Monday, July 12, 2010

On Wisdom

From a review of 
Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience
By STEPHEN S. HALL

"First there is the problem of defining wisdom. This is where the opening question bites. If the word "wisdom" is one of those nouns that misleads us into looking for an abstract entity (like "redness" if such a thing is supposed to exist independently of individual red surfaces: the medieval Realists followed Plato in taking such a view, to the justified amusement of their opponents the Nominalists), then the whole enterprise has started on the wrong foot. Part One of Hall's book is entitled "Wisdom Defined (Sort Of)" and the parenthetical caveat is itself an example of wisdom. Hall's first and avowedly tentative attempt at a definition is as follows: "Many definitions of wisdom converge on recurrent and common elements: humility, patience, and a clear-eyed, dispassionate view of human nature and the human predicament, as well as emotional resilience, an ability to cope with adversity, and an almost existential acknowledgement of ambiguity and the limitations of knowledge." Note that this is not a definition of an abstract thing called wisdom but a sketch of the personality characteristics of what one might consider a typically wise individual. Given that context makes the same action wise in one setting and foolish in another, one needs to know more to distinguish patience from passivity, dispassion from fence-sitting, emotional resilience from insensitivity, and so for the rest. Generalities are fine: social scientific investigation needs to get to particulars. Hall's whole effort is directed to getting at those particulars" 
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2 comments:

Bruce said...

I have heard wisdom described as:
The art of skillful living!

Gunnar Berg said...

Or...the skill of artful living?