The phrase "scientia potentia est" (or "scientia est potentia" or also "scientia potestas est") is a Latin aphorism meaning "knowledge is power". It is commonly attributed to Sir Francis Bacon, although there is no known occurrence of this precise phrase in Bacon's English or Latin writings. However, the expression "ipsa scientia potestas est" ('knowledge itself is power') occurs in Bacon's Meditationes Sacrae (1597). The exact phrase "scientia potentia est" was written for the first time in the 1668 version of the work Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes, who was secretary to Bacon as a young man.
The related phrase "sapientia est potentia" is often translated as "wisdom is power".
Knowledge is power and it can command obedience. A man of knowledge during his lifetime can make people obey and follow him and he is praised and venerated after his death. Remember that knowledge is a ruler and wealth is its subject.
Another account of this concept is found in the Shahnameh by the Persian poet Ferdowsi (940-1020 CE) who wrote: "Capable is he who is wise" (in Persian? ? ). This hemistich is translated to English as "knowledge is power" or "One who has wisdom is powerful".
A proverb in practically the same wording is found in Hebrew, in the Biblical Book of Proverbs (24:5): - ?; ?-, -. This was translated in the latin Vulgata as "vir sapiens et fortis est et vir doctus robustus et validus" and in the King James Version, the first English official edition, as "A wise man is strong, a man of knowledge increaseth strength".
The first known reference of the exact phrase appeared in the Latin edition of Leviathan (1668; the English version had been published in 1651). This passage from Part 1 ("De Homine"), Chapter X ("De Potentia, Dignitate et Honore") occurs in a list of various attributes of man which constitute power; in this list, "sciences" or "the sciences" are given a minor position:
Scientia potentia est, sed parva; quia scientia egregia rara est, nec proinde apparens nisi paucissimis, et in paucis rebus. Scientiae enim ea natura est, ut esse intelligi non possit, nisi ab illis qui sunt scientia praediti
In the English version this passage reads as thus:
The sciences are small powers; because not eminent, and therefore, not acknowledged in any man; nor are at all, but in a few, and in them, but of a few things. For science is of that nature, as none can understand it to be, but such as in a good measure have attained it.
On a later work, De Corpore (1655), also written in Latin, Hobbes expanded the same idea:
The end or scope of philosophy is, that we may make use to our benefit of effects formerly seen ... for the commodity of human life ... The end of knowledge is power ... lastly, the scope of all speculation is the performing of some action, or thing to be done.
In Jean Hampton, Hobbes and the social contract tradition (1988), Hampton indicates that this quote is 'after Bacon' and in a footnote, that 'Hobbes was Bacon's secretary as a young man and had philosophical discussions with him (Aubrey 1898, 331).
The closest expression in Bacon's works is, perhaps, the expression "scientia potestas est", found in his Meditationes Sacrae (1597), which is perhaps better translated as "knowledge is His power", because the context of the sentence refers to the qualities of God and is imbedded in a discussion of heresies that deny the power of God: statuuntque latiores terminos scientiae Dei quam potestatis, vel potius ejus partis potestatis Dei (nam et ipsa scientia potestas est) qua scit, quam ejus qua movet et agit: ut praesciat quaedam otiose, quae non praedestinet et praeordinet.
The English translation of this section includes the following:
Interpretation of the notion of power meant by Bacon must therefore take into account his distinction between the power of knowing and the power of working and acting, the opposite of what is assumed when the maxim is taken out of context. Indeed, the quotation has become a cliche.
In another place, Bacon wrote, "Human knowledge and human power meet in one; for where the cause is not known the effect cannot be produced. Nature to be commanded must be obeyed; and that which in contemplation is as the cause is in operation as the rule."
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his essay Old Age, included in the collection Society and Solitude (1870):
Skill to do comes of doing; knowledge comes by eyes always open, and working hands; and there is no knowledge that is not power.
After the 1871, unification of Germany, "Wissen ist Macht, geographisches Wissen ist Weltmacht" (Knowledge is power, geographical knowledge is world power) was often used in German geography and the public discussion to support efforts for a German colonial empire after 1880. Julius Perthes e.g., used the motto for his publishing house. However, the installation of geographical research followed popular requests and was not imposed by the government. Especially Count Bismarck was not much interested in German colonial adventures; his envoy Gustav Nachtigal started with the first protective areas, but was more interested in ethnological aspects.
After World War I, German geography tried to contribute to efforts to regain a world power. Scholars like Karl Haushofer, a former general, and his son Albrecht Haushofer (both in close contact with Rudolf Hess) got worldwide attention with their concept of geopolitics. Associations of German geographers and school teachers welcomed the Machtergreifung and hoped to get further influence in the new regime.
The postwar geography was much more cautious; concepts of political geography and projection of power had not been widespread scholarly topics till 1989 in Germany.
Geographical knowledge is however still of importance in Germany. Germans tend to mock US politicians' and celebrities' comparable lack of interest in the topic. A Sponti (Außerparlamentarische Opposition) version of the slogan is "Wissen ist Macht, nichts wissen, macht auch nichts", a pun about the previous motto along the line "Knowledge is power, but being ignorant doesn't bother anyway". Joschka Fischer and Daniel Cohn-Bendit belong to those Spontis that nevertheless held powerful positions, in Fischer's case with no more formal education than a taxi driver's licence.
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Though its meaning varies from author to author, the phrase often implies[according to whom?] that with knowledge or education, one's potential or abilities in life will certainly increase. Having and sharing knowledge is widely recognized as the basis for improving one's reputation and influence, thus power. This phrase may also be used as a justification for a reluctance to share information when a person believes that withholding knowledge can deliver to that person some forms of advantage. Another interpretation is that the only true power is knowledge, as everything (including any achievement) is derived from it.
D. h. die Einrichtung geographischer Lehrstühle entsprach zwischen 1871 und 1874 dem Wunsch von Hochschulen und Fakultäten und erfolgte nicht aufgrund eines "politischen Octroi".
Terry Brooks. First King of Shannara Ballantine. C. 1996
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