Knowledge becomes evil if the aim be not virtuous.

Knowledge becomes evil if the aim be not virtuous.Plato

Knowledge of sword play can be used to gain an Olympic Medal, or to take a life.

Knowledge of sword play can be used to gain an Olympic Medal, or to take a life.

What does that mean?
This is an interesting quote about knowledge and how it is applied. It is in the application that knowledge becomes evil or virtuous.

Some of the same chemicals used to kill and maim millions in World War One are now used, in very careful doses, to treat cancer. Mustard Gas isn’t itself evil, but it can be used to kill people, or it can be to save lives.

The knowledge to split an atom is neither good nor evil. How it is applied, that is where it gets tricky. Handled ethically, it can produce massive amounts of power in a clean and relatively safe manner.

Similarly, a sword isn’t evil or virtuous. The knowledge of how to use it is where that is decided. If it is used in a contest, that knowledge could win you an Olympic Medal. Or you could use it to murder someone.

Why is ethical use of knowledge important?
As a martial artist, I know lots of ways to hurt someone, in many degrees and with a variety of weapons, both traditional and improvised. My sense of ethics is what keeps me from doing things which I believe to be other than virtuous. However, I could use this knowledge for evil. It is a choice.

At, virtuous is defined as “conforming to moral and ethical principles; morally excellent; upright.” I strive to hold myself to high standards, but there are those who do not. I am fortunate not to have run into anyone like that. They have chosen to apply their knowledge for evil.

We all have knowledge which could be put to use for evil purposes or for purposes which are virtuous. It is up to each of us to choose properly. That relies on our values and those of our society, and will be different in different parts of the world. That’s just the nature of humanity

But as the world becomes a smaller place, we need to start to look beyond our own small group and try to determine if how we are applying our knowledge is virtuous for all, or just for a select few. We need to begin to find the most virtuous ways to apply our knowledge and to help others as best we can.

Where can I apply this in my life?
We all know something. More precisely, we all know things which could be used for less than virtuous purposes. Those who know how to manipulate computers could use that knowledge to help others, or to steal from them. They could damage anything controlled by the computer they compromise.

Some use this talent to help others. They test software and systems for vulnerabilities and then help the company to fix these issues before someone else can use the knowledge with evil intent, and cause them harm. In the computer security world, they are known as the “White Hats,” and are highly valued.

What are some of the things you know which could be put to use for the forces of evil or the forces of virtue (or good)? How often do you put them to use? When you do, is the knowledge put more towards good or towards evil? I imagine that there are also times when it is somewhere between.

The question becomes how can you use your knowledge for virtue, rather than for evil? Let’s start by considering when you are most tempted to apply your knowledge in a manner that is less than virtuous. When does that happen most often, or when are you tempted to move farthest from virtue? Start by picking one.

Yes, it’s probably not the part of you which is the most pleasant to probe, but if you are to change, it helps to know your own nature. Is there something in your past which is part of the issue? Is there a lesson or a belief which you incorrectly drew, all those years ago? What else could it have meant to you?

How can you change your attitude towards using your knowledge in this situation? By changing a belief or lesson from your past, you can plot a new course forward. The stronger the new belief or lesson, the longer you will stay on the new course, and the stronger you will be in your resolve.

But you will have to examine your life. You will have to consider what you are going to do, and how far you will go towards virtue. You will have to decide if what society expects of you is proper, or if you hold yourself to a different standard. And finally, you will have to take the action to make this happen.

What are you willing to do to safeguard your knowledge from being used to promote evil? How will you behave when acting with this knowledge? What are you willing to change in your life, to make things better for you and for others? These are questions only you can answer. Please take the time to think about it.

From: Twitter, @philo_quotes
Confirmed at :…/A_Teacher_s_Hand_Book_of_Moral_Lessons This quote goes at least as far back as a book from 1905, ‘A Teacher’s Hand-Book of Moral Lessons’ There are also a couple of near-hits (perhaps alternate translations?) in several other works, including from Aristotle and Plato’s comments on Socrates.
Photo by Republic of Korea

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2 Responses to Knowledge becomes evil if the aim be not virtuous.

  1. Notes To Ponder 18 June 2014 at 10:54 am #

    My first thought is that evil derived from knowledge boils down to personal gain.Money is the root of all evil – virtue becomes invisible once greed takes hold. Society is frightened, virtue fades as panic takes hold. Finding virtue again hangs on thinking for ourselves rather than jumping on the propaganda wagon. You referred to our world getting smaller – I see this as our virtuous minds becoming weaker.- virtue will find a way if we can understand each and every one of us has a voice. (That and growing the balls to scream ENOUGH at the entitled few wreaking virtuous havoc)

    Geez – I hope this “rant” makes a little sense 🙂

    • philosiblog 20 June 2014 at 1:57 am #

      I would caution you to remember that objects simply are. Money simply is. The unbridled pursuit of it is evil. The ethical pursuit of it, and generous use of it, becomes virtuous.

      Our minds could become weaker, if we simply accept the values of others and surrender our own. However, if there is a spirited debate (and it remains limited to the exchange of words), the better values will rise to the top, and be known and accepted. Whether someone needs to grow new body parts (or expand what they already have) is a different matter entirely.

      I understand. Our world is going through a number of changes. Per the Ancient Chinese curse, we live in interesting times. Stay strong, and do what you can to hold on to what matters to you. The storm will pass, and there will be people looking for help, stability, and methods which work. You will have those, and can help them find their path once again. Stay strong, the world may yet need your skill and strength.

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