Wisdom trouble

(This post is notes to myself. If you read it — and you are welcome to — you are reading as an eavesdropper. Something is troubling me badly. It is the best kind of trouble, which is why I have been chasing it around it with my philosopher’s stone. Just this year I’ve chased it through at least six gnarly books and through at least six dozen excruciating conversations.)

Wisdom is practical understanding of first-person being.

Wisdom is practical understanding. The understanding manifests in practice. To convey it, it must be demonstrated. It cannot be given by explicit propositional language.

An understanding that manifests in practice is an ability to act in some intentional way. It is not knowledge content. Practical understanding, though, might use knowledge as a means or support in its practice. We sometimes call such knowledge “wisdom”, but this badly confuses matters. A wise person’s knowledge (or a wise tradition’s knowledge) is an instrument, not the wisdom ability itself. Just as possessing a guitar does not make one a guitarist, possessing a wise person’s knowledge does not make one wise. One must have an ability to do the practice — play a guitar if a guitar is available or act wisely if an occasion for wisdom arises.

The practice in question is a participatory practice — participation in first-person being.

First-person being is not nearly as simple as our everyday working notions of I and we suggest. Practical understanding of this complexity — manifested as participation in first-person in its full complexity — is essential to wisdom.

Wise participation is first-person is participation in a subjective manifold comprising one’s own first-person singular being (I), other persons’ first person singular beings (fellow-I, a.k.a. thou), within transcendent first person being plural (We).

(We is a complex and elusive kind of being about whom we know little, but about which we unwisely believe we know perfectly well. We don’t even know how to know it, because when we try to know we approach it as objective immanence, when the everse approach is required. We is essentially participatory and transcendent, not objective and immanent. This is the most radical category mistake, and it forces any believer in its grip into the unwise either-or of a relatively decent atheism or an indecent fundamentalism.)

The understanding exists as a capacity for this kind of participation, which emerges if the occasion for such participation presents itself.

Let’s return to the role of knowledge in wisdom. We have established that wisdom is not knowledge. We have also established, however that some knowledge can be instrumental to wisdom.

It is also true that we can state true propositions about wisdom. As wisdom is not knowledge, a true proposition about wisdom is not itself wisdom. But knowledge about wisdom can be instrumentally useful to wisdom. And an act of using instrumentally useful knowledge about wisdom can be wise. In this case, wisdom is manifested in the speech act, not in the content.

Philosophy, at its best, is the attempt to demonstrate wisdom by stating true propositions about wisdom that are instrumentally useful to wisdom, and its wisdom is demonstrated in its attitude toward wisdom as something inexhaustibly transcendent. We don’t possess wisdom, we love wisdom, and we love it by desiring its beyondness, wisely pursing wisdom beyond our current ability.

This is the structure of love: Love is transcendently oriented, loving past what is objectively given, toward a subject who forever eludes our possessing, comprehending grasp, a semi-mysterious person we know essentially through our shared participation in We.

To covet what is objectively given, or to value only the experience of what is given, is mere lust.

What do we call a person who acquires, collects or distributes wisdom facts and wisdom tools, while neglecting the development of wise practice?

A lot of wisdom happens without the use of knowledge.

Many wise people cannot tell you many facts about their wisdom.

They just act wisely when the occasion calls for it.

Others gravitate to forms of wisdom that involve knowledge. It is easy to automatically conflate them with knowledge fact and knowledge tool hoarders, but it is unwise to do so.

The test is the same: can these knowledge users act wisely with their knowledge when the occasion calls for it?

Some people learn some wisdom, but unwisely conclude from this that they now possess wisdom. They were ignorant in thinking they knew — but now they know that they really know. Others who resist their new knowing resist ignorantly. They too only think they know.

It would be wise to ask if perhaps one still only thinks one really knows. Or better, that knowing must be something other than we have conceived it.

But instead one becomes foolishly, arrogantly and presumptuously wise like a new religious convert, or like a university student who has learned just enough to be dangerous, or like a new initiate in a compelling new conspiracy theory, or like a fanatic drunk on a comprehensive political ideology that finally makes sense of everything.

A fool possessed by a conceit of wisdom is called sophomoric (sophos– “wisdom” + -moros “foolish”).

A fool with a head full of wise content is somehow even more foolish than an empty-headed fool.

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