Can the "love of wisdom" be turned into something bad? Were there evil philosophers in the past?

I was recently reading a book about the dark side of psychology, how people use psychological tricks to manipulate others. Does philosophy have a "dark side"?

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    I think it would be useful to place a psychology book details (title,author,link) here. – default locale May 31 '12 at 4:02
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    @defaultlocale: "Verbotene Rhetorik: Die Kunst der skrupellosen Manipulation" (in german) by Gloria Beck – draks ... Jun 4 '12 at 19:41
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    BTW, the "darkest" use of psych I've seen is shown in this YouTube clip is.gd/wIxrdW, but there has to be much worse. It's a safe bet that today most of "dark-side psychologists" (whether "most" is with respect to numbers of people or to dollars spent) are employed in marketing and advertising, a massive industry that gets paid well for researching and finding every button of our psychology that they can push to get us to give them money. The public doesn't mind. I haven't yet met, face-to-face, anyone who believes that such tactics work on him/her. We all hail from Lake Wobegon. – kjo Jun 5 '12 at 12:32
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    I don't think this is a very good question, it incites too much opinion on who was good and bad. For me the evil philosophers were Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche. The good Aristotle, and Rand. I find few philosophers good. I think this thread should be closed. – John Tate Jun 7 '12 at 3:15
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    Philsophy is already bad. Rotten to the core. Modern philosophers are, with few exceptions, either disregarding all cognitive science, very narrow literary analysts or mathematicians in denial. Mostly, I think that LukeProg is right in this article. My 2 cents. – Karl Damgaard Asmussen Jan 27 '13 at 16:39

The problem with your question is that "love of wisdom" does not truly characterize most contemporary philosophers: for the vast majority of them, philosophy is how they make their living, irrespective of what drew them to the field in the first place (which could have very well been "love of wisdom"). Earning money from philosophy does not automatically condemn it to the "dark side". Nevertheless, it certainly serves as a foothold for corruption that is, not present in the "love of wisdom" formula. This is so, by definition, since, IIRC, this formulation was originally coined (as φιλοσοφία) to draw a distinction from the "sophists", who earned money from their wisdom (as teachers, coaches of rhetoric, advocates in court, etc.).

But ignoring this somewhat technical point, your question reminded me of a New Yorker cartoon showing three guys in business suits standing around a desk, and one is asking the other two

Do you think now that we're doing fewer illegal things we can scale back the legal department?

(The above quote is verbatim, so searching for a sufficiently long substring of it, enclosed in double quotes, turns up the accompanying image, as of the time of this writing.)

This cartoon, it seems to me, packs a lot more truth than the average cartoon, or even the average New Yorker cartoon. In any case, it comes to mind whenever I hear of a "staff ethicist", or when some venture proclaims that their proposed budget includes the salary for an "ethics team", or a business schools trumpets the fact that its students are required to take a class in ethics, etc. I have never seen one such arrangement that seemed anything more than a fig leaf for the sake of PR. To the extent that the real function of such ethicists is not to ensure their employers, or future graduates, behave ethically, but rather, to provide PR cover, in one way or another, for ethically questionable conduct, I would say this represents a good candidate for Dark-Side philosophy.

(Of course, it is a standard Philosophy 101 exercise to defend the possible merits of such arrangements, but I find such arguments too implausible to be convincing. For example, one can imagine, at least in principle, that a sufficiently determined and quixotic staff ethicist may succeed in getting his/her employer to choose a more ethical course of action, but this is plausible only in those cases in which such a choice has absolutely no negative impact on the bottom line. I happen to think that situations like these are too rare in practice — if they happen at all — to balance the "darkness" of such ethics-for-hire situations.)

An even better example would be the use of ethicists to devise moral justifications for unsavory activities such as torture, bombing of civilian areas, political assassinations, etc. I can't give concrete examples of this, but I would be surprised if it never happened. (Certainly, something like this has happened in recent US history if we replace "moral" with "legal". Since very few US citizens seem to perceive any difference between "legal" and "moral" (or "ethical"), and therefore, one may argue that, in such cases the lawyers involved are playing the role of ethicists, this situation comes very close to the one I mentioned before. Admittedly, though, this more properly falls within the category of the Dark Side of the Legal Profession, which not only deviates from the focus of your question, but for which finding examples is like shooting fish in a barrel.)


I think you are mixing methodology and substance.

There are a variety of psychological techniques that can be used to persuade people of things, independent of what those things are. These techniques can be subdivided along lines such as rhetoric and logic, and naturally philosophy has a great deal to say about them-- Aristotle and Plato each wrote on this very issue.

It seems to me that what you claim are the Dark Sides of religion are, in fact, simply two techniques from among this set, and are not specific to religion at all.

Now, in order to evaluate the question "Were there evil philosophers in the past?", we first need to determine what would make a philosopher "evil" for the purposes of this question-- would an "evil philosopher" be one who uses manipulative techniques to persuade people (regardless of the content of the philosophy), or would an "evil philosopher" be one who persuades people of "evil" content, regardless of the means of persuasion?

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    hmmm, I think I thought more about an "evil philosopher" to be one who persuades people of "evil" content, so it should not be regardless of the content of the philosophy – draks ... Jun 4 '12 at 5:35

Where the psychological tricks of religious fanatics are the dark side of psychology, the religious fanatism itself is the example of the dark side of philosophy.

Note the leftist fanatism of Pol Pot, which was based on the base of his philosophy knowledge he gained on Sorbone, the vision of totalitarian regime from Platon's The state.

The nazist ideology with their mystic explanation of civilization counting back to Atlantide is one of the darkest pages.

In my opinion, the Dark Side of the Philosophy is the darkest one.

  • It's worth mentioning Hegel in the same category as Platon when it comes to the dark side. Many of Hegel's writings are glorifying colonialism and even providing its intellectual framework. – Raskolnikov May 31 '12 at 18:50
  • @Raskolnikov Hegel really sounds a good example. Thanks. – draks ... Jun 3 '12 at 20:56

Does philosophy have a dark side? Can the "love of wisdom" be turned into something bad?

  • Yes, ...

Breaking The Rules of Engagement

  1. It's when philosophers are using their reasonable thinking, high accuracy and ability to see something with clear distinction to support their:

    • Intolerance to ethics
    • Irrelevant adjustment
  2. It's when philosophers have no ability to see something with clear distinction and trying to:

    • make definition
    • make relational understanding
  3. It's when philosophers having reasonable thinking but they will not be open minded.

  4. It's when philosophers will be open minded, but they don't have enough ability to think reasonably.

Wise & Unwise

These things gradually will lead philosophers to:

  1. Irrelevant domination
  2. Improper placement
  3. Imbalance.
  4. Indeterminacy

And, one or several of these is enough to make philosophers closer to or having their own dark side for their own selves or for others.

  • Philosophers have obligation to try strongly to act properly, better and better, because Philosophers (silently or not) are true leadership (on their own fields, whether they are graphic designers, programmers, engineer, etc) for their selves and for others.
  • @draks, Hi thanks for bringing up the question – Seremonia Jul 24 '12 at 6:42

I stumbled on this post when I googled the dark side of philosophy. Having some major existential battles and looking for like minded thoughts. Closest IV come so far so here is my 2 cents.

I believe the dark side of philosophy is a much more internal struggle. Philosophy opens your eyes and changes your perspective on the world and yourself. It makes your question everything. And it should. But the shadow that follows behind is long. Casting doubt on everything you percieve, every emotion you feel. And that ambivalence can be maddening.

  • Heidegger, still trumpeted as one of the greatest philosophers of "authenticity", supported the Nazis at his University.
  • Marxism has been used to legitimate many atrocities.
  • The Nazis did famously develop their ideas from e.g. Nietzsche.
  • You have e.g. Rand's legitimation of selfishness and unfettered capitalism.
  • Plato supported slavery.

So there's a mix of "dark" philosophers, philosophies, and abuses of philosophy.

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