Златна медаља из филозофије

Српска олимпијада филозофије, Републичко такмичење из филозофије у писању филозофских есеја одржано је у Пожаревачкој гимназији 17. марта 2018. године. СОФ-ија представља Националне квалификације за Међународну филозофску олимпијаду.

Нашу школу је на овом такмичењу престављала Мариа Сара Фрасер 4/9, , ментор професор филозофије Тијана Ћук-Петковић. Мариа Сара Фрасер 4/9, је освојила прво место, златну медаљу и имаће ту част и задовољство да представља Србију на Међународној филозофској олимпијади 2018. која ће бити одржана у Црној Гори и на којој ће се окупити око 50 земаља.


Мариа Сара Фрасер 4/9

Knowledge is no guarantee of good behaviour, but ignorance is a virtual guarantee of bad behaviour. -Martha C. Nussbaum, Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities

The relation between knowledge and action is a theme that has permeated philosophy and mankind for ages. It raises many broader questions, such as the relation between good and bad behaviour, but this quotation in particular caught my attention because of its specific use of the terms knowledge and ignorance. In this essay I will discuss the various understandings of the terms used, and try to interpret the meaning (or meanings) we may draw from what is set forth. I will approach the topic through a linguistic, contextual, historical and philosophical lens.

One of the first philosophers to discuss the correlation of knowledge and what we may call good behaviour was Plato, who unified the two saying knowledge is virtue, and he who possesses knowledge will always act virtuously. The problem of this opinion is, apart from the many obvious examples of opposite results, is that of free will, i.e. if he who knows what is right will always act accordingly, we are not doing good out of our own will, but because we are predestined to do so. This critique is taken into account (though many years later), as knowledge is said to be no guarantee of good behaviour, with which I, and many more, can fully agree. However, in the case of ignorance being a virtual guarantee of bad behaviour, I would have to disagree, at least until we investigate further the true meaning and context of ignorance, to which I will come later in the essay.

In the age of enlightenment – which may be taken as a tipping point in our relation to knowledge and a turn towards science and the scientific method – amidst the seemingly never-ending conflict between the empiricists and rationalists, we stumble upon a sentimental Rousseau. He comments that all the discoveries of that age have done little for, or completely ignored our emotions. This is crucial to our approach towards knowledge and ignorance. Mainly, it seems that the reason knowledge is not a guarantee of good behaviour is that two individuals may receive and possess the same knowledge, but how they will act depends on their emotions or personality. Few of us can imagine ourselves possessing any sort of knowledge which we do not, at least latently, connect with a memory or an emotion. To clarify, what I am trying to define is closest to an opinion, the “personal” aspect of the knowledge we possess. I think this element of the knowledge we possess, much more than the knowledge itself, is crucial to the question whether we will act accordingly. Yet, although more important, we cannot assume our perception and understanding of knowledge will lead to a more positive outcome than the knowledge itself without context.

Here, I must digress from the philosophical understandings of the topic at hand in order to review a few ways we can understand the notions of knowledge and ignorance, as well as what is considered good or bad behaviour.

Knowledge, in the general use of the term, may be abbreviated as learnedness or possession of a vast quantity of information on a certain topic. If we are to view it in a wider circumstance though, it may be labelled as insight or perhaps perception added on to the scholastic experience, but both of these views do not make it invincible against bad influence; some even argue that experience itself only helps us do bad in a more efficient way. What comes to mind when we try to imagine a higher, doing-good form of knowledge is the term wisdom. It presumes a different approach to knowledge, one that is never selfish and is working towards a collective good, and maybe is closer to that knowledge of which Plato was thinking.

Now we will go through an analysis of ignorance. Ignorance that defines the opposite of scholarly knowledge would be interpreted in the form of an uneducated or uninformed individual. This alone cannot be virtual guarantee of bad behaviour because, if it were so, children and a large amount of the general population would constantly be doing wrong (this context may come in handy as educational propaganda, although untrue). The reason it is untrue can be best shown in the archetype of the goodhearted farmer, who although uneducated, works day and night to feed his family which he puts first and tries his best to contribute to society. Another example would be a much older and deeper archetype which is that of the Innocent Fool in search of the Holy Grail. It would seem that this Fool is entirely built on Plato’s notion that he who is not aware that he is doing wrong cannot be blamed, but the Fool transcends this and shows us that this same ignorance can be used against bad influences. In many cases his ignorance leads to a good outcome for he is too naïve to even think of wronging someone, if he were aware that his actions were wrong. This conception of ignorance also goes against Kant’s categorical imperative. To paraphrase, there are things for which we know are right no matter who we are and these categorical imperatives are imposed upon us as human beings, out of our reach and control. If we are to agree with Kant, the above defined form of ignorance would not be enough to drive us off the road of good behaviour, because however little knowledge of the world we possess, our nature steers us in the way of doing good.

If we are to view ignorance again in a broader context, namely that of unawareness and unconsciousness, and consider this ignorance so broad that it includes ignorance towards our moral compass, as some may call it today, or these categorical imperatives, as Kant viewed them, only then may we speak of an ignorance that is a virtual guarantee of bad behaviour.

Here we come across another problem – this looser interpretation of ignorance may be seen as an antonym of something much broader than knowledge itself, so in this context it would be comparing two elements from different axioms. If we wanted to compare this, as the only applicable version of ignorance to our topic, we would have to find a correlate word defining a full combination of knowledge and wisdom, and it seems that a highest form of knowledge and wisdom thus labelled would surely be a guarantee of good behaviour. In fact, I believe that if Kant were to comment on this he would probably put the categorical imperative itself as the opposite of this vast ignorance. So, the only reason knowledge would be no guarantee of good behaviour is because it has no direct correlation with good behaviour and it is no less prone to inducing bad behaviour, while if we are to view ignorance as the opposite of knowledge then it also does not guarantee good or bad behaviour because it relates to the intellectual aspect of an individual instead of a whole. Furthermore, if we are to use the term ignorance in such a general meaning, or one opposite to the categorical imperative, it is a self-implying term and only makes sense as something completely negative ultimately preceding bad behaviour.

At last we come to the core problem which is that of defining what is good or bad behaviour. This of course is a question much too broad to be covered in one essay but I will make a few notes regarding the position these two traits have been put in through the topic at hand. If we are to consider good behaviour that which is according to the laws of our country and society, the quote we discuss makes the most sense and can be seen as completely valid – we obey the law as far as we are informed about it if it is in our interest, and if we are to be ignorant towards the laws and norms of our society, the society would label this as bad behaviour, whether we acted knowingly or not. Another way of separating good from bad behaviour is through religion, which, though through many variations, basically displays a set of moral laws which are universal and could be again connected to the categorical imperative. This is where the gap reappears – if we are aware of the moral rules of Christianity, Hinduism, Islam or Buddhism and follow them (at least those which are universal) we are considered good believers but we are not obliged to obey these – therefore again good behaviour is not guaranteed, but if we were to grow up with no religion or implemented set of morals Kant would probably argue that we would not be doomed to bad behaviour because there is a will to do good inside us. We do not have to possess knowledge about these pillars of morality in order to follow them; all we must do is act according to what feels right. In the case of religion it is pretty clear what is seen as good or bad behaviour.

If we were to view good or bad behaviour as absolute categories we wouldn’t be able to come to many conclusions without exposing paradoxes and problems, as we can tell from the fact that there has never been given a quite satisfying definition of either. Though more exact terms, knowledge and ignorance also come across many boundaries when it comes to defining their true meanings as I have pointed out above, and in order to apply them in the sense of something almost absolute or leading to something absolute we must first firmly define the context and our understanding of the terms. Another view may be that it is the relativity of the words used that makes the topic discussible and so open to interpretation. It is not up to me to decide whether this is a positive or a negative aspect, but the author most probably provided explanations and the true context of the terms that were used and my critique is based solely on the presented sentence, apart from the work itself.

To conclude, I would agree with the given topic if we are to view it through the lens of a society and functioning in it, but any broader application would need to be subjected to further discussion and elaboration.