What Is Wisdom?
The mission of my blog The Ben Franklin Follies is to help others find their way along the path to health, wealth and wisdom. To help with the relaunch of that site, I decided to write a few short posts here to introduce the topics of health, wealth and wisdom, at least as I see them.
Wisdom is a bit tricky because, to some extent, wisdom is “in the eye of the beholder.” But with that caveat, here are some thoughts on wisdom and how wisdom fits into the new focus of The Ben Franklin Follies.
As I've mulled over the topic of wisdom, I kept coming back to the notion that wisdom comes from experience. But experience alone does not yield wisdom. We can have vast experience and yet remain clueless, foolish or dullards.
Similarly, age does not yield wisdom, although I do believe it's necessary to live and have experiences before it's possible to gain wisdom. That being said, I think there is a correlation between age and wisdom, at least to a point, simply because with age comes increased opportunities to gain wisdom.
In other words, each day offers a new opportunity to gain wisdom, so those who are so inclined can use life experiences to gain wisdom.
An introspective person, young in years, may be be wiser by far than an older person who fails to apply the lessons learned from experiences or who fails to apply new knowledge and understanding.
According to Aristotle:
Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.
Assuming Aristotle is correct, the path to wisdom must begin with self-discovery.
Confucius offers us three ways to “learn wisdom” and the first certainly encompasses the idea that we can use self-discovery to gain better knowledge about ourselves and use this to gain wisdom.
First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second by imitation, which is easiest; and Third, by experience, which is the bitterest.
Although experience can be a cruel teacher, I don't believe that all experience is bitter en route to wisdom. Experience is only painful or bitter when we don't grow from it–when we make the same mistakes or poor choices over and over.
If we're actively engaged in living then we will have experiences and we can use those experiences either to grow or simply spin our wheels. If you've ever parked your car on a slope in wet grass or mud you probably know what it's like to spin your wheels to no avail. That's what happens when we don't learn from our experiences.
Once we start to gain wisdom, we can apply it to improve our lives and the lives of others. I think this quote from Irish philosopher, Francis Hutcheson, sums up wisdom as an action, rather than a state:
Wisdom denotes the pursuing of the best ends by the best means.
From Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (1725), Treatise 1, section 5, subsection 16.
What I hope to do over at The Ben Franklin Follies is to share the ideas, thoughts and practices of current and historic voices—along with my own experiences and insights—about how best to grow in health, wealth and wisdom through self-discovery, reflection, and action and experience. I hope you'll join me there, as well as here.
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