Wisdom is learning about oneself and about Adam and Eve. It’s not some kind of objective knowledge arrived at by logic, mathematics or science, that can be argued, and demonstrated to other people for them to agree with, and that students can write down in their lectures.
It requires another kind of intelligence which perhaps can be called Sensibility to Human Life, see previous post. Philosophy hasn’t got it.
Some people are satisfied that they have gained Wisdom by sitting in class and writing down the science that other people have produced.
To understand the self, one’s own and those of others, one needs a mind with mental faculties other than logic, mathematics and science. What are these faculties? In my search I have looked at such faculties as: ‘Imagination’, ‘Intuition’, ‘Inspiration from the gods’, ‘the Autonomous and Supernatural nature of our Selves’, ‘Experience of Living’. Or perhaps just a je ne sais quoi! One can imagine philosophers making mince-meat of all these ideas. The best I can do at the moment is ‘Sensibility to the irreducible concreteness of human life’, see an earlier post.
It does help too to have seen a bit of life, led a bit of life, of the low life, of danger, of risk, of things crashing about one’s head.
It helps too to be educated by the reading of literature which broadens and deepens the mind by taking one into the innermost feelings and motivations of fictional characters. Education and Wisdom by way of entirely made-up stories containing no theoretical thought? How can that be? Anyway, quite apart from that question to which I haven’t seen an answer, Leavis said that literature creates human life in its concrete particulars, see here. I think the mind is also educated by History, Religion, and the Classics.
For coming to an understanding of oneself and of others, one does base oneself on experience, therefore one could say one is being ’empiricist’. But, for me, this empirical truth then has to ring true within me for me to feel it to be really true. I have to feel it and touch it within me. Even then it is only provisional, and one has to go on receiving experiences.
It is a strange intelligence indeed for the ‘knowledge’ it gains to have to ‘ring true inside one’ as if this is the first test for truth before going further. It consists primarily of sensibility to the concrete wholeness of human life, and is irreducible to rational abstractions, see here. It is a sensibility to human life.
Philosophers are simple-minded on human affairs — the examples they draw on from human life and speech to exhibit their methods on lack the subtlety, complexity, concealment, falsity, deception, self-deception, irony, tragedy and comedy, which is what human beings are made of and get up to.
They make, for example, such an important thing out of the ‘Principle of the Excluded Middle’ — Either it will snow today or it will not snow today, but not in-between — which is ‘one of the Three Laws of Thought’. An ordinary person just accepts it as not worth talking about. What would Jane Austen or Anthony Trollope have made of it?
Philosophers were the proto-scientists of ancient times, seeking objective knowledge of the universe as the scientists did later, and one doesn’t call science Wisdom.
Logicking upwards from one or two certainties like Descartes did, in order to gain knowledge or wisdom, and not to trust one’s senses, leads to absurdities. I think Ayn Rand (who was otherwise an enthusiast for Philosophy) said that one only learns to mistrust one’s senses because one’s senses eventually tell one the truth. To believe what comes to one by logicking, rather than by the senses, is crazy. This applies to Parmenides just as much as to Descartes (from here).
Philosophers have defined Man as ‘the rational animal’ in their sense that Man is the one able to do logicking, mathematicking and scientificking. Our feelings, musings, memories, dreams, nostalgias, imaginations, motivations, ironies, deceptions and self-deceptions, hatreds and loves, longings for a life of life and adventure (on top of the other human faculties I have listed above or elsewhere) seem not to come into it, even though they too are so much more developed than in animals. So someone as idiotic as Bertrand Russell becomes the supreme Man. Oi!
I am a stickler for logic in ordinary communication, and get infuriated by people whose words make no sense after I have taken all the trouble to concentrate on them till the end. But for philosophers to take logic further, onto one level of abstraction after another above concrete experience, in order to explain all kinds of things, is simply wrong-headed. I am a stickler also for finding the right word, and I admire self-knowledge and self-discipline. None of these come from philosophers’ logicking or maths or science. I do demand hard realism when it comes to our thinking on Man, not the sentimental words and melodies of some Romantics.
Philosophers’ philosophizing is of a kind and degree of rationality that cuts out human wisdom. It is so ‘rationalistic’ that it becomes irrational.
Philosophers have a drivenness for logical neatness and conclusivity. A truly rational person should rather shrug his shoulders at questions that are quite clearly beyond logicking, such as: What is the relation between the material brain and the immaterial mind? Philosophers think up ridiculous rationalizations for this problem such as epiphenomenalism and occasionalism. Look these up; they are amazing. Descartes himself in a letter late in his life (from here) wrote that ‘the union of mind and body is best understood by not thinking about it, and that it is just one of those mysteries that has to be accepted without being comprehended’. Exactly!
From the beginning, philosophers have been grinning idiots with their optimism that comes from confidence in Reason. This rationalistic sense of life is seen also in scientists with their simple optimism in science.
Religions, with all their faults such as believing in God and burning people at the stake, are more intelligent about man than Philosophy is. They do at least deal with his lack of fulfilment, his sin, and his yearning for reward.
Keats criticized Coleridge for putting the idealistic philosophy of his day into his poetry. Keats recommended being content to live in the world of the senses, and not try to ferret out the ‘fundamental truth’ of things ‘by step by step reasoning’. Keats called his own rejection of truth-seeking, ‘Negative Capability'(from here). That’s a pretty good term to put with ‘Sensibility to the irreducible concreteness of human life’.
Here is a passage which states a very primary obviousness about all fictional and poetic literature: “Homer begins his huge epic poem Iliad with the ‘rage of Achilles’. It is emotional from the very first words, and cares little about finding out the secrets of the physical world, and is much more interested in delving into the secrets and the darkness in men’s hearts.” (The passage comes from a site, perhaps from E.R. Dodds, but I can’t now trace which one.)
I was impressed by a post from philosopher Christopher Norris, here. It made me think that good philosophy of science, by warning scientists to stick to the empirical and to be careful with words, is relevant to modern physics. Yes, think I, if you are already so abstractly and empirically rationalistic as to be a scientist, then philosophy may well be relevant to you. As another post says: ‘Philosophy is epistemology applied to the scientific enterprise….’ Yes, perhaps that’s all p hilosophy is good for, which is already quite a lot in the modern world.