Sunday, February 9, 2014

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.  Being 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 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,’ 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.



                    If you are to be wise 
                    Then you must realize
                    What is of greatest worth

                    In service to the Earth,

                    For Earth’s large enterprise

                    Is making our minds wise.

                    What then is wisdom’s worth?

                    To bring us mirth, not dearth.
*Copthorne Macdonald: