Benjamin Franklin wrote: “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest”. It is a fact that’s held true across ages, before Benjamin Franklin, and appears even more relevant today. It is because of knowledge that we ask questions; it is the reason why we get an education; it is why we encourage our generation to read. Apparently, it is also why many people spend hours consuming media, including social media. Knowledge comes in various forms, and seems to be available to anyone who truly desires it. Nevertheless, the ubiquitous nature of knowledge begs the question: can knowledge be harmful in any way?
Well, yes and no. Knowledge is such a concept that demands such an analysis. So, what exactly is knowledge? According to Oxford Dictionary, it is “facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education”. The philosophy of knowledge has a very wide scope, but the most prominent premise is that it is “true, justified belief”. Thus, knowledge is a proposition held, substantiated, and true in itself.
Without going too deep into theories and whatnots, we can agree that not everything known actually constitutes knowledge. We have so many information available, especially on the internet, but who’s to say what fraction of it is actually knowledge? What with the abundance of misinformation and conspiracy theories flying around these days. Some people are out there to purposely mislead you, so consuming whatever they dish out won’t necessarily give you any knowledge. Daniel J. Boorstin wrote: “the greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance – it is the illusion of knowledge”. Even more so, the greatest threat to true knowledge is the illusion of knowledge. There’s no need pondering this point then. Whatever proposition that is misleading, or unjustifiable does not construe knowledge, and can be injurious in so many ways.
Having put that aside, the question remains: can any true knowledge be harmful? That is, would a person be better off not knowing some things, even if they were justifiable and true?
While no knowledge is bad in itself, we also must apply caution in our quest for knowledge. For example, there are subjects that are not appropriate for little children, and acquiring any knowledge about them may be counterproductive. Even when the information contained within are true, you can’t just give any kind of book to your little ones. At least, not without some guidance.
This is because, knowledge without understanding is useless at best, and can even cause damage in other situations. As Albert Einstein opined, “any fool can know. The point is to understand”. This doesn’t apply to little children alone, as adults too can be lacking in understanding sometimes. When understanding doesn’t compliment knowledge, it could have dire consequences.
Furthermore, the “why” of acquiring knowledge is also important. Normally, we make research and read books to gain knowledge about our intended career or vocation. However, when you’re a bibliophile, you discover that leisurely reading can also bring you unintentional knowledge. But, we don’t just acquire knowledge for acquisition sake. Cesar Chavez said that “the end of all knowledge should be service to others”. I couldn’t agree more. Take nuclear energy for example, it is very beneficial, but it can also be employed for destructive purposes. So, if you purposely go seeking knowledge about something, it is only proper that you have everyone’s best interest at heart.
We’ll conclude with these quotes from three prominent thinkers. They all come together to give us an idea of why knowledge needs wisdom, not only in application, but also in it’s getting. Lawrence Stern wrote: “The desire of knowledge, like the thirst of riches, increases ever with the acquisition of it”. You may not give much thought to this quote, and simply surmise that the hunger for knowledge is completely harmless. But, when you think about the nature of riches and how it can corrupt, you realize that one ought to apply caution even in the search for knowledge.
Let us consider what Martin Luther King Jr meant when he said that “knowledge is a process of piling up facts; wisdom lies in their simplification”. This backs up the previous point. Like wealth, after you’ve acquired a world of knowledge, it is necessary to dispense same with tact. In the same vein, Lao Tzu suggested that: “To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day”. Wisdom is the moral anchor for every thing acquired, and knowledge, most of all, requires wisdom. Without wisdom and understanding, knowledge can be dangerous indeed.