In our age… men seem more than ever prone to confuse wisdom with knowledge, and knowledge with information, and to try to solve problems of life in terms of engineering.
~ T. S. Eliot
One of the four classical virtues, wisdom, or prudence, is arguably fundamental to the proper application of the others. For instance, as was discussed yesterday, courage without wisdom is often folly and may even create great harm.
Plato argued that the separate virtues cannot exist independently, but his evidence offers wisdom as the central virtue upon which the others depend. Prudence was considered by the ancient Greeks and later on by early Christian philosophers to be the cause, measure and form of all virtues, the auriga virtutum or the charioteer of the virtues.
The word comes from Old French prudence (13th century), which, in turn is a contracted form of the Latin providentia, meaning foresight and sagacity. This virtue is interchangeably known as Wisdom, Insight, and Knowledge. In its classical form, it is the ability to judge if actions are virtuous or vicious, not only in general, but within a given context or situation.
In modern English usage, the word “prudence,” has changed somewhat to mean the reluctance to take risks, or even over-cautiousness, making it less of a virtue and more of a vice.
Although wisdom itself is not an action, it is the virtue by which actions are evaluated. Thus, to know if someone has the habitual behavior of wisdom, once would have to be observed exercising sound judgment consistently over time.
One view of wisdom is that it is the ability to gather to oneself personal knowledge and experience, to understand and use discretion, and to even have an intuitive understanding of matters. It is more, then, than simply knowledge and fact, although those do comprise it. It is the ability to extrapolate and project, based on those facts.
Furthermore, it is then the capacity to apply these qualities well, using them to find solutions to problems. In other words, it is the judicious and purposeful application of knowledge that is valued in society.
Who do you deem wise? Who do you know that has the virtue of foresight, understanding, discretion and even an intuitive understanding of things that are important, or good for those around them? In your own life, what experiences have brought you real wisdom?