The Knowledge of Good and Evil

Growing up in a family of scientists, I’ve always considered a life spent in the attainment of knowledge as ideal and paramount. As Confucius says, “If I hear the truth in the morning, it’s all right to die in the evening (朝闻道,夕死可矣)” In the words of twice Nobel Prize laureate Marie Curie, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.”

I remember, during my first ever conversation about Christianity as an atheist. I asked a Lutheran pastor what he called the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question, “Why did God forbid Man to eat of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil?” He smiled and answered, “Some things are better not to know. Don’t you agree?” I shook my head.

Reflecting on the question more than twenty years later, I think he had a point. To “know” something, in the Biblical sense, means to have intercourse with it, to be intimately familiar with it. Therefore, to have the knowledge of evil would entail that the person become evil in himself. It’s not objective knowledge, but experiential/existential knowledge of evil, an “appropriation”, in the terminology of Kierkegaard.

This is also the precursor of St. Augustine’s conception of Original Sin, if I understand it correctly. To use an analogy, it is like health and sickness. A person in good health doesn’t have any knowledge of sickness, but only when he becomes sick, does he know what sickness is like, and what health is in a relative sense. Adam gained the knowledge of good and evil only by becoming evil himself.

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4 thoughts on “The Knowledge of Good and Evil

  1. Moreover, any time an individual human person or group of persons decided for themselves what is to be morally right and wrong (ie. practiced moral relativism), harmony in society devolved into chaos, and all suffered as a result.

  2. 朝闻道, 夕死可矣, does it mean that one shouldn’t (or couldn’t) die before obtaining the truth(?), because seeking truth is one of the most important, noble aims in life, in order to be and to feel alive!

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