Evil without Ignorance

There's more than the one evil of ignorance.

So many of those with significant accomplishments in their field – top-tier researchers, entrepreneurs, activists – seem to be genuinely good (of course, plenty aren’t). People with a powerful moral compass.

Are accomplished people likelier to be better human beings?

It’s a very easy statement to misinterpret, so it’s better to clarify.

Better not as in ‘their life is more valuable’ – that’s a separate discussion.

Nor is ‘better’ simply ‘morally better’ – at least not in the sense the word is usually used.

Better in a different sense – ‘better people to be around‘. This includes morals, but also more than that.

People who lift you up rather than pull you down – you feel better around them than otherwise.

You wouldn’t want to be around a douchebag, so one aspect of ‘better’ is at least not being a dick to others, if not actually being of some help. If not positive, at least zero, but not negative.

But ‘better to be around‘ also means you go beyond just morals.

You probably wouldn’t want to be around a negative Nancy whining all the time, or someone fussing about every tiny thing – so no extreme pessimism either.

You can add more traits, but then you lose generality and it becomes about individual preferences; this is general enough to apply to most cases.

These two conditions can be summed up:

They’re not douches, so they don’t harm you as a matter of habit.

And they’re not excessively negative, so they don’t cause needless suffering to themselves, or to you by radiating their negativity.

One Evil

‘There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.’

I think this means that there’s one cause behind every evil – ignorance.

It’s not that people are ‘evil’, but simply that they’re deluded, and their delusion makes them evil.

The guy cheating customers selling defective goods, or the one stealing money or killing someone – they think (apparently wrongly) that easy money or revenge or something similar will bring them happiness.

Socrates, or whoever really said that quote, might have meant it that way.

That if they really understood the consequences of their actions – the chances of being caught, the punishment they’d undergo, how little happiness they would actually gain even if they got away with it – they wouldn’t choose evil.

It’s only ignorance, the inability to see clearly the cost-benefit of your action that makes you do evil.

And conversely, someone with ‘knowledge’ wouldn’t be evil, because he could see clearly where his happiness lay.

It’s questionable if this is entirely true. If someone was assured that he wouldn’t suffer any consequences for his actions, he might choose evil out of knowledge.

It’s also pretty patronizing to put down everyone’s evil to ignorance, as though they are blind to some consequences (whether in this life or any other) that only more enlightened people like yourself can see.

Intelligence and Goodness

Going back to the question – why is a smart person likelier to be a better person?

Socrates’ pseudo-quote is part of the reason I think.

They recognize that it’s only because they stood on the shoulders of giants to build on the work of predecessors, and collaborated with peers, that they reached wherever they are – true for any business, research work or organization.

So it’s partly out of gratitude – because you benefitted you might be willing to give it back.

But self-interest is more compelling than gratitude.

You probably also see that when you give freely, you usually end up benefitting a lot more. Before you can deliver on anything you have to build yourself. And once you do deliver, you get connected to so many other people, who help you build further.

And if you’re even a little smart, you’ll know how many people know more than you about so many things, so you recognize how useful that is – especially if you see how little you can achieve in isolation.

That’s usually far better than the other game of hiding away everything to keep it away from others.

And if someone’s smart, they’ll see that everything isn’t about competition; that one person’s gain isn’t their loss, and so they’re far less likely to sabotage others work.

Whereas, stupidity is about viewing competition everywhere, and that mindset can easily give way to pulling others down – because it sees someone else’s loss as a personal gain.

Smart people would value their time, their energy, their mental space.

Perhaps the defining trait of stupidity is to not value any of these.

Going out of your way to be an asshole to others is like throwing mud on someone – you might hit them, but what of the dirt that sticks to you?

All that you achieved was you brought someone down, which is probably of no use to you unless you think you’re in a competition.

And you brought germs and dirt upon yourself, and even wasted your life to achieve that remarkable feat.

An overall outcome in the red, like a person breaking his limbs to win a brawl that brings him nothing. Incidentally, the type of person who goes around picking fights or joining riots has nothing to lose – you won’t find many well-off people doing that.

To say nothing of the consequences on your mental space.

I doubt it’s possible to engage in any deep work if you’re embroiled in strong negative emotions, and vindictiveness and enmity are sure to bring that.

Anyone with any sense wouldn’t be an asshole to others – not even for their sake, but for his own.

And if you are surrounded by assholes, you’d do your best to dissociate – if not physically, at least emotionally, to keep your mental space clean.

Another reason might be confidence.

Intelligent people might have the self-confidence to recognize that they can achieve stuff through their own merit. And they’re secure enough not to view another’s success with envy, but perhaps even with happiness and admiration.

They don’t need to steal credit from people; it’s actually insulting to have to ride on their work.

It’s those who recognize that they don’t have capability to achieve anything on their own who’re forced to resort to such theft. And because they’re painfully aware of their incapability of achieving it, it’s not surprising they’d resent another person’s success.

Another Evil

Which brings me to something, for which there doesn’t seem to be a word for: To want something for nothing. Wanting a car without paying for it, wanting to be rich or get your dream job without working for it.

I’ll call that mediocrity, because I think mediocrity is an attitude, even though the word literally means ‘of low quality’.

Ignorance itself isn’t always the only cause of evil – it’s not true that ‘there is only one evil, ignorance’.

Another cause of evil is mediocrity.

To have high goals and be unwilling to work for them, and to think you can get them through shortcuts and hacks.

There is one kind of evil, ignorance – and that’s what the saying attributed to Socrates gets at. When you take a path without thinking through the consequences. A lot of evil is down to this.

But there’s another evil, and that is mediocrity – an attempt to get something without working for it – just because you can through other means.

I think people aren’t always so stupid that they’re ‘ignorant’ of the consequences of their actions – though it’s true enough in many cases.

Sometimes a person might choose evil even if he’s aware of the risks and the possible downsides – because he knows there’s no other way to get what he wants. A smarter or driven person wouldn’t fall down this trap so easily because he can get there legitimately – in fact, he wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s not right to call this simple ‘greed’- it might just be cost-benefit, and someone might decide the reward is worth the risks.

Like the powerful guy who encroaches on a weak person’s land at the (often tiny) risk of being punished – he can’t earn enough to get so much land legally.

Or someone who takes credit for their colleague’s work at the risk of being found out – he can’t do anything as good on his own.

It’s possible to argue that such ‘mediocrity’ is an outcome of ignorance – if you believe people operate under the assumption that they won’t get suffer for their actions – and that it comes down to the same thing. It’s the most common response, and one that seems to patronize people, putting them down as incapable of clear thinking.

The difference really comes down to how you view evil.

Someone who believes in Reformation would prefer to pin it down to ignorance.

If they had known better, they wouldn’t do that.

You can always hope to ‘cure’ evil through knowledge.

Evil is like a disease, a symptom of the deficiency of the nutrient ‘knowledge’, and something that can be treated. Every sinner, then, can be treated – it’s just that you have to find the cure.

The ‘mediocrity’ view on the other hand leads you to justice as treatment according to one’s deserts.

The idea that an individual can and must take responsibility for their actions.

That they chose to behave the way they did and therefore accepted the possible consequences their action entailed the moment they engaged in it.

When you engage in evil, you do it for an upside, and if you’re lucky, you get it – like the thief who robs a bank to get money he hasn’t earned and spends his life in luxury, albeit with a fear of being found out anytime.

And if you’re not lucky, then you face the downside – the thief who spends his life in jail.

It’s about skin in the game, like a trade gone wrong – you might enjoy profits, or you might lose what you already have.

If you can enjoy the (unearned) fruits of action, should you not suffer if you’re caught? You can’t have it both ways, you can’t have the upside and escape the downside.

To end this essay with the idea that began it – I think smarter people are also less likely to be evil because one of the avenues of evil gets cut off.

They won’t pursue evil out of mediocrity – they know they can get the rewards without the risk through effort, and they often enjoy the pursuit more than the reward itself. Cheating to get something is in fact an insult – as though you’re not good enough to earn it and have to resort to this.

And when they do engage in evil, it’s not out of mediocrity, but ignorance – because for whatever reason, the path they want to pursue carries a very high toll, but one they believe is worth paying. Most rulers, conquerors, demagogues probably believed their vision was worth all the suffering necessary to realize it.

Which means that smarter, driven people are less likely to be evil, but when they are evil, they’re likely to be much more evil than others.



Excellent post. If i get any doubt while reading, it will get cleared in the next paragraph. It seems to me that you are reading our minds 😄
When I read one evil, 2 other evils came to my mind 1.Hatred 2. Wantedness( however I considered this as greed). After reading entire post I understand that hatred is because of compitition.


Ignorance is such a powerful idea with multiple implications. Marcus Aurelius used to start his day with following as written by him in Meditations-

“Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ IGNORANCE of what is good or evil.”

As good and evil can be regarded as being caused by absence or presence of ignorance. Similarly, simple understanding of ignorance being a cause of one’s failure can be a game changer. Like failing to remain calm during public brawl. It helps in putting things into right perspective.


What a treat to read your newsletters. Keep up the good work! I am in the prep phase for UPSC CSE, wish to hang out with you someday after I get into service 😉


Please give some tips to improve brevity while explaining an idea.

Sweta Tripathi

My mother is a lawyer so the kind of things she says about criminals are kind of beyond the combination of mediocrity and ignorance , I don’t have yet got the word to name it .. Like there was this serial killer in my city who was killing the doctors and on being asked why he was doing this he said ” He wanted to establish fear in the heart of the people and he enjoyed doing it ” and he was from well off family …. Someone might call it again ignorance but I have one more example ..
There is this 23 year old guy who my mother told has been detained till now for 8 times because he attacks people with knife for no reason and he was constantly being sent to counselling since he was 16 but he never stopped what he is doing … I can’t exactly say its out of mediocrity or ignorance he does that , its something natural as I said I don’t have got the word to name it yet ….

No name

i would add more to it
I am law student, associated with legal aid society , have visited slum areas, to whom I conversed, seemed to be very normal like us but they are not, but actually maniacal.
Everything happens around us carries many causes, but i would like to throw light on a topic which i have experienced not only in slum areas but also in lower middle class family probably middle class also fall under.
(not triggered all middle class, don’t be offended, it’s not even my perspective, In general it’s about what i have encountered in my landscape, mainly in Jharkhand Bihar & in half of the UP).
Mental health leads to – child abuse leads to – Mental health again same process replicates
to the same degree or extent.
Families are suffering from senseless mental illness.
Fun fact –  if you convey them about mental illness, they ll laugh on & walk out.
out of 100 ,60 % majority probably want their children not to be passive recipient of what they have coped up with.
but rest 40 % , few of them either throw their child to cesspool of hardship of this unsafe world, Means Khane k lia bolna ( itna kyu khana hai, free ka khana absurdity cnt write exact what i have heard bla bla) Daily necessities provide nhi karna ,
lack of cuddle, Education k lia aware emphasize nhi karna, Abusive language me hi baat karna marna pitna n all, ghar k bache paiso se liquor peena. )
Or they run away from their homes.
Child are born as Soil ,they are shaped by their parents or family.
This is also great form of child abuse in my prospective, don’t know about others, but i vehemently consider it the biggest form of child abuse.
in this fragile age never gets loved, cuddled , education , lack of awareness, lack of daily necessities to survive.
However , are compelled to break the threshold of tolerance, they jumped into the cesspool AND Repercussions ( heinous offences, stuck in precarious precipices) Everybody knows.

few % of them out of rest 40% also are victims of child abuse. This is more interesting than previous one, they pretend to be very normal in sociaty , also before theirs children , although provide all necessities , do everything for their children but unfortunately in CONDESCEND, nonchalant manner (jo karna wo ginana and bachho pr pressure dena ki ye jo kiya koi nhi krta ) always degrade their children always compare with one another , abuse their children abuse & abuse extensively. Eventually by getting exausted, break the threshold of tolerance either runway or endure(only those who attended maturity that escaping from home is not a mare solution of this child abuse but study so that this can not be repeated with my beloved).
Who run away also fall under previous category doesn’t matter to which category you belong.
This is silent form of child abuse.

Note -: i ‘m not targeting parents who usually do in good faith. but to those who keep Insulting or degrading by deceitful means doesn’t fall under good faith.
If i say few%, covers a large number of people are unknowingly suffering from mental illness.

Woman are neglectable …….. here also didn’t address whole Middle class family.
but mainly in slum areas or in lower middle class family,
woman are taught to compromise (mar pitai gali is part of life anyhow you have to be with that person).
They are taught to bear Domestic Voilence because they have grown up watching these things in surrounding not new to them.
Because They are pati – means Master of your life.
So it’s beyond their capabilities to control over what’s happening .
Few of them are forced to step out to earn.
& few woman step out to earn by her own as situation demands they are fall under suspicious eyes of ………………..
(Exceptions are everywhere but Courageous usually don’t get right directions, don’t get helped to meet proper social, legal financial remedy to resolve unfortunately.)
A lady belong to a well off family tells me 🙂
“Achhe gharane ki ladkiya kabhi court nhi jaati” , ghar par mar jay toh mar jay ijjat nhi kharab hona chahiye.
i said, who told you ?
she said , these are sacrament of respected woman or girl.
Various mental sickness leads to create intention and intention leads to an act, any act (irrespective of nature of act moral or immoral.)
Which In the last section sir has already said.
I Consented with SIR.
As sir has explained that they ultimately enjoy doing the particular act without having the knowledge of consequences, may be with having knowledge of the consequences.
Mental sickness can take place anywhere irrespective of class , financial stability ( rich or poor ), noble family or slum family.
it really doesn’t matter.
i think mind is just a puzzle who gets to know how to solve it, life goes smoothly otherwise
ignorantia juris non-excusat ….Either in jail or in hell( never balanced in life, financial crisis , mental illness , physical illness , social ills many more).
Thank you for your time to give it a read.

Sweta Tripathi

First thanks to all of you for your interpretations…
“No Name” I think ignorance is a very complicated thing , most of the criminals or even egoistic people have this tendency to believe that whatever they are doing is right and some even carries this till they die …take for example “Hitler ” so if you shower them with the theories of “Bhagvat Gita” or “Dhammapada” they ain’t gonna change rather they will think “oh I am following my Dharma so nicely ” … its very complicated to make them understand because their mind lack something called “acceptance” and yes mental problem does play a pivotal role here but again unless you don’t have that acceptance within you won’t be able to understand you are suffering ….I think thats what called ignorance better I should say “ignorant of ignorance” again complicated haha !!

No name

Acceptance is not acceptable.
These people are just mediocrities and pessimistic with full of negative aura, influence other ones We know Negativity attracts .

Vedas has every universal cure.
Meditation , Teaching of “Shrimad Bhagavad Gita” in schools like Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh has started recently, also should be in colleges and need to add on few portions of legal study which will help a person to know about his constitution , law, rules and procedures. Once you know the consequences , deterrence created by own, So Society will witness less crimes.
Hope Govt would consider it as part and parcel of Indian heritages which will help a person to become a person “Human being” and help in reducing stress and anxiety of our youths. They ‘ll get the meaning of life, why they have born, purpose of life eventually Nothing but Salvation. Now Our culture is being followed by foreigners dedicatedly more than us 😅


attention-seeking comes from ignorance (also mediocrity). that ignorance can be due to mental illness.


Pratyush ,

While reading this it struck me , the one you quoted is the same held responsible for this concept duality dilemma – the death tragedy of the socrates who taught the youth about questioning and erasing the ,ignorance by absorbing all what you sense.

Don’t ignore, question , absorb and weight the consequences and I think that’s how we create morals in our lives.

The painting of David is the classic example how Spartans and Athenians war led to complete mess.

Imagine on one side there resides who committed evil by accepting ignorance and there was one statesman who ignored the evil on himself and accepted the same and said He refused to shame the Athenian law even in his death and said that if he fled it would be a violation of the ‘social contract’ with the state.

How one man could justify evil acceptance and rejection by one playword – IGNORANCE!

I mean what you think?


Small request , Do post on medium too!

Thank you 🙂