I would like to be wise. Not a wiseacre—someone who's a know it all, the kind of person you can't stand at parties, in the bar, or in the classroom for that matter—but I'd like to be truly wise.According to the Wisdom of Solomon:
If you really want Wisdom,
then fall in love with her
and desire to learn.
I like to think I have fallen in love with Wisdom, and if not in love then at least enjoying the beginnings of a relationship—more than a flirtation, hopefully not an obsession—and I hope my relationship deepens.
But what is it to be wise? The ancient Greeks had two words for wisdom: sophia and phronesis. Sophia is generally considered transcendent wisdom (whatever that means) and phronesis is practical wisdom. Wisdom is among the four cardinal virtues: temperance, wisdom, courage, and justice, though the wisdom here is phronesis and not sophia. The traditional translation of phronesis as "prudence" doesn't quite get to the meaning in our modern English.
Scholars have spilled much ink (if not blood) in trying to work out the Aristotelian difference between the two forms of wisdom. Some scholars think to make too hard a distinction between them is to miss the point. Sophia and phronesis are both wisdom, just with a different emphasis. That we have two words adds to the richness of our understanding.
Carolyn M. Aldwin suggested a helpful definition:
Wisdom is a practice that reﬂects the developmental process by which individuals increase in self-knowledge, self-integration, nonattachment, self-transcendence, and compassion, as well as a deeper understanding of life. This practice involves better self regulation and ethical choices, resulting in greater good for oneself and others.
That just about covers it! Important to note is that wisdom is a practice. Wisdom is something you do. Important, too, is the idea that wisdom has effects in the real world. Besides giving you a better understanding of your self, it results in better choices, better relationships, and a general good for the life of the world.
I stumbled into philosophy when I was studying theology at Newcastle University. I wasn't looking for it. Philosophy was rather like a log on the pathway that I tripped over and noticed. I suppose it was more of a nuisance at the time. Over time we struck up a relationship that has continued. Most often, philosophy is said to be the "love of wisdom," as our English word comes from the two Greek words sophia and philia: wisdom and love.
French philosophers Luce Irigary and Emmanuel Levinas separately disrupted this convention by suggesting that philosophy is not the love of wisdom, but rather the wisdom of love. I like that disruption. It suggests that true wisdom is not about knowing stuff, or being brilliant with knowledge like the quiz show genius. That can be a bit of a memory game. True wisdom is the practice of loving relationships; in terms of my 2012 book Love as a Guide to Morals, the movement of the self toward the Other for the well being of all. In shorthand, true wisdom is compassion.
So, in a round about way when I say "I would like to be wise" I suppose I am saying that through practice, self-reflection, self-transcendence, and self-regulation—remember Socrates, "the unexamined life is not worth living"—I would like to be a compassionate person.
Love and Goodness to all,
Aldwin quote from Research in Human Development 6 (1)1-8, 2009.