It seems to me that defining people in terms of "wise" is the wrong
approach, just as it would be to ask if someone is "self-actualized".
Particularly because wisdom has a continuing history of being considered a
superhuman achievement--the old definition of wisdom as "rerum humanorum
divinarumque scientia", knowledge of all things human and divine. Also there
is religious/metaphysical wisdom and practical wisdom, and despite overlap
the two are quite different.
Just as we can become more intelligent, we can become wiser. That is, we can
learn to make better decisions and to gain deeper insight into the nature of
reality. We can also learn to prioritise wisdom. Some are "wiser" than
others, but it doesn't seem to me that there's any point in aiming at being
"wise". We might want to classify someone after the fact as wise.
I too have learned from the discussion of the past few days, thanks to
those who shared their views.
All people will be able to flourish in a flourishing natural environment
>From: Karl Rogers <[log in to unmask]>
>Reply-To: Group concerned that academia should seek and promote wisdom
> <[log in to unmask]>
>To: [log in to unmask]
>Subject: Re: What next?
>Date: Mon, 22 May 2006 06:40:00 +0100
>Dear Friends of Wisdom,
> I have enjoyed reading the debate on this thread and there have been
>some very interesting points made.
> Indeed, as Professor Maxwell as said, a broad debate among academics
>about the purpose of academic enquiry and education, with particular focus
>on the pursuit of wisdom, is essential for the health of our education
>system. This debate should also include teachers, students, pupils, and
>parents. Everyone needs to be included.
> Of course, before we can even consider the questions of whether it is
>possible to teach wisdom and, if it is, how do we teach wisdom, we first
>have to question whether we actually know what wisdom is.
> It seems to me that Gilles Deleuze’s distinction between the philosopher
>and the sage is apt. The philosopher is the lover or friend of wisdom,
>which means that s/he seeks wisdom and wants to cultivate the conditions
>(social and intellectual) through which wisdom can flourish. But the
>philosopher does not possess wisdom. That distinction is left to the sage –
>the possessor of wisdom. It remains the Socratic task of the philosopher to
>test all potential sages to see if they truly possess wisdom. Perhaps there
>are no sages. Perhaps none of us possesses wisdom. Perhaps the best we can
>hope for is to recognise impostors.
> Maybe the message of the Delphic Oracle was that “no man is wiser than
>Socrates” simply meant that all men, including Socrates, were equally
> If none of us can say what wisdom is then it is impossible for us to
>know whether it can be taught, or how to teach it.
> Of course we can offer definitions, as a starting point, such as
>contained in the mission statement, without becoming too preoccupied with
>coining a final definition:
> “Our mission is to encourage academia to devote itself to seeking and
>promoting wisdom by rational means; wisdom being the capacity to realise
>what is of value in life, for oneself and others.”
> But this leaves us with the crucial question: what are “rational means”?
>This question has been central to philosophy for millennia. The search for
>the knowledge of what is of value in life, for oneself and others, is
>ultimately the search for the knowledge of the good life. This is the
>central question for all humanity – every answer – every philosophy – every
>religion – is itself an experimental answer to this question. The question,
>‘what is wisdom?’, depends crucially on knowing what the good life is and
>whether there is a rational means to achieve it. Thus the question of
>wisdom depends upon understanding the nature of rationality and goodness.
> If we do not know what rationality and goodness are, then how can we
> It seems to me that our best hope is not to put all our proverbial eggs
>in one basket.
> To have a single method or curriculum courts disaster. It seems to me to
>be prudent to be as pluralistic in our education system as is humanly
> To this end, teachers and lecturers should be given more latitude to
>experiment and teach in accordance with their own intuition and experience.
>Children and students should be allowed to learn for themselves, at their
>own pace in accordance with their abilities and interests. All children and
>students should be given the space and resources to achieve their fullest
>potential, as emergent through a dialectical relationship between teacher
> Schools and universities should be decentralised and teachers, parents,
>and students should democratically decide the content of their curriculum.
> The government should not have any input in the content of education.
>Parents, teachers, and pupils should be considered to be at least equally
>placed to make such decisions, as any governmental minister or committee,
>and there is a strong argument that they are better placed. The
>responsibility of a democratic government should be limited to facilitate
>the distribution of taxpayers’ money and organisation of national resources
>in order to provide universal access to education from kindergarten to
>doctoral thesis, according to the ability and inclinations of the child in
>question. In a developed country, it is simply unacceptable that all
>children do not have equal educational opportunity. In my view, without
>universal educational access, a country cannot be classified as a developed
> In my view, the best chance of promoting wisdom in the education system,
>at all levels, given that we don't know what it is, is to allow as much
>freedom, creativity, and diversity in schools, colleges, and university.
>The education system should make space for different people and communities
>to try different routes and learn from each others' experiences. Of course
>there is nothing wrong with training courses, teaching skills and
>professions, from plumbing to law, but the danger is that the education
>system is being reduced into a technical skill teaching mechanism for the
>commercial market. Education is being treated as if it were an economic
>good, a product of a service industry. Let us not accept that it is the
>only purpose of education. As Professor Maxwell has stated, the purpose of
>education is how to make a better society and how to critically evaluate
>possible visions of that society. The purpose of education is to challenge
>us, not simply to train us as
> efficient workers, professionals, or managers. It is a means by which we
>learn how to challenge both each other and ourselves to not be complacent
>and conform to our norms and assumptions. Pluralism and diversity are
>essential for this aspiration.
> Hence, if we have a responsibility to facilitate the development of
>wisdom of education, as teachers, parents, and/or students, then we should:
> Resist the commercialisation and centralisation of education.
> Be prepared to pay sufficient levels of taxes for the education system.
> Resist the implementation of a national curriculum.
> Call for the reduction in the quantity of coursework, in exchange for
>demanding higher quality. Criticise the current trend for constant testing
>and ‘hoop jumping’ means of education. Children should not be treated like
>circus trained performing animals.
> Lecturers, teachers, and parents should insist that they have greater
>local input into the content of education at all levels.
> Challenge and resist the implementation of centralised testing methods
>for students, teachers, and researchers.
> Call for greater latitude and pluralism in teacher training, as well as
>more resources for more teachers, schools, and pubic libraries.
> Resist student fees and loans. Return to the universal grants system.
> How can we achieve any of these things? As history shows, a combination
>of individually pressuring our democratically elected representatives (by
>stating our concerns and threatening them with withdrawing our vote),
>greater public participation in the democratic process through pressure
>groups, and boycott/strike action can be most effective.
> Of course, many of us are, in our own way, doing these things, or other
>equally important things that I have not mentioned, to improve the quality
> In my view, the possibility of genuine democracy depends on high quality
>education for all children and students.
> To this end, email lists, such as “The Friends of Wisdom” list, provides
>an excellent forum for us to communicate ideas and concerns.
> yours truly,
>Nicholas Maxwell <[log in to unmask]> wrote: Dear Friends
> We have announced our existence to
>the world - or to the readers of the Times Higher Education Supplement -
>and we have acquired new members. What do we do now? We are in broad
>agreement, I take it, that universities ought to seek and promote wisdom
>more actively and effectively than they do at present. But what does this
>involve? What changes need to be made to research and education if these
>are to seek and promote wisdom in an adequate way? How do we go about
>helping to bring the required changes about? What do we do?
> As I see it, we have two different
>but related tasks before us.
> (A) First, we need to continue to debate among ourselves what kind of
>inquiry would adequately seek and help promote wisdom. Is it primarily a
>question of teaching in such a way that, whatever else is being learned -
>physics, history, anthropology, etc. - the student also acquires wisdom, as
>the USA initiative "teaching for wisdom" would seem to hold? Or is
>something more radical required? Does there need to be a transformation in
>the overall aims and methods of inquiry, a change in the nature of
>disciplines, in the way they are related to one another, and a change in
>the way academia is related to the rest of society, if inquiry is to seek
>and promote wisdom adequately? Do we, perhaps, need an intellectual and
>cultural transformation comparable in importance to the scientific
>revolution of the 17th century, or the Enlightenment of the 18th century?
> (B) Assuming we come to some sort of rough agreement concerning (A), our
>task is then to try to get across to our academic colleagues the need for
>change, and ideas about what needs to change. It might be that what we
>need to do, here, is to stimulate serious debate about what the aims and
>methods of academic inquiry should be much more broadly, in and out of
>academic and educational contexts. Or perhaps we do have specific changes
>in mind which we hold need to be made to academia if it is to seek and
>promote wisdom adequately - our task being to make out the case for these
>changes as publicly and effectively as we can. Or perhaps we should
>ourselves begin to practise what we preach (if we are not already doing
>just that), so that we devote at least some of our own research, writing
>and teaching to the promotion of wisdom (as best we can). Or are we
>primarily a sort of meta-organization, facilitating communication between
>other people, groups, organizations and
> societies who are engaged in the struggle to help create a wiser world,
>and help create institutions of research and learning devoted to that end?
> (A) and (B) need to be carried on
>simultaneously, of course. I don't wish to imply that (A) has to be
>completed before we can begin with (B).
> My own view, as I expect many of you
>know, is that we do need a radical revolution in the aims and methods of
>academic inquiry, a revolution in its structure and character, if it is to
>seek and promote wisdom effectively, and in a genuinely rational way. I
>see ideal human inquiry as a sort of rational development of animal inquiry
>- the essential thing about animal inquiry being that it is learning how to
>live, learning how to act in the world so as to survive and reproduce.
>Human inquiry, too, ideally, ought to be (in my view) about learning how to
>live, learning how to act and be in the world; problems of living ought to
>be at the heart of the academic enterprise, and not, as at present, at the
>periphery. The big differences between animal and human inquiry are,
>first, the elaborately social character of the latter, and second that the
>basic aims of life and of inquiry are, for us, not only survival and
>reproduction, but rather the
> realization in life of what is genuinely of value (whatever that may be).
> The basic aims of life, and of inquiry are, for us, inherently
>problematic, and it ought to be a part of our task to try to improve our
>aims as we live, as we learn and think.
> This radical interpretation of our
>task is reflected, to some extent, in our website
>(www.knowledgetowisdom.org). Is it too radical? Or not radical enough?
>What ought we to be trying to achieve?
> In pursuing (A) and (B) I hope this
>emailing group will try to exercise some restraint, and will not send
>material or pursue discussion of matters only tangentially related to our
>main concerns. I have already received one or two complaints on this
>score. It has also been suggested to me that we should not send
>attachments to the list: I am not sure how people feel about that.
> Mathew Iredale, who helps me manage
>this emailing group, has suggested to me that Friends of Wisdom ought to
>have simple vision and mission statements, as many charities do. He says
>"Although our aims may be varied and complex, applying as they do to so
>many areas of life throughout the world, we ought to try and provide a
>simple statement of what they are". And he proposes the following, which
>seem to me to be excellent:-
> Our vision statement:- We wish to help humanity learn how to create a
> Our mission statement:- Our mission is to encourage academia to devote
>itself to seeking and promoting wisdom by rational means, wisdom being the
>capacity to realize what is of value in life, for oneself and others.
> And he also suggests that we put
>ourselves on a more formal basis and agree on a constitution for Friends of
>Wisdom - perhaps a simplified version of the constitution of Scientists for
>Global Responsibility (http://www.sgr.org.uk/Constitution.html).
> My apologies for the length of this
>email, clearly violating my request for restraint!
> Best wishes,
> Nick Maxwell
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