On Wisdom

I love my Kindle.

I was going through the section on the Wisdom essay in DP Through the Wheel of the Year on it the other day and read the part where Rev. Dangler says that ADF encourages Dedicants to read a dictionary definition of the virtue.  So, I just clicked on the word Wisdom and my Kindle cheerfully popped up the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition!  Such fun!

So let’s get on with it then….Wisdom.

Now, I’m going to come right out and say that I do not believe that wisdom is a virtue.   There, I said it.  But I’ll get back to that later.  First, let’s define what we mean by ‘wisdom’.

Before I even read what the good old folks at Oxford had to say on the subject, I knew that something serious was missing from the DP version.  Here is how the DP defines wisdom:

Good judgment, the ability to perceive people and situations correctly, deliberate about and decide on the correct response.

Oxford told me immediately what was missing with their definition:

The quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgement.

After all, doesn’t the saying go “With age comes wisdom”?

So, I have to agree more with Oxford than with the DP.  Wisdom, to me, is both the quality of having personal experience coupled with the ability to employ the knowledge gained through that experience in practice to arrive at good judgements.

Note well what this does not mean.  By my definition, which of course may vary from yours, one cannot become wise by studying or reading books.    Only through the act of personally experiencing something does one internalize the learnings which form the basis of the types of knowledge from which wisdom arises.

Of course, wisdom is not gained just by growing old, either.  One needs the ability to apply the knowledge gained through experience in practical ways.  This is to some degree mere conditioning; simply knowing that when certain conditions experienced in the past are met means that a particular outcome is likely.  However to really be considered wise one needs to be able to apply knowledge learned through past experience to entirely new situations.  This requires perceptiveness and an open mind.

So.. .it all sounds great, right?  So why isn’t a virtue?

Well, the answer to that question depends on your definition of ‘virtue’, so let us go back to definitions.  Interestingly, the DP does not define virtue, but our friends at Oxford do.  In fact they give two definitions, and I believe that we can extrapolate from the context in which the word is used within the DP to assume which of these definitions ADF relies upon.  The definitions are:

1) behaviour showing high moral standards,

2) a good or useful quality of a thing.

I would argue that what I define as wisdom is a virtue if we use that second definition of virtue (it is useful), but I believe that when ADF uses the word they mean the first definition, as they seem to equate virtue with ethics.  That being the case, I do not believe that wisdom in and of itself is a virtue.  So does that mean that a person may be wise but not virtuous or good or ethical?   The answer, of course, is yes and no.  That is, I would argue that it is possible for a person who is otherwise devoid of ‘high moral standards’ to be wise according to my definition of wisdom, but that others may not call that person wise owing to the fact that their advice, when solicited, may run contrary to commonly held moral standards.  Hence, one is generally only considered by others to be wise when one has both wisdom and shares the moral standards of those others.

The DP Through the Wheel of Year suggests that if a dedicant disagrees that a particular quality is not a virtue that we should recommend a replacement  In this case, I am going to decline to do so because I would argue that even if wisdom in itself does not ipso facto make one virtuous, it remains an exceptionally useful quality.  When one has both wisdom and virtue one becomes capable of being a leader within one’s community, looked to for advice and guidance that is both practically and ethical sound.

And, after all, isn’t that exactly the role of a Druid?


2 thoughts on “On Wisdom

  1. It’s true that wisdom can be misapplied in ways that the other ADF virtues cannot, or at least not easily. You can be very wise and thus able to read people and manipulate them, for example, or very wise and a mad scientist of some sort, determined to do evil. Piety and hospitality are less dangerous virtues, or at least harder to pervert. 🙂

  2. Yes, exactly, which is why I would argue that piety and hospitality are true ‘virtues’ and wisdom is not.

    Well, I guess one could be extremely pious in one’s worship of, say, Cthulhu, and still not be held up as a paragon of virtue by one’s neighbours 😉

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