Philosophers Quibbling Over Wisdom

What is wisdom? Philosophy should be a good place to begin searching for an answer to that question, since the word philosophy literally means the love of wisdom. But, on the other hand, perhaps not. Here’s a couple of articles illustrating the challenge of defining wisdom apart from Scripture. The first comes from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, one of the most prestigious resources in contemporary philosophy. The second article I’ll point to is just a review of the first.

In her article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Sharon Ryan outlines five approaches in Western philosophy to finding a compelling answer. They are: (1) Wisdom as epistemic humility, (2) Wisdom as epistemic accuracy, (3) Wisdom as knowledge, (4) Hybrid theory, and (5) Wisdom as rationality.

If you want her list in layman’s terms you should consider the review by Massimo Piglioucci, Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. Piglioucci points out, however, that Sharon Ryan seems unsatisfied with her conclusion about which is the best approach to wisdom. I don’t think he does much better though.

Piglioucci prefers to define wisdom in a manner that he sees more reflective of Athen’s philosophical godfather. “That is why for Socrates the practice of wisdom,” he writes, “was pretty much the same thing as living the good life.” But even though he uses terms like virtue and chief good in referring to philosophy’s greatest icon, it seems we still end up in some form of moral relativism. In short, both Ryan and Piglioucci seem incapable of giving us an objective way to appropriate the topic.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, Scripture tells us. And if we don’t begin there, with the fear of the Lord, then we may find ourselves in the position of quibbling over terms and theories about what wisdom actually is. Perhaps we should follow in the footsteps of the Scholastics who saw theology as the “queen of the sciences” and philosophy as “her handmaiden.” To break free from the secular cycle we must begin at the only place appropriately called the beginning: with God.