Dialogue and Universalism

Volume 14, Issue 3/4, 2004

In Honor of Leszek Kołakowski

John Rensenbrink
Pages 199-207

Wisdom and the Learning Imperative

The word “wisdom” has a multitude of different meanings. This occurs both in popular language and in academic circles. It has that in common with other words of special significance and grandeur in the many languages of our species—think of “justice”, “peace”, “love”, “beauty”, and “reality”. Consider these various meanings of the word “wisdom”: being wise beyond her years, wise old man, wise guy, wise use, the wisdom of the ancients, conventional wisdom, the wise judge, the wise old crone, the three wise men, and so forth. Wisdom is associated with tradition, cleverness, moral rectitude, contemplation, resignation, wonder, keen insight, ripe old age, the received view, judicious balance, acute foresight, superior understanding, solace in time of trouble, and stoic endurance. The list could go on, but even just this much reveals a riot of meanings—and a great deal of confusion. Many of the things we think of as wisdom seem to be at odds with other things we think of as wisdom, and some seem wide of the mark, if not downright mistaken and wrong.