Knowledge: Good or Evil?

This is a question I thought about from a while back. During our readings on knowledge, it seemed to me that the ancient philosophers liked to write about how they would educate their citizens in order to reach their ideal worlds, while the Enlightenment philosophers taught about how they believed the process of knowledge works without setting up definitive restrictions of how people should be controlled. For instance, Plato talks about the Myth of the Metals as a means to maintain order in The Republic while Hegel writes about the didactic method of obtaining knowledge. This makes me question as whether knowledge is a means or an ends. Is the use of false knowledge (Myth of Metals) morally corrupt if it accomplishes the goal of a peaceful city?

Combining this with the more recent discussions of education, I begin to see how modern education thinkers would answer this question. Gatto would see many problems with using education as a means for a “higher” purpose, as he criticizes many aspects of the restrictive classroom in his speech “The Seven-Lesson Schoolteacher”. If the teachers are using their authoritative power to tell lies to students, then the education system would be a lie in itself. Freire would criticize the “education as a means” theory because it fits exactly into the banking method of education he seeks to eliminate. Lastly, Dewey would find it fundamentally wrong and detrimental to personal growth is the student was exposed to an educational experience based off of lies and deception. All in all, none of the modern thinkers would use education as a means toward maintaining order.Plato

3 responses to “Knowledge: Good or Evil?

  1. Personally, I don’t think that knowledge can be classified simply as good or evil. However, the usage of knowledge can be good or evil. When knowledge is used as a means to a “higher” purpose, knowledge is dependent on the purpose to be good or evil. Nevertheless, when knowledge is an end, I personally believe that it is good. What do I mean by knowledge being an end? It means that knowledge is the intrinsic motivation and goal of all conducts instead of being used to create conducts. It is the love of education, per se, as Plato wants to convey through Socrates walking around questioning people. Like Foucault said, knowledge is power.

  2. Your question brings Foucault’s representation of discourses to mind. Rather than restricting knowledge to either “good or evil” Foucault approaches knowledge as a discourse in that it enables, constrains, and constitutes all at the same time. So I’m going to blame Foucault for my answer: I think knowledge is both good and evil at the same time. Looking at the myth of metals as a discourse, it constrains people by teaching them to believe there are certain natural social orders to be filled, it enables people by teaching them that it is character which determines your place in society rather than power (remember even a farmers son could be born with gold in his soul, which allows a sort of class fluidity) and that they are naturally suited to whatever role they get (I’d say confident, if not content, people are happy people). Lastly, the myth of metals constitutes a whole social order, sense of brother hood, set of beliefs, understanding of success – a whole system that wouldn’t be there otherwise. The “noble lie” is wrong or evil in some aspects but what it “is” cannot be limited to simply good or evil.

    I really like Foucault’s way of thinking. Not only is it a liberating thought process, it is a great way to avoid giving a definitive answer!

  3. I guess knowledge itself cannot be considered good or evil, just as how objects such as bricks cannot be good or evil. Good or evil lies in its purpose, as a brick can be used to build a house or smash a window. I still think that knowledge can be used for evil even as an end because we can ask questions that end up costing human lives as we pursue the answer (take Nazi scientists for an extreme example). Foucault’s take on knowledge is also interesting because it lists ways it can constrain but also enable. The power of knowledge creates great possibilities for good and evil.

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