The Moral Superiority of Wisdom Over Knowledge
Traditional thought has mostly agreed upon the meanings of the words
The good is morally superior to the neutral----
Therefore, wisdom is morally superior to knowledge Premise 3 seems self-evident, and the argument is logically valid, so the remainder of this paper will focus on the logical defense of premises 1 and 2.The first question, then, is what is it that makes wisdom a moral good. I assert that goodness is inherent in the definition of wisdom, and that wisdom is therefore good independently of any specific moral theory. In support of this premise, I shall first give examples from four ancient authorities on the subject of wisdom. These are, in roughly chronological order, the Hebrew Bible, Confucius, Socrates and the New Testament.The Hebrew Bible contains the oft-quoted phrase "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom". The Hebrew word "fear" is often used for to mean "respect", and the context of this verse - a psalm of praise - makes it clear that this is the proper meaning here. Hence the implication is that there is no wisdom apart from a respect for God.The Confucian Analects paint a slightly different picture of wisdom: "to give one's self earnestly to the duties due to men and, while respecting spiritual beings, to keep aloof from them, may be called wisdom". The theme of respect for spiritual beings recurs here, but the taboo on involvement with them is clearly not what the psalmist had in mind. Additionally, Confucius explicitly includes action in his definition of wisdom, whereas this is only implied by the psalmist. It seems that the wise man knows his place in the world, and does not overestimate his greatness or importance. Socrates's interaction with wisdom is well known, but I will recount it here for the sake of completeness. Socrates was informed by the Delphian Oracle relatively early in his life that there was not a man on earth wiser than he. Socrates was incredulous, because he believed quite firmly that he was without knowledge. Indeed, Socrates continued to believe throughout his life that knowledge was a significant part of wisdom, but he determined that one specific piece of knowledge was more important to wisdom than the others - knowledge of just how little one knows. Socrates searched the world for a man wiser than he, but every time he found a man who ought to know something, he discovered that that man overestimated his own knowledge, and thus eventually came to believe that the Oracle had intended to send a message to the world: the wisest among us is the one who understands just how little he knows.Paul the Apostle agreed. He wrote, "if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know".To bring together these diverse sources, the common belief of ancient thinkers on this subject is that wisdom is to understand one's station and act accordingly. If we extricate the issue of the nature of wisdom from specific moral theories, we can come to the conclusion that wisdom is two things: a specialized type of knowledge, and a related type of action. In light of this, I would adjust our original definition of wisdom to read as follows: wisdom consists of the ability to know and the will to take the action which is morally best in any situation. Clearly, if wisdom is by definition a thorough knowledge of morality, accompanied by action, then it is a moral good.It remains, then, to defend premise 2. This, I think, is fairly easily done. Knowledge is a tool. It may be used for either good or evil. As evidence of its usefulness for good, take the fact that our definition of wisdom, which has already been shown to be a moral good, includes a specific variety of knowledge. As evidence of its usefulness for evil, take for example the skilled oration of Adolph Hitler. The man knew and understood the history of the German people. He quoted from revered historical leaders of the region, such as Martin Luther. Adolph Hitler, who has in our day become the nearly uncontested example of evil at work in our world, was a man of great knowledge, and that knowledge was of much use to him in achieving his ends, which included a great many horrible moral evils. If knowledge is equally useful to practitioners of both good and evil, then it stands to reason that it is a morally neutral tool.In conclusion, this paper has shown that wisdom is a moral good and that knowledge is morally neutral. From these premises, it takes only one assumption, that the good is morally superior to the neutral, to reach the conclusion that wisdom is superior to knowledge. This principle has, I think, been shown conclusively to be true.