Is It Always Good to Know?

I’ve always thought that “knowledge” was an intrinsic good. That is, good, in and of itself—not for some end or purpose, not for what it can or cannot do, nor for whether it will ever be used or not.

Recently, I’ve begun to question this. Not the part of it that would allow students to say, “I’ll never use this, why do I need to know it?” No, knowledge is still good in spite of whether you will “use” it in an extrinsic sense.

My doubts relate more to the relationship of “knowledge” to the “will.” The question I have is: “Is knowledge a good when it is united to a corrupt will?” Many people often complain that if God really existed, He would make His existence manifestly known. And consequently, that by this knowledge, they would believe (have faith, be converted). This is a question which turns on the theological notion of the deus absconditus.

Not surprisingly, Christian theologians have offered different response to this challenge (what they haven’t done is ignored it—what most people who state the challenge fail ever to do is look for a possible answer).

Blaise Pascal argues that if God did not remain hidden, terrible consequence would follow (hence, He stays hidden).

God wishes to move the will rather than the mind. Perfect clarity would help the mind and harm the will. Humble their pride. (Pensées, 234)

What Pascal means here is that perfect knowledge would do nothing to convert our wills. Though we would know the truth, we would not want it (or love it).

In 1945, at the Nuremburg Trials, the top Nazis defendents were given IQ tests, here are the results:

Hermann Wilhelm Goering (138)
Rudolf Hess (120)
Joachim von Ribbentrop (129)
Wilhelm Keitel (129)
Ernst Kaltenbrunner (113)
Alfred Rosenberg (127)
Hans Frank (130)
Wilhelm Frick (130)
Julius Streicher (106)
Walter Funk (124)
Hjalmar Schacht (143)
Karl Doenitz (138)
Erich Raeder (134)
Baldur von Schirach (130)
Fritz Sauckel (118)
Alfred Jodl (127)
Franz von Papen (134)
Arthur Seyss-Inquart (141)
Albert Speer (128)
Constantin von Neurath (125)
Hans Fritzsche (130)

All of them were above average in intelligence, some at levels of “genius.” Was their knowledge and intelligence a good thing? This is where the tension lives. Is it an intrinsic good to know how to kill effectively millions of people?

It seems that perfect knowledge without perfected wills only enables us to be more creative with our evil. It does not entail that we will do what we ought.

As St. Paul says,

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.  (Romans 7:15)

We are divided in our very nature.

So I wonder, is it always better to know?