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The Proclamation of Knowledge Is Power

The proclamation scientia potentia est is a Latin aphorism traditionally translated as knowledge is power. It is usually associated with Francis Bacon, although in this version this expression is not found in either English or Latin works of Bacon. However, almost verbatim, it is present in the work of Bacon Meditationes Sacrae. In its well-known formulation, the phrase first appears in Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes, who in his youth was the secretary of Bacon.

The first known reference to a specific phrase appeared in the Latin edition of Leviathan in 1668. In the excerpt from part 1 (De Homine), chapter X (De Potentia, Dignitate et Honore), there is a list of the various qualities of a person that endow him with power. Knowledge in this list is assigned an insignificant role.

The closest expression in the works of Bacon is present in the work of Meditationes Sacrae. Perhaps a more accurate translation of this phrase would sound like knowledge is His power because its context refers to the qualities of God and is part of the discussion about heresies that deny the power of God.

Bacon proceeds to consider the main degrees of heresy denying or belittling the power of God. In particular, Bacon refers to people who place greater emphasis on Divine knowledge than on His power, thereby admitting that the Lord, as an indifferent spectator, foresees some things that He, however, did not predetermine.

Thus, according to Bacon, the main attribute of God is His power, and, consequently, His power over Creation. It would be wrong to talk about Divine knowledge (and foreknowledge) as a separate Divine attribute, for Divine knowledge itself is also a power giving Him authority over the world.

Therefore, it is necessary to take into account the Baconian interpretation of power, in particular, the difference that it makes between the power that knowledge gives and the one given by the action. Outside the context, the proclamation changes its meaning to the opposite. However, the quotation became a common cliché without taking this context into account.

Although the meaning of the phrase varies from author to author, it most often means that knowledge or education increases the potential or ability in life. Knowledge is widely recognized as the basis for improving one’s reputation and influence, and thus power. According to another interpretation, knowledge is the only true power, as everything is literally achieved with its help.

The proclamation scientia potentia est is a Latin aphorism traditionally translated as knowledge is power. It is usually associated with Francis Bacon, although in this version this expression is not found in either English or Latin works of Bacon. However, almost verbatim, it is present in the work of Bacon Meditationes Sacrae.

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31 May 2017
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1 June 2017
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