Sunday, February 26, 2023


We know wisdom ≠ knowledge. We have some ideas (and an Everest of worthless fashions) about how to teach knowledge, but nothing reliable for teaching wisdom. "You can lead an ass to water..."

Socrates said he was the wisest because he alone knew he was ignorant--and his dialogues with his pupils generally started by proving that they didn't know what they were talking about. Of course his pupils wanted to learn from him and be wise--they were a select set.

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." "Search for wisdom as for hidden treasures" "Do not be wise in your own eyes" "such a man as tourists think simple because he is honest and neighbours think ‘deep’ for the same reason."

I can't think of any kind of curriculum that will reliably impress these on a youth. They have to grow from inside. We can try, however hypocritically, to encourge the virtues--"Do as I say, not as I do." "Hypocrisy is a homage that vice pays to virtue."

We can, perhaps, if, maybe, per impossibile--try to refrain from teaching folly. We have industries largely devoted to encouraging foolishness. (Buy it now! just because) The classical virtues are out of fashion, and the lesser ones magnified into weirdness.

What sort of bottom-up things can we do? ("Fish rot from the head down.")

It starts with me, of course. How can I live more wisely?


Assistant Village Idiot said...

The Proverbs were supposed to be saying taught to youth, that they would then remember throughout life. I think the experiencing of wisdom as it plays out must be necessary, and knowledge alone inadequate. I relate it to "If you love me, keep my commandments." We can only learn by tossing things back between doing and thinking.

And there must be some way that interaction with others is involved in the learning. The greatest fools are those who believe they have learned wisdom on their own.

Grim said...

Socrates thought that wisdom and virtue were both forms of knowledge; that led to some problems that he acknowledged. For example, at the end of the Protagoras he notes the irony of arguing that virtue is knowledge, but not teachable; versus Protagoras, who was arguing that virtue was teachable, but not knowledge.

Aristotle thought he solved that problem by showing that virtue is a sort of habit of character: knowing isn't enough, you have to practice it until it becomes ingrained. Doing that, though, is a sort of practical wisdom.

The Stoics, following this train, were really interested in wisdom. That's where you start getting thoughts like, "Don't get upset about a possible harm before it actually happens, because it might not and you need not suffer except the one time." It was many hundreds of years before philosophy got around to focusing its attention on that.

Now, on the other hand, the Havamal has a lot of wisdom in it. "Don't drink too much; keep your eyes open when traveling in case you run into enemies; keep your weapons handy." Very wise advice, all of it.