The question of wisdom, and especially of why it is barely talked about at all in the halls of philosophy departments is one that I tackled in a recent essay for The Philosophers’ Magazine Online.
I started with a passage from Plato’s Apology, where we find out that Socrates was the wisest man in Greece (until he was killed by his Athenian compatriots for corrupting their youth — and I’m pretty sure they were not talking about a sex scandal…).
I then moved on to discuss in some detail a good article on wisdom published by Sharon Ryan, of West Virginia University, in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. That article explores a number of conceptions of wisdom:
- wisdom as epistemic humility
- wisdom as epistemic accuracy
- wisdom as knowledge (two variants)
- a hybrid theory of wisdom
- wisdom as (deep) rationality
Ryan favors this last option, though I think there are some problems with it. On my part, I still like Socrates’ own conception of it, as it emerges, for example, from the Euthydemus: wisdom is the most important virtue (indeed, the only one, since all others are aspects of it) as well as the Chief Good, because it is that ability that tells us how to use anything else in life. One can be good at, say, making musical instruments, but not necessarily at playing them; or one could be good at writing political speeches, but not necessarily at delivering them. But if one is wise, then one knows what to do under all circumstances (within the limits of human fallibility), and one also knows how to properly use all other skills. That is why for Socrates the practice of wisdom was pretty much the same thing as living the good life.