". Here the protagonist 'is a celebrated poet, painter, philanthropist or scientist, and naĩve young women frequently travel a long that they can sit adoringly at his feet and romanticize his imperfections'.[17]


Doris Lessing considered that 'being psycho-analysed is essentially...a sort of intellectual primitivism';[18] and that many of its standard techniques can be seen as directed at artificially creating or re-creating a state of naivety. Thus free association means that 'the patient has to refuse himself the conventional satisfactions of narrative...has to become a very bad story-teller and make a nonsense of his life. Giving himself up to another person's punctuation, the patient recreates something of the process of being parented'.[19]

Conversely, the therapist is enjoined to 'attempt to understand something from a position of not-knowing...starting every session "without memory, desire or understanding"':[20] sets out 'trying to listen as naively as possible...[to] open to the phenomena of therapy freshly, naively'.[21]

See alsoEdit


  1. OED, “naïve” and “naïf” and quotes.
  2. Mark Perrino, The Poetics of Mockery (1995) p. 54
  3. Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (Princeton 1973) p. 232
  4. Jean Baudrillard, The Conspiracy of Art (2005) p. 66-7
  5. Martin Green, Children of the Sun (London 1977) p. 238
  6. Green, p. 35
  7. Green, p. 35
  8. Leora Lev, Enter at Your Own Risk (2006) p. 50
  9. Ellen Willis, "Dylan" in Craig McGregor ed., Bob Dylan: A Retrospective (1975) p. 148
  10. Jenni Diski, The Sixties (London 2009) p. 40-2
  11. Gwyneth Lewsi, Sunbathing in the Rain (London 2002) p. 160
  12. Green, p. 34
  13. Mary Ellen Snodgrass, Encyclopedia of Gothic Literature (2005) p. 112
  14. Clarissa Pinbola Estés, Women who Run with the Wolves (1996) p. 51
  15. Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook (1973) p. 216-7
  16. Eric Berne, Games People Play (1966) p. 99 and p. 107
  17. Berne, p. 133
  18. Lessing, p. 455
  19. Adam Phillips, On Flirtation (1994) p. 68
  20. Patrick Casement, Further Learning from the Patient (London 1997) p. 10
  21. Carl R. Rogers, On Becoming a Person (1961) p. 128

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