Knowledge and Power
“Scientia Potentia Est”, a famous aphorism that is otherwise translated as “For also Knowledge itself is Power”, was conceptualized during the late 16th century by the world-renowned Philosopher and Statesman of that time, Sir Francis Bacon.Indeed, Sir Bacon developed an understanding of the idea that by accumulating knowledge, one is able to exert, impose or influence power (as can be inferred) towards another.
For instance, a person who has accumulated knowledge can withhold himself or herself from sharing this knowledge to others.Thus, a sort of personal advantage develops between those who have knowledge and those who want knowledge.
The former, if desired, can ultimately influence the actions of the latter if the existing desire for knowledge is used against them. Otherwise, the same result could also be inferred from the opposite: once knowledge is shared by the person who has accumulated them, power is reflected in the sense that the person who has shared it had the privilege of sharing it.
Such an example only perpetuates the idea of ambiguity of the concept of power. Indeed, power, in all its forms and contexts, is a concept that has been contested my many scholars and philosophers alike for decades, even centuries. Some relate power in the form of having the ability of exercising coercion. Others relate the concept with the possession of material wealth. Still further, others profess that power is somehow related to social class. Unfortunately, these credible attempts at establishing links to the concept of power only express supplementary ambiguity to the term.
For example, even though power can be somehow related to the ability of using force (coercion), the term can also be associated with the ability of persuasion – a rather mild version of quasi-coercion that does not involve the usage of force. The same thing goes with the idea of power as equaled to the possession of material wealth and as represented by social class. Contrary to the latter statement, intangible or incorporeal wealth can also be associated with power as a substitute for material wealth. Also, behind social class lie the idea of power as related to personal or group charisma and expertise. In other words, a person belonging to the highest social class in society cannot be more powerful over those that are below his social class if those individuals under his class are more charismatic and more adequate and excellent in terms of abilities and skills.
Having identified the cumbersome and volatile nature of power, is it still plausible to conclude that knowledge is indeed power? Is there a relevant connection between the two concepts? If none, can a relevant connection be established; no matter how arguable or refutable? Basically, does the possession of knowledge represent the possession of power?
To answer this question, let us first understand how scholars and philosophers of the past have identified and/or defined power during their time.
The great 19th century philosopher, Sir Friedrich Nietzsche, often described the concept of power as something that expresses one’s domination over other human beings. If so, then knowledge could indeed be a source of power since the ignorance of knowledge denotes inferiority in logical thinking and skillful know-how; thus, disavowing the ability or opportunity of the individual to dominate others who do possess knowledge. However, another dilemma may arise from the latter statement. If knowledge is truly a source of power, how come individuals who do possess knowledge are not powerful?
The answer, of course, is that knowledge in itself is not power. In order for knowledge to become a source of power, the individual must be able to aptly apply or exercise his or her knowledge in the form of actions for the purposes of achieving or producing results. As some scholars have put it, “knowledge is power only if one knows how to use it”. Truly, if one individual possesses a myriad amount of knowledge but does not know how to translate it into action, then power is not represented. This concept, however, does not stray away from the concept of knowledge as a source of power nor does it emanate from the idea of action as a source of power rather than the mere possession of knowledge.
It must be understood that actions are determined by the individual’s mind. If a certain amount of knowledge is absent within the individual’s cognitive processes then the action executed may not produce tremendous results that are reflective of the representation of power. However, if knowledge is indeed present, chances are that actions executed may produce excellent results that would be quite superior to actions that are conducted without knowledge. Simply said, actions augmented by knowledge reflect power on the part of the individual (superiority).
In order to make the preceding points more plausible, let us try establishing the concept in a certain field or study. In this instance, let us put the concept of power as knowledge into the workplace – in this case a corporation.
Most corporations possess similar theories of organization ranging from the classical theory of organization to the more systematic (systems) theory of organization. And with these models comes a set of different levels, styles or concepts of hierarchy and/or bureaucracy (formal and informal, orthodox or unorthodox). In other words, corporations always try to establish a “division of power” among its leaders and workers. Now, let us try to apply the concept of knowledge as power in a leader-worker relationship. Leaders of corporations, in all intents and purposes, are the decision-makers of the entire system.
Workers, on the other hand, have more of a hands-on approach compared to their respective leaders. As far as the relationship goes, it is the leader who will decide how the workers will act. Now, the question is, is this a simple form of exercising power? Is the authority of the leader over the workers a concrete example of power in the form of knowledge? The answer, of course, is no; it is not a simple form of power illuminated by knowledge – at least not completely. One possible reason why this is so is because the relationship between the two actors reflect two issues as can be inferred from the general concept of power.
First, the source of power as reflected from the leader can mostly likely be originating from his or her given authority. In other words, it is the granted authority of the corporation that is providing the leader his or her own personal power and not his or her own possession of knowledge. Second, the worker cannot be subject to inferiority since the worker is aware that his or her job is to simply follow orders. For power to be present, one must be able to persuade or force an individual to do what he or she wishes. Otherwise, if the worker decides not to follow the orders of the leader, then it can be inferred that the worker is expressing power over the leader (charisma or personal ability). But that is another issue.
If so, how is knowledge as a source of power reflected in a leader-worker relationship? One possible explanation could be found from the personal histories of both actors.
Respective or high positions in most corporations require excellent abilities or practical know-how. As such, no normal individual can just apply or be promoted to such a position if the individual does not possess the necessary skills or abilities that the position requires. Simply said, leaders are on their respective positions simply because they possess the required skills and as a result, are thoroughly capable of fulfilling its functions.
Workers, on the other hand, may not possess these prerequisites or capabilities. However, this does not imply that workers are not knowledgeable. This merely implies that workers are yet on the verge of acquiring or developing the necessary knowledge for fulfilling the functions that are required by the position. And where can a worker acquire this necessary knowledge? The answer, definitely, is quite reflective of the answer to the whole problem of where can the idea of knowledge as power be inferred from a leader-worker relationship – from the leader.
Indeed, if a worker wishes to achieve the same position as that of his or her own leader, then that worker must first develop knowledge based from his or her work and eventually acquire knowledge from his or her own leader. If recognized (or desired), the leader who possesses the knowledge that is required by the worker can now express or exercise power over the worker in the sense that the leader now has the choice of whether or not to impart his or her own knowledge to the worker.
Going back to the previous points, if an individual withholds his or her own knowledge from sharing it to others, then power is gained in the form of an advantage; thus, producing a sense of superiority. As one head of a corporation has put it, “Knowledge is power and you do not share power.” The worker, however, can try to acquire knowledge of the same context from others and that action might change the idea of power in a leader-worker relationship. However, it is very unlikely that this is to happen for if the worker decides to gather power outside of his or her own corporation that knowledge may well be different from what the corporation may require or need.
As mentioned earlier, power is a concept that has been contested my many scholars and philosophers alike for centuries. To suddenly come up with a personal explanation of power in the form of the possession of knowledge is something not new in the world of power. As demonstrated, power is a really ambiguous term, let alone be defined in terms of knowledge. However, one cannot deny the fact that knowledge is indeed a source of power; for if knowledge is absent, one will not be able to exercise the myriad forms of power over others.
In conclusion, if knowledge (in any form) is present within an individual and that that individual’s counterpart possesses a certain amount of ignorance of over the same type of knowledge, then the former is most likely to be more powerful over the latter. Simply put, the possession of knowledge is superiority over those who do not possess knowledge.
Caruso, Denise. “Knowledge is Power only if you know how to use it.” March 2007 The New York Times 21 November 2007, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/11/business/yourmoney/11frame.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
Wimmer, Sandra. “For Illinois Agency, Knowledge is Power – and Promise.” August 2005 Government Procurement 21 November 2007,
Lloyd, Bruce. “The Paradox of Power.” May 1996 The Futurist 21 November 2007,
Grant, Beau. “Knowledge is POWER.” October 2005 Government Procurement 21 November 2007, http://www.allbusiness.com/management/928236-1.html