Sunday, August 09, 2015

Why wisdom is so different from knowedge

If knowledge is an understanding of the facts, wisdom is an understanding of how to turn those to a good end. Knowledge is not particular about what happens with facts, with how information is used; wisdom interests itself about the benefits and good that can follow.

In theory, knowledge pursues facts per se, for their own sake. Though knowledge is not quite that simple in the real world. When we gain new knowledge, it is because we are looking, and there is always a reason why we are looking. It may be that we truly wish to understand something for its own sake, or for the sake of understanding. But it's more likely that the knowledge is a means to another end. Someone may study baseball for the love of baseball -- or to become a better pitcher, or to coach a more winning team, or to place better bets. Usually learning comes with an agenda: what we hope to gain, and a reason why we are studying (or being directed to study) one thing rather another. At the university level, a syllabus has an agenda, a curriculum has an agenda, at times the university itself exists to promote certain goals. Leaving aside the questions that can raise, the good and the bad, it's enough to say: knowledge is rarely gained for its own sake. It is often a tool. So: Whose tool, and for what use?

Wisdom has a view to what is good. It is not necessarily grand or self important. Wisdom can be as simple as making friends. Or it can be as far-reaching as building a beautiful culture, in which each person feels their lives enriched by participating and belonging, and in turn enriches the culture by their lives. (The best cultures are naturally formed from peoples' shared lives and self-expressions, where the peoples' lives have meaning and purpose, beauty and dignity, that intrinsically belong to a healthy and thriving culture.) Because wisdom looks for what is possible, wisdom cultivates the imagination, which is sometimes dismissed with impatience when we focus on facts alone. And wisdom has an aspect of morality or virtue.  When we seek the good, we need an idea what is good. In order to turn knowledge into good, we have to know what it is.

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