Monday, September 18, 2017
--- Notes on wisdom ---
The habit of viewing life as a whole is an essential part both of wisdom and of true morality, and is one of the things which ought to be encouraged in education. Consistent purpose is not enough to make life happy, but it is an almost indispensable condition of a happy life. And consistent purpose embodies itself mainly in work.
A philosophy of wisdom is touchy. Maybe more than any other philosophical topic, you can answer "What is wisdom?" by "It's a word."
Specifically, the root "wise" is an old English word (actually and Old English word) meaning "a way of proceeding". And, of course, it looks like ancient peoples were more serious about their languages and packed more into their words than we do today. "Way" meant more than a direction. It was a path in life (as, for example, "The Way"). So wisdom is a way of life. Whatever it is, it's not just something you know.
Knowledge can be incidental or trivial - not wisdom, but I believe that there is a relationship between the two. Knowledge is the information you have in your head that seems to work as a reasonable approximation for reality. Wisdom is the skill of using that knowledge to build a "good life" (and I've talked elsewhere about "good life" and I'm sure I will again - I'm looking forward to an article on "moral value").
Russell brought up a few points on what constitutes wisdom, though. It is holistic. It tells you where any particular fact fits into the larger scheme of things, and particular the larger scheme of your life. Is brushing your teeth wise? Well, maybe not, but understanding the consequences of doing so or not doing so in your social life and, further, the effects on your ability to get important concepts across to other and, so, your religious, scientific, or political life - certainly - in that wisdom is the ability to sense the web of causality in which we all sit and to navigate it to benefit ourselves and the world around us.
One debate about wisdom is whether it can be taught or not. Personally, I believe that the ability to develop wisdom is inherent in thinking beings. Our brains, as I have said before, are incredible pattern processors and wisdom is a pattern analysis skill. Wisdom allows us to take the massive body of knowledge in our minds and extract meaningful information that can constitute a "way" of life. Much of it is subconscious, which may be why many think it cannot be taught. But it's more of a habit than a knowing. It's a philosophical pursuit. After all, "philosophy" means "love of wisdom". And I believe that a love of wisdom can be instilled early in growing minds as a habit of curiosity, wonder, and love of life and nature. We learn to hate by being bombarded by the hostilities and unfairness perpetrated on us by, well, mostly by others like ourselves. We could just as easily be shown the beauty and great-heartedness of our fellow creatures as we mature.
And work, far from being the bane of humanity, gives us the laboratory we need to see how our knowledge works in real life - the way to finely hone our ability to see the webs of life and the outcomes of our decisions in a real life environment.
Again, our lives are like a garden. The work we put into them will determine the beauty, joy, and material benefit that we get out of them. And we all profit or none of us do - that is wisdom.