Question about wisdom and philosophy

Philosophy being the love of wisdom and all that. Great stuff.

But for a philosopher to follow the system well, that is avoiding all those fallacies, it seems he must sacrifice wisdom to adhere to such a system. For example, there is a known liar in the village, nobody listens to anything he says anymore, but this would be committing the genetic fallacy, to base the validity of a statement on it’s origin and not on its intellectual merit, or cogency.

Is this why human wisdom is folly? Because the wisest of quotes seem to come from people who aren’t philosophers. Just simple, humble people. For a man to have to leave his wisdom at the door. Is foolish.

Another example: There has never been a society of relativists, ever. Sure, it’s always been around, but certainly not as popular as in western culture today. The wise man would conclude that a society where each thinks he is his own God, and thus falling into might is right policy (social Darwinism) is a society that will perish, unless it changes. But I’m nearly sure, I’m committing several fallacies there. But at the same time it’s wise to think so.

So what, do we just pretend, we have learned nothing from our history and act as if relativism can work, and will create a good society? That’s just an example btw, I don’t want to discuss relativism.


As a rule, modern philosophers neither seek nor discuss wisdom. David Conway—himself a modern philosopher, and thus exceptional in this sense—talks about this in his short but rich book “The Rediscovery of Wisdom: From Here to Antiquity in Search of Sophia.” (“Sophia” is Greek for widsom, and in particular, theoretical wisdom.) It’s an excellent book.

Hi Semiotic;

Thanks for the very interesting post. Just a couple of quick thngs to share:

“Wisdom” in philosophy—at least in the Catholic Aristotelian-Thomist tradition—does not mean what it does in everyday English, where wisdom is a synonym for general intelligence or erudition.

In philosophy, there are two kinds of wisdom: practical wisdom and intellectual wisdom. Practical wisdom is prudence, or knowledge about right action. Prudence is the first among the cardinal virtues, and so practical wisdom is closely linked to the mastery of justice, temperance and fortitude. Intellectual wisdom is knowledge of final causes of things. Knowing the final causes of things is the result of a technical philosophical method which moves from examination of known effects in order to arrive at a knowledge of unseen causes.

In this sense, there is nothing paradoxical in the philosophical method. But you are of course right in saying thatt human wisdom, compared to God, is ultimately foolish: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” (1 Cor 1:25). At the same time, human reason is God’s gift and by it we will come to see God in the beatific vision, which is an intellectual vision. I guess this is why many Christian philosophers stress that humility is the basic starting point for human wisdom.

Well said. I think sometimes Catholics forget how highly the Church uses the correct use of reason! In our culture, all talk about God has been bracketed out of Serious Discussion and put at the Faith Table (-which is the intellectual equivalent of the Kids Table at a large family gathering.) It is important for Catholics (–and others conversant with the classical conception of philosophy) to stress that belief if God is REASONABLE.

Is ignoring the boy who cried wolf unwise or wrong?

Wisdom is not simply knowledge, or the power of reasoning rightly. Knowledge and reasoning rightly led us to nuclear weapons … foolishness too.

Wisdom is also insight and prudence, seeing things by intuition and experience in a timely manner.

Many who have insight do not have that insight in a timely manner, and so their wisdom is relatively useless. Einstein said we should not have invented the bomb. But he said the opposite to FDR before the bomb was invented.

Traditionally, prudence is thought of as practical wisdom as opposed to theoretical wisdom, or sophia. David Conway argues that Aristotle’s view of wisdom was an understanding of why the world exists and has the broad form it does. For Aristotle, contemplation was our supreme happiness, particularly, contemplation of God. (It’s sad that you can read that in a pagan Greek philosopher who died before the Incarnation but you rarely hear anything like that in a parish! At least, I rarely hear anything like it.)

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