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Seeking Wisdom

Just how do we go about teaching wisdom without entering into presumption? That would seem to be the great dilemma of a form of education (namely, classical) that attempts to cultivate the virtues in students. Not being wise, though dreaming of it, I cannot do more than suggest a few ideas. But maybe these ideas can promote a discussion that will move us toward wisdom.

First, we have to make wisdom the goal of our instruction. Maybe it isn’t the ultimate goal, which would be love, but maybe they end up being the same thing. I don’t know. But it seems to me that we can’t go terribly far wrong if we make wisdom our goal.

Second, we need to attempt to understand what wisdom is. Language can help with this. For example, in Greek there are two words that can be translated wisdom: sophia and sophrosune. Sophia is more lofty and synthetic. She sees the big picture, which is the only way to see how things fit together. Sophrosune is, perhaps, more practical and hands on. She is prudence. Maybe that’s a good start. I also like Thomas Aquinas’s description, when he says that, “It is the part of the wise man to order and to judge.”

Third, we need to listen to those who are manifestly wise. We’ll find they say things we don’t grasp, but the effort of grasping what they say makes their saying it valuable. Happily, much of what they have said is written, so we can take the time to reflect on it.

Fourth, we need to turn every tool at hand to the end of seeking wisdom. Language and maths are particularly useful to this end, because wisdom rises above facts and contents to find relations among, within, and between things. Writing, for example, helps us to think, to formulate, and to communicate. If we order these three activities to wisdom, it seems likely that we’ll grow.

Some things we must avoid if we are to seek wisdom:

  • Utilitarian or pragmatic approaches to life, which deny wisdom in their very definitions.
  • A focus on process that removes the ideas from our attention.
  • Specialization. That comes much later.
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