Wisdom is synonymous with common sense. Both are somehow thought to be well and evenly distributed. Everyone is supposed to have some universally shared knowledge that prevents one from making obvious mistake. Which depends on how you define knowledge, obvious and mistakes. My grandfather thought knowing how to change a tire was largely common sense. he died before today’s custom locked down wheels became the standard. Even than where to place the jack, how to pop off the hubcap, how to loosen the lug nuts and how to tighten them back down in the proper sequence was knowledge best acquired through someone who knew what they were doing, not by some special intuitive powers. Wisdom has several elements. One, and perhaps the most important even though contingent on other qualities, is knowledge. Knowledge is facts and information. It is what is left after all the guessing and faith is exhausted. Knowledge is generally testable. Knowledge, very powerful quality of information, on its own is not enough. Those who wonder how philosophy – the straight stuff from philosophy texts is generally difficult to wade through – fits into the tool kit of how to understand or make sense of the world. Religion incorporates elements of philosophy though it leaves out logical analysis along with some other elements that leave it severely wanting. While some philosophy can be contradictory, if its race to contradiction, religion wins by a mile. Knowledge thus needs an instruction book of real world applications to be useful. Knowing that two plus two equals four is great, but how does that help run a muffin shop. Realizing that the empirical math can help understand that selling six muffins for two dollars each can make the difference between making a profit or starving to death. Yet, what is knowledge plus some logical philosophy without thoughtful action. One can be aware of muffin mathematics, but gamble away all the money from sales away. Thoughtful action or virtue, if you like, is difficult to quantify in the positive, though the negatives are easy enough to understand. Gamble way the profits and you cannot make anymore muffins profits, which means no more business, which means an angry hungry family.
All of that seems so simple. yet a deeply ingrained part of the human condition is I knew that or thought I did, but things still went sideways. Everyone gets an accountability discount in the world of wisdom because as individuals we cannot control other people’s actions; thoughtful, ignorant, misguided venal, malicious or otherwise. It is best not to develop the habit of blaming others too quickly. Look inward for what can be controlled, then look outward. This step apparently feels like getting a root canal without anesthetic since some people avoid looking inward at all costs.
When you act in the world many of those actions will effect others.So even if Sam finds wisdom completely useless for himself, it is incumbent on him, in a moral society, to learn about the consequences of one’s actions. Those who do not believe in the social contract, that is consideration of others is such a burden and compromise of self, they fell that thoughtful action is a form of tyranny are a special case. They can have knowledge, but fail to see the moral consequences of acts. maybe these people do not see something. We all watch as a poor family finally gets a meal. Most of us think that bringing them food was the wise thing to do. We know that people must eat to survive. We see people eating. The anti-social individual does not see what the rest of us sees. Something in addition to the consumption of calories and nutrients. We see the consequence of knowledge informed by goodness. Something non-material. The anti-social individual cannot comprehend the greater good. They cannot or will not use their knowledge to discern between good acts and bad acts, or being ambivalent. Let’s give A-S(anti-social individual) some credit. He was devastated when the elderly couple next door was murdered. They used to give him fresh baked cookies every Saturday while he was growing up. He feels a connection, he has an emotional investment and he sees the horror and the immediacy of that act. He sees the immorality. He might not see the big picture in terms of the affect on humanity. The feelings of the couple’s family. The lost in terms of the community – the couple was active in civic activity that had made the community richer in terms of stability, history, personal connections. A-S could not see the intangibles, things that for lack of wisdom he could not measure or see how they were connected. A-S was confidant he knew about the world and how it worked. He could add two and two.
“Most people would agree that, although our age far surpasses all previous ages in knowledge, there has been no correlative increase in wisdom. But agreement ceases as soon as we attempt to define ‘wisdom’ and consider means of promoting it. I want to ask first what wisdom is, and then what can be done to teach it.
There are, I think, several factors that contribute to wisdom. Of these I should put first a sense of proportion: the capacity to take account of all the important factors in a problem and to attach to each its due weight. This has become more difficult than it used to be owing to the extent and complexity fo the specialized knowledge required of various kinds of technicians. Suppose, for example, that you are engaged in research in scientific medicine. The work is difficult and is likely to absorb the whole of your intellectual energy. You have not time to consider the effect which your discoveries or inventions may have outside the field of medicine. You succeed (let us say), as modern medicine has succeeded, in enormously lowering the infant death-rate, not only in Europe and America, but also in Asia and Africa. This has the entirely unintended result of making the food supply inadequate and lowering the standard of life in the most populous parts of the world. To take an even more spectacular example, which is in everybody’s mind at the present time: You study the composistion of the atom from a disinterested desire for knowledge, and incidentally place in the hands of powerful lunatics the means of destroying the human race. In such ways the pursuit of knowledge may becorem harmful unless it is combined with wisdom; and wisdom in the sense of comprehensive vision is not necessarily present in specialists in the pursuit of knowledge.” Bertrand Russell