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Wisdom

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 German  Weisheit

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Nished Naher (23/12/2020, contribution elaborated within the Seminar "A Journey through Philosophy and Information" facilitated by J.M.Díaz at the Hochschule München)
 
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Contents
  1. Socrates’ View on Wisdom

Epistemic Humility
  1. Aristotle’s View on Wisdom

Theoretical Wisdom
Practical Wisdom
  1. Data-Information-Knowledge-Wisdom-Model

Abstract. Socrates, Aristotle, and many more have tried to understand the concept of wisdom and yet, in the 20th and 21st century, not many philosophers have written about it [it might be better to express it differently: instead of "... and yet..." using a different phrase, for instance, "... while... are writting about it"]. It’s a shame, because what is wisdom? Every philosopher has their [mismatching posesive adjetive] interpretation of what wisdom is [I'm not sure about this since it is not discussed, the only thing we can state is something like "every philosopher probably has an own conception of wisdom]. There are books written about it, where they wonder if it is knowledge, science, or just common sense. It really is an important question, and it has preoccupied mankind since the beginning of time. Not only a variety of great thinkers have tried to find out the true meaning behind the six letters, but also ordinary people often wonder who is, or is not, wise. After all, the pursuit of wisdom is “the most perfect, the most sublime, the most profitable, the most delightful”, according to Thomas Aquin and everyone strives to be wise, in one way or another. Even the word 'philosophy' stands for 'love of wisdom' but do we truly know what it means and is there ever a way to be wise? 
This entry will cover Socrates’ and Aristotle's interpretation of wisdom and represent the relationship between wisdom, data, information, and knowledge. There are many views on what constitutes wisdom and through epistemology, we can try to answer those questions, to gain a better view of wisdom. 


Socrates' View On Wisdom


Socrates was a Greek philosopher, who was named one of the founders of Western Philosophy, as his way of life, character, and thought influenced, not only ancient but also modern philosophy. He has changed the world, and yet, he has never written any books. His students, Platon and Xenophon, were the firsts to depict his conversations, thus giving the world an insight into how Socrates thought and what his words were. It is only for this reason that we can say today what he had thought of wisdom. 

Plato expressed in Apology that Socrates was named the wisest person by the oracle at Delphi. However, Socrates made a habit of questioning everyone and their beliefs, even his own, and began to question many politicians, poets, and craftsmen because he claimed that his knowledge and wisdom were not good enough and that there were many more people in the community who were also well known for their way of thinking [It is better to split this sentence to improve readability]. So, how could he have been the wisest? That is why Socrates had no writings, nor teachings [The concatenation of the previous 2 sentences creates some confusion]. He just shared his confusion, and his constant need of wanting to know more, with others.


After solving the divine paradox [which is it? it's not expressed explicitly. I suppose you're talking about Oracle of Delphi, but it should be explicated], Socrates concluded that the politicians did not know anything worthwhile and he claimed that the poets did not have an understanding of their poetry. He described the craftsmen as the most knowledgeable, but yet according to Socrates, they claimed to know things beyond their craft, when they did not. It is therefore he decided that he was indeed the wisest person. Not because he was a super-being with absolute knowledge and powers but because he was aware of the fact that there were many things he did not know, and he was not denying it.

The story may seem to deliver a clear definition of wisdom is but over the years it has proven to be difficult to write down one plausible theory, as it can be interpreted in many different ways. But honoring Sharon Ryan, she narrowed it down to four humility theories, with regard to epistemic humility. 

Epistemic Humility

“Epistemic” points out anything that has to deal with knowledge. Epistemic Humility, then, is recognizing when you do not know something and accept it, as it is not anything out of the ordinary. 

The following theories are different interpretations of Socrates' words, to capture the actual, plausible, and accurate meaning.

They may not be promising, however, they do, provide us with important character traits associated with wise people, helping us to understand bettermore what wisdom consists of in Socrates' eyes.


  1. Humility Theory 1 (H1):

  • S is wise, if, and only if, S believes she/he is not wise.

This first theory may seem to be the perfect interpretation of Socrates’ words and the most popular one, but there are some problems. [What we encounter in the first place is a contradiction. S has a wrong belief and still he is wise. Can a wise person have wrong beliefs?]

For once [??], everyone is entitled to think that they are not wise, and mostly, it would be correct but does it really apply to everyone? If a wise person was too modest, it could get in their way of sharing their thoughts with us [do you mean of not sharing them?], claiming that they were not wise enough to do so.  

But most importantly, Socrates would be a counterexample to that theory because he did say that he was wise, which would make him, according to that logic, not wise. 

  1. Humility Theory 2 (H2):

  • S is wise, if, and only if, S believes she/he does not know anything.

To go more into detail and bring in knowledge, it would say that wise people believe to lack comprehension [is comprehension and knowledge the same thing?]. Even though this theory might be more specific, it still is as faulty as H1. Not only do the same problems from before recur [odd wording], but also we should not forget that the craftsmen did know enough about their expertise, yet it was not enough to make them wise [but they wouldn't fall into the definition because the know something]

But also it seems strange to believe that something we know is unjustified and can not be referred to as knowledge [so far you didn't speak about "justification"]. If you are not a skeptical person, there does not seem to be a reason to think that someone claiming to not know can be wise, since knowledge is a possibility and can be gained.

  1. Humility Theory 3 (H3):

  • S is wise, if, and only if, S believes that S knows p at t, if, and only if, S knows p at t.

After not agreeing with H1 and H2, Ryan presented a third principle, which can still be just as inoperative. If a person has a well-founded way of thinking, it will not change, whether or not what the person is talking about is proven to be right. Everyone would be entitled to think that they know something, meanwhile, it would not even be true. Such a person could not be labeled as wise if what they are preaching would have no accurate. That is why Ryan introduced a fourth theory, which is an alteration to H3. 


  1. Humility Theory 4 (H4):

  • S is wise, if, and only if, S believes that S knows p at t if, and only if S is justified in believing p at t.

According to her, it is not needed to have compatibility between what someone believes to know, and what they know. It is rather important to justify one’s beliefs. 


Even now this theory still does not fully capture the meaning behind Socrates’ words without being faulty. Firstly, how can we say that someone is justified to know something, while somebody else is not? And it would be impossible to justify every belief, therefore no one could ever be wise. Secondly, how could a person ever be wise, if they do not know how to put their justified beliefs to good use? After all, no one would name someone wise if the person does not make decisions based on good judgment, or careful thought. 


Those proposals of the humility theory would go on and on forever, before the most plausible interpretation would be found to Socrates. Those theories however help narrow what characteristics a wise person should have, including a good sense of confidence, but yet not be arrogant, be open to changes, be able to understand whenever they are wrong, and live successfully by their knowledge on how to. 


Any theory should take this to heart and always seek their answer within them. However, those traits are not definitive to wisdom, as they rather help us to understand what qualities to seek. 


If you want to live by Socrates’ words, you have to know that it is not about proudly declaring your cluelessness to appear wise. It is about recognizing that your understanding of the world is incomplete and therefore can not perceive the world as clearly as you think you do. It also is about knowing that you have unlimited growth potential and by learning you can become more aware of what is around you. All it takes is time, the right resources, and enough effort. [It may be worth considering Gödel theorem as a kind of mathematical prove that Socrates was right]


Aristotle‘s View On Wisdom


Another famous philosopher, who had shaped centuries of philosophy, was Aristotle. He was thought by Plato, as he was an extraordinary thinker, who had an unsaturated hunger, while he studied everything from poetry to physics. He had made important contributions to logic, criticism, rhetoric, physics, biology, psychology, mathematics, metaphysics, ethics, and politics. Aristotle was known to use a systematic strategy when it came to breaking down topics into different categories and subcategories so he could get a better outline, while Plato, and his teacher, Socrates did not have such an empirical mind. That is why he did not ask himself what wisdom was, but rather asked “What are the different kinds of wisdom, and in what ways do they differ?” It was an approach, anyone before had not dared to, and he even rejected Plato’s theory of forms, due to his mindset [he did not completely reject it, he modified it as to consider the reality of the individual beings. As Plato, Aristotle believe in the general forms as part of the essence, indeed the essence of the species and genders]. He concluded that there are two major aspects of wisdom, which he had stated in the “Nicomachean Ethics”. 


Theoretical Wisdom


The first type he had come up with, is called theoretical wisdom. This type of wisdom is learned by “standing back” and “looking on”, as it can also be referred to as the science, or study, of human actions and conduct. It is concerned with the knowledge of first principles, unchanging truth, and not with things that we can change. Aristotle believed that this kind of knowledge is necessary and eternal. Therefore wisdom appears to be gained from a process of pedagogical thinking and reasoning, which also involves a cognitive process of reflecting on practice in the process of doing, while constantly asking “Can I do this better?” or “What am I doing?” 


Practical Wisdom


Practical wisdom is aimed at truth in the service of action, as it focuses on what we can change. But we should not just try to apply theoretical rules to a practical situation because we need to find out how to act wisely. Aristotle alleged that practical wisdom is the art of navigation because a person has to be responsive to the changing circumstances around them. 

He was more concerned with this intellectual virtue since it is related to how humans live their lives among other humans and it can influence their living condition, and even improve it. Therefore this person has to be morally virtuous and detect what matters in a situation. Only in that way they can be motivated enough to seek an appropriate solution to the problem. 

But practical wisdom is not only needed in everyday life but it is also very much needed in the workplace, or wherever practical wisdom helps us navigate through situations that are not just black and white. It allows us to be more flexible, as there is not simply just wrong or right. Practical wisdom compels us to seek the best answer. Rules can help us navigate but in the practical world, we will have to learn to adjust them to every individual situation. 

Perception plays an important key-skill in that, as it lets us see the unique features in every situation while noticing the motives of, not just others, but ourselves too. Only in that way, we can predict how the situation will develop, but it also helps us accept our own mistakes, and find out why something has and has not worked out. 


Having introduced these concepts of wisdom, Aristotle also related each one of them to another in terms of necessary conditions. 


Practical and theoretical wisdom are not necessary conditions to one another, as you could know something about a topic but not recognize it in a situation, or be able to seek the meaning behind it when it is necessary for real life. 

While they are not necessary conditions to one another, it is required for a person to have both theoretical and practical knowledge, if they want the world to view them as wise. There are many knowledgeable people but yet they are not wise. Theoretical wisdom only allows us to study certain situations but no one becomes an expert without ever having done the job. In real-life situations are not always unequivocal. A wise person can get on in the world in all kinds of situations and with all kinds of people. Just factual knowledge can deliver the needed know-how on how to do it. Where however practical wisdom is very much needed to handle a situation but the choice to a right answer could never be achieved without knowledge, as our actions are a product of our intelligence and knowledge. 


Wisdom is diverse because a wise person has to constitute a varied list. They always have to want to reach the ultimate goal, without a high cost. They have to get well with all different kinds of people and know their motives and actions. They have to recognize danger beforehand and always seek to avoid it. This list goes on and on but it does not change the fact that wisdom, in general, can not exist without both, practical and theoretical parts of it. 


Data-Information-Knowledge-Model


Now, the last part of this entry will cover the connections between knowledge and wisdom, as knowledge seems to be an important key factor when it comes to being wise. 

Both, Socrates and Aristotle, believed that a reasonable amount of knowledge in a subject area is needed, as wisdom is not the knowledge itself, but the ability to put that knowledge to good use effectively.


So in that case, wisdom is indeed connected to knowledge, contributing to, and making it a part of the DIK-Pyramid, which can be referred to as DIKW-Pyramid. This pyramid represents the relationship between data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. 

Each block is a step forward to a higher level, and to understand how wisdom is connected to everything, it is important to know what each of these terms means. 


Data is a collection of facts in an unorganized form. It can be referred to as information if it has been measured, visualized, and analyzed for a specific purpose. Knowledge can be achieved if we can connect information and apply it to achieve our goals. And lastly, wisdom is knowledge applied in action. 


It is undoubtedly to see that data comes first, information second, knowledge comes at third place and wisdom is on the top. Each step answers questions about the base building block, data, and adds value to it. Meaning the more value and context our data gains, the more insight we get out of it till we get to the top, where we can turn our knowledge into a learning experience that guides our actions. Just like in self re-creation, in each stage, a break in the self-organization occurs, which is a starting point for another one to occur (or not occur) afterward. A wise person needs to be able to make good choices with the help of their knowledge, which can only exist if the person has the access to justified information. 

In that matter, wisdom and information do go hand in hand, as wisdom is a subset of knowledge, which is a subset of information, which is a subset of data.


Wisdom can be interpreted by everyone in different ways, but it is undoubtedly an important part of human life, as it is about the ability to adapt to the surroundings around us and always be open to change. It is for certain that anyone can be wise, if they have access to the right information, and yet are aware that they do not know everything, as there are always new things to learn. No matter what we understand by this, each of us strives to be wise, as it makes a moral ideal type, which manages virtue and makes up the characteristics of conscience. 

Even if everybody does not realize it we all strive to be reasonable, or to exercise moderation in desires, because wisdom is an individual’s ability to match patterns and find linkages to their knowledge, helping us solve problems. How it is mentioned in the Unified Theory of Information, it is all about coping with the challenges of the so-called information society and putting information in cognitive, communicative, and cooperative circumstances, which is ultimately an important key-factor to wisdom.


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