Bertrand Russell Asks: Can Wisdom Be Taught The Same Way As Knowledge?

I start this post with a relevant question: Can one confidently say that with the increase of scientific and technological knowledge we are getting closer to wisdom?

As Bertrand Russell writes in his short essay Knowledge and Wisdom, purposeful knowledge without the prudence of wisdom can lead, inadvertently, toward a final, and perhaps not desired, outcome that one can call ‘evil’.

Russell further states that if we as a progressive world wish to avoid evil actions because of our thirst for knowledge, we would do well to also impart the teaching of wisdom, and to encourage everyone to embrace open-mindedness and impartiality in their use of this knowledge.

As Russell writes in the opening of his essay:

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.

Russell further discusses the dangers of knowledge without wisdom:

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 for 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 composition 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 become 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.

As for my own take on the subject of imparting knowledge and wisdom (which was very well reasoned in Russell’s insightful essay): Can one actually be taught to be wise or is one simply born with it?

This is perhaps similar to the question of how does one go about teaching common sense to the masses.

As for my original question – I don’t know.  As I have so far learned by observing so-called wise men and reading the books written by them, it is perhaps easier to understand the benefits of wisdom than apply it to my own daily life.

It is all well and good teaching a particular branch of knowledge and skill for one to perform their chosen job, which at the same time becomes mechanically second-nature through repetitive use.

But when it comes to the subject of wisdom, something which is an apparent pinnacle of human life and is to be used rarely, naturally and intuitively, this is perhaps a difficult skill to remember to employ once the trials and tribulations of life arises for the average person.

Unlike knowledge, wisdom is not just a mere function of the mind but is, moreso, a divine or spiritual guidance that encourages one to live righteously and for one to always walk the simplest path towards overcoming man-made obstacles of evil.

I do think that one can develop wisdom by learning from their past mistakes – this would be a start.

As we all know, this is Man’s failing grace.  It seems Man is never able to learn from the past, hence the dire state that we now find ourselves in the world.

I also think that one can learn from another person’s mistakes, but this should be carefully reasoned, as what may work for one person may not work for you.  In other words, everyone has their own search for truth, which includes the need for mistakes to be made to find it.

Socrates was perhaps right when he said that for one to attain wisdom, one must become aware of, and accept, their own ignorance, which then must be removed so that they can better discern wisdom and make it easier to apply it in their everyday actions and interactions.

So, self-knowledge, and not the actual teaching of it, seems to be the key to wisdom.

But as I am no doubt finding out, as well as what I said earlier regarding both the attaining and use of wisdom – easier read than done.

Read the complete essay ‘Knowledge and Wisdom’ written by Bertrand Russell: Click here

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