The philosophical definition of wisdom

a man is reading a book

Wisdom–what is it really?

Some of the greatest philosophers, psychologists, poets, spiritual leaders, novelists, and life coaches have all tried to understand the concept of wisdom. From what we know, philosophy is the love of wisdom, but is this definition outmoded? Could it be an anachronism or an elitist concept by the old learned people? Well, the Latin Sapientia defines wisdom as intelligence in relation to prudence, science, knowledge, common sense, and philosophy. Wisdom is commonly associated with a character that is reasonable or one that exercises moderation in desires. It is perfect knowledge that generally encompasses the idea of virtue. Let’s now look at the definition of wisdom from some of the greatest philosophers the world ever had.

book of wisdom

Definition of Wisdom by philosophers

  • Aristotle: “The wise man has knowledge of all things insofar as possible.”
  • Descartes: “Through wisdom, we hear not only prudence in businesses but perfect knowledge of all things that man can know, both the conduct of his life by preserving his health and the invention of all arts.”
  • Moliere: “By didn’t of wisdom it can be to blame.”
  • Gide: “I do not think that the last word of wisdom is to surrender to nature and give free rein to the instincts. Still, I believe that before seeking to reduce and tame, it is important to understand because the disharmony that we suffer is only apparent and due only to errors of interpretation.”
  • Heraclitus: “Wisdom is one thing. It is to know the thought by which all things are led by all things.”

Wisdom as knowledge

Wisdom majorly focuses on knowledge- the more definite idea of the fact that wise people are knowledgeable. There are quite a number of views in the contemporary and historical philosophical literature on wisdom with knowledge as opposed to accuracy or humility. For instance, Linda Zagzebski(1996) and Dennis Whitcomb (2010) have defended various theories of wisdom that require a wise individual possessing a certain level of knowledge. Their views clearly differentiate knowledge from expertise on a specific subject.

Moreover, the view cements that wise people know what is essential and what is not. However, the opinions on what necessary things a wise person needs to know and whether there is any action, behavior, or way of living that is required of wisdom is not yet well established.

Practical and theoretical wisdom

Aristotle distinguished between two different types of Wisdom, the practical Wisdom and the theoretical Wisdom. According to him, theoretical wisdom involves the intuitive reason combined with scientific knowledge of the things of the highest nature. It is the knowledge of the first scientific principles and propositions that can be logically deduced. His idea is that scientific knowledge is knowing the necessary truths and their logical consequences.

theoretical wisdom

Wisdom as factual knowledge

According to wisdom, as extensive factual knowledge (WFK), a wise person has extensive knowledge about the universe. However, this has been hotly debated with people arguing that some of the most knowledgeable people are not wise. Extensive factual knowledge is not adequate to make a person wise.

There is more to wisdom than mere intelligence, philosophy, and knowledge of science. For instance, Robert Nozick points out that wisdom is not just about knowing the fundamental truths if these are not connected with the guidance of life with the perspective on its meaning.

Aristotle’s concept of practical wisdom is what makes up for what is missing in theoretical wisdom. In his book VI Nicomachean Ethics,he claims that men like Thales and Anaxagoras have philosophic Wisdom but not practical Wisdom. He reasons that its because they are ignorant of what is to their advantage when we think and assume that they know things that are admirable, remarkable, difficult and divine but all are futile because they do not seek human goods. He further states that for one to become a man of practical wisdom, they must be able to deliberate well about what is expedient and right for themselves in relation to their general health and strength. Therefore, according to Aristotle, practical wisdom is knowing how to live well, and many philosophers agree with the concept.

However, not all were satisfied with the conclusion that practical Wisdom and theoretical Wisdom are two different types of wisdom. Some agreed that there are two types of wisdom that need to be distinguished. Other philosophers agree without argument that there is a possibility of one general kind of wisdom. There is also a common conclusion that wisdom, in general, requires a certain level of knowledge about living–living well. What Aristotle refers to theoretical wisdom, philosophers feel that it is not wisdom at all. His version of theoretical wisdom merely is extensive or in-depth knowledge, and wisdom is not just about scientific or academic knowledge.

Other philosophers also agree that wisdom has nothing to do with academics. However, it has to do with the knowledge on how to live well–the concept of avoiding danger and coping with various challenges.

Wisdom as knowing how to live well

Many people don’t get the concept of how to live well according to Aristotle’s practical wisdom. It is a problematic topic, especially if you do not understand the concept of well-being. Let’s begin by agreeing that wisdom can be more than one type of knowledge. That means that a wise person needs to have a list of diverse knowledge in order to be marked as wise. This list should constitute the essential values and goals of life.

There should be a great understanding of how they will achieve these goals. How to recognize and minimize dangers that can threaten these goals and identifying other human potential threats, what is possible to deliver and what is not, knowing when goals are excellently achieved, how to improve one’s relationships with other people in the society, and knowing what is right and acceptable. That is how you know you are living well. However, there is still an argument that knowing how to live well is not enough, but putting this knowledge into practice is what we refer to as wisdom. Philosophers are attracted to the idea that one must know how to live well and actually live well by action.

Wisdom as Knowing how to live well and succeeding in doing so.

This view is simple. It is succeeding in putting one’s knowledge into practice. When using the terminology “success,” it must correlate with one’s values, goals, and actions. The central concept is that one’s activities are a reflection of their understanding of what it means to live well. A wise person must know how to live well. However, they also need to have a deeper understanding of factual knowledge that may have little or no impact on their daily lives, well-being, or practical decisions.

In his Principles of Philosophy, Descartes insists on factual knowledge as a critical component of wisdom. He states that it is only God that has perfect wisdom and has complete knowledge of the truth about all things. He also says that men similarly have more wisdom or less because they have more or less knowledge of some of the essential truths, and we can all guess that these truths he is talking about are the fundamental parts of living well and the academic part of it.

Wisdom as rationality

Another popular theory is rationality. This theory attempts to capture all that is good and avoiding problematic situations. It takes into account what is attractive about a wide variety of general academic subjects. According to the theory, one has to have justified beliefs on how to live practically and rationally, which also includes having a well-thought strategy of dealing with the most practical situations in life. You do not need complete success to have a rational plan, but positive reasons behind your actions, owning to your mistakes, responding to errors appropriately, learning from them, and having a sensible idea on how to deal with real-life problems. However, having justified beliefs on how to live in a rational way does not necessarily involve being a saint. Still, it would require one to have good reasons that support their belief about what is morally wrong or right.

References:

http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.6.vi.htmlhttps://books.google.co.ke/books/about/Examined_Life.html?id=R-8SvHlNMXAC&printsec=frontcover&source=kp_read_button&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=falsehttps://www.wdl.org/en/item/3157/
https://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1023&context=phil_fac

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