In the Apology, the oracle at Delphi stated that Socrates was the wisest man of his time (Plato 21a). Socrates, however, “[was] very conscious that [he was] not wise at all”, which would not make him the wisest man of his time (21b). Certainly, not both the oracle and Socrates could be simultaneously correct in their individual beliefs; thus, the oracle and Socrates must have had differing definitions of wisdom. What, then, is wisdom? Many people believe wisdom denotes having extensive knowledge about various things. A person often gains this knowledge through time and experience, hence why elderly people are viewed as wise. We shall refer to this form of wisdom as wisdom through knowledge alone. So too, many people believe wisdom is a lack of ignorance. Plato, in his work Apology, depicts this form of wisdom through Socrates’ encounters with the politicians, poets, and craftsmen. Paradoxically, Socrates found that he was wiser than each of these people because he at least recognized what he did not know, whereas the other groups of people believed to know more than what they actually knew (22). We shall refer to this form of wisdom as wisdom through self-knowledge. I contend that neither of these views of wisdom is, in fact, what Socrates viewed wisdom to be. Instead, I contend that Socrates viewed true wisdom as knowledge of what is important in life, why this is important, and how to achieve this through action. It is from this view of wisdom that both the oracle and Socrates could be correct in their beliefs stated earlier. To defend this, however, we must evaluate the views of wisdom in regards to knowledge alone and self-knowledge. According to the view of wisdom through knowledge alone, a wise person has widespread knowledge about a multitude of topics, including literature, science, and mathematics. The principal rebuttal to this view argues that intelligence does not equate to wisdom. That is, comprehensive knowledge of facts about the natural processes of the world does not grant knowledge about the universality of the human condition, or the unique characteristics of humanity, which is what a wise person would know. Socrates, I believe, would subscribe to this, primarily depicted when Socrates challenged the craftsmen in hopes of discovering their wisdom. After examining the craftsmen, Socrates found that the craftsmen had obtained some wisdom through their knowledge of a skill, but this minimal wisdom was overshadowed by their wrong belief that they also knew what was most important in regards to other pursuits (22d). In this encounter, we can see that Socrates upheld that the craftsmen had wisdom from their knowledge of their craft. The crucial part of this analysis, however, was that this wisdom through knowledge was easily overshadowed by their belief that they knew what was best in life, which they did not know. It is from this that we (and Socrates) can conclude that knowing what matters in life is more important than knowing extensive facts about worldly things, particularly in regards to wisdom.
The second view of wisdom stated earlier was the view of wisdom through self-knowledge. According to this view, a wise person is a person who recognizes what he/she knows and recognizes what he/she does not know. In short, a wise person lacks ignorance. The main argument against this view is that, according to this view, a wise person could be someone who has no knowledge and recognizes that he/she does not have any knowledge beyond this. This would not be the case, though, because a person who knows nothing would not be considered wise. Another argument against this view claims that a person could have incorrect knowledge about the world and also recognize what he/she does not know. To illustrate this, take Aristotle as an example. Aristotle believed that the primary constructs of the world were earth, water, air, and fire. Today, this has been proven to be...
Cited: Descartes, R., Principles of Philosophy, in Philosophical Works. Trans. E. Haldane and G. Ross.
London: Cambridge University Press, 1979. Print.
Plato., Five Dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Meno, Phaedo. Trans. G. M. A Grube and
John M. Cooper. Second ed. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2002. Print.
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