THE HIGHEST AIM OF HIGHER EDUCATION
The concept of wisdom pertains to conscious human decision-making, which can be either wise or otherwise (if very much otherwise, it would be deemed foolish).
In order to make wise decisions and to behave wisely, a well-intended person must possess sufficient circumstantial knowledge regarding what decisions are possible and feasible and most likely to achieve the benefits intended, deemed most prudent.
If universities, over and above their traditional role of discovering, clarifying and purveying knowledge in various disciplines of academic study, were charged foremost with instilling wisdom in their scholars, how then would such a curriculum be accomplished? How would it be designed otherwise than now?
Attempting to answer my question, I would say first that the old notion that “college is for knowledge” must be rectified in our common consciousness. “Higher learning” must come to signify not only mastery of subject matter and academic disciplines, but the motivation and ability to employ one’s enhanced knowledge and skills to achieve well-being in the world, as widely as possible: to contribute good goods and serviceable services, sagely reckoned.
To be fanciful, let me imagine a brief matriculation address to beginning university students:
“COLLEGE: A WISE CHOICE”
Welcome, incoming scholars! Know this, above all: You have come here to grow in wisdom, which will be your lifelong pursuit and, as achieved, your most significant legacy to the world.
In whatever fields of academic inquiry you pursue—whether humanities, sciences or social sciences—know that your fundamental motive for such studies is to discover how life on Earth can better flourish, avoiding the perils of the past and meeting the challenges of the future.
The wisdom you develop here and exercise hereafter will be your most valuable contribution to posterity.
If “wisdom is the highest aim of life and of higher education” (as one notable authority on the subject of wisdom has declared*), what then is wisdom, and how may we attain it, particularly by means of a college’s curricular and co-curricular programs?
While “college is for knowledge,” as purveyed by its numerous departmental disciplines in the sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities; knowledge is not wisdom. To be well-possessed of information, ideas and theories does not ensure one’s aptness for discerning what is most valuable and bringing that value into being—which is the essence of wisdom.
Wisdom is not a passive state of contemplation or saintly serenity; it is action devised to bring worthy aims to fruition. To know what is of greatest worth and to know how to realize that worth and to do so—that is to be wise.
Therefore, students will rightly pursue their collegiate education expecting that every course will inculcate them in some valuable enterprise, some subjects and skills that will make them better able to comprehend the importance of such studies and abilities—not only to appreciate them but, if possible, to practice them.
For instance, to appreciate Shakespeare’s poetical and dramatic artistry is to comprehend its value; but to compose a sonnet in his style and to do so well is to add value to the world, to enlarge its wisdom if only by a little. And so it is with each of the designated arts and sciences, from art history to zoology: each can provide valuable understanding and promote valuable enterprise in students—thereby enhancing their own potential worth in the world for wising it up.
What higher purpose could a human being have than to contribute to the thriving of life on Earth?
One current name for such an enterprise is “the creation of a global wisdom culture,” a notion that summons all human beings to become “cultural creatives” [http://culturalcreatives.org/], persons devoted to developing life-ways that respect and protect the flourishing of Earth’s biosphere and promote the advancement of human values and practices so as to evolve ourselves intentionally beyond conditioned inclinations to harm and dominate others.
Rather, we must learn to respect others and revere all human beings’ potential to grow wiser: more knowledgeable and discerning, value-driven, capable and effectual. To do so should be the highest aim of education, higher education in particular.
“Ave atque vale!”
*Copthorne Macdonald: http://www.wisdompage.com/rollinstalk.html