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For other uses, see Innocence (disambiguation).
"Innocent" redirects here. For other uses, see Innocent (disambiguation).
Bouguereau's L'Innocence: Both young children and lambs are symbols of innocence.

Innocence (or guiltlessness) is a term used to indicate a lack of guilt, with respect to any kind of crime, or wrongdoing. In a legal context, innocence refers to the lack of legal guilt of an individual, with respect to a crime.

In relation to knowledge[edit]

Innocence can also imply lesser experience in either a relative view to social peers, or by an absolute comparison to a more common normative scale. In contrast to ignorance, it is generally viewed as a positive term, connoting an optimistic view of the world, in particular one where the lack of knowledge stems from a lack of wrongdoing, whereas greater knowledge comes from doing wrong. This connotation may be connected with a popular false etymology explaining "innocent" as meaning "not knowing" (Latin noscere (To know, learn)). The actual etymology is from general negation prefix in- and the Latin nocere, "evil" or "guilty".

People who lack the mental capacity to understand the nature of their acts may be regarded as innocent regardless of their behavior. From this meaning comes the term innocent to refer to a child under the age of reason, or a person, of any age, who is severely mentally disabled.

Pejorative meaning[edit]

In some cases, the term "innocence" has a pejorative meaning, where an assumed level of experience dictates common discourse or baseline qualifications for entry into another, different, social experience. Since experience is a prime factor in determining a person's point of view, innocence is often also used to imply naiveté or lack of personal experience.


The lamb is a commonly used symbol of innocence's nature. In Christianity, for example, Jesus is referred to as the "Lamb of God", thus emphasizing his sinless nature.[1] Other symbols of innocence include children, virgins, acacia branches (especially in Freemasonry),[2] non-sexual nudity, songbirds and the color white.[3]

Loss of innocence[edit]

A "loss of innocence" is a common theme in fiction, pop culture, and realism. It is often seen as an integral part of coming of age. It is usually thought of as an experience or period in a child's life that widens their awareness of evil, pain or suffering in the world around them. Examples of this theme include songs like "American Pie",[4] poetry like William Blake's collection Songs of Innocence and of Experience and novels like, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher in the Rye, and Lord of the Flies.


  1. ^ "Freemasonry: Its Symbolism, Religious Nature, and Law of Perfection (March 10, 2003)". By Chalmers I. Paton (author). Retrieved February 25, 2013. 
  2. ^ The Numismatist (1903). By American Numismatic Association. Retrieved February 25, 2013. 
  3. ^ The Encyclopedia Americana: A Library of Universal Knowledge (1920). By Encyclopedia Americana Corporation. Retrieved February 25, 2013. 
  4. ^ Levitt, Saul. "Interpretation of American Pie - analysis, news, Don McLean, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, Rock & Roll". Retrieved 2011-02-16.