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
A Global Wisdom Culture will entail a full critique of all the ways we fail by principles and practices both sane and prudent, calculated to sustain a thriving biosphere and elevate the consciousness of all, setting us straight about the wisest ways we should behave, devised to liberate and not enslave.
But as things are, our race remains enthralled to values that must now be overhauled, foremost of which in our new consciousness is our determination to own less and simplify our lives so all may share sufficiently, for nothing else is fair.
I think my sometimes muddled memory Is the price I have to pay for poetry I write by rummaging in my mind’s hoard, Deranging all to find the aptest word. Each rhyming sound my memory supplies Should seem inevitable yet still surprise. Such seeming ease means I must wrack my brain, Which suffers afterwards from undue strain, Refusing to serve up some needed fact No matter how importunately wracked. The only help is to relax and wait Until the strain and agony abate. Though writing poems may my brain abuse, That is a sacrifice I’ll yield my Muse.
We’re brainwashed and addicted to our stuff, Induced to feel we never have enough, When what we need to do is simplify Our lives, reduce our needs and only buy The true necessities: good goods that last, Not bought in emulous fear of being out-classed Or motivated by unseemly greed: Goods only meant to serve a vital need.
Why not indulge? Why not acquire and splurge If you’ve the means to gratify each urge? Because the Earth cannot supply demands Of bursting populations in all lands With unchecked motivation to consume: For that way lies this glorious planet’s doom.
And, spite of Pride, in erring Reason's spite, One truth is clear, "Whatever IS, is RIGHT."
—Alexander Pope, “Essay on Man”
“Whatever IS is RIGHT,” we might believe If such belief could cause us less to grieve, If pain and loss were part of God’s kind plan To demonstrate His love and care for man; Yet for such angst there is no recompense, And human suffering has been immense Throughout all history: it is the norm To which all mortal creatures must conform, But most especially men, with memories Of personal and general agonies. The more we learn, the more we see our plight: Whatever is that’s evil is not right Nor rationalizable as God’s great plan: One cannot justify such ways to man.
TRANSFORM UNIVERSITIES TO HELP CREATE A WISER WORLD
by Nichols Maxwell
We need to promote awareness of just how important it
is to transform universities so that they come to seek and promote wisdom, and
not just acquire knowledge as at present—wisdom being the capacity, the active endeavour and the
desire to realize (apprehend and create) what is of value in life, for oneself
and others, wisdom thus including knowledge but much more besides.
We urgently need our institutions of learning to be
devoted to helping us resolve
our conflicts and problems of living, including global problems, in
increasingly cooperatively rational ways, so that we may begin to make
progress towards as good a world as possible.
What we have at present, universities devoted
primarily to the pursuit of knowledge, is damagingly irrational. The extraordinarily successful pursuit of
scientific knowledge has led to much of great benefit: it has made the modern
world possible. It has led to modern
industry and agriculture, modern medicine and hygiene, which in turn have led
to all our current global problems: population growth, immense differences in
wealth and power around the globe, destruction of natural habitats and mass
extinction of species, the lethal character of modern war, pollution of earth,
sea and air and, most serious of all, the impending disasters of climate
We urgently need an academic revolution so that the
pursuit of knowledge becomes a part of the more fundamental task to help
humanity learn how to tackle problems of living in increasingly effective,
intelligent and humane ways.
Why is this important?
We face grave global problems. Climate change may become a threat to
civilization. There is no more important
task confronting humanity than to learn how to tackle our problems of living -
including our global problems - in wiser, more effective ways than we do at
present. For that, in turn, we require
our institutions of learning, above all our universities, to be rationally
designed and devoted to the task. At
present, they are not.
Transforming universities so that they become devoted
to helping us make progress towards as good a world as possible is the single
most important thing that we need to do as far as the long-term interests of
humanity are concerned.
We are too strong to be so primitive, For on this course we haven’t long to live: Our powers to destroy, to decimate All life on earth—a catastrophic fate— Must be subdued by wisdom’s higher aim Implied in Homo sapiens sapiens’ name:
Surely it is the Cosmos’ grand intent That mankind grow both kind and sapient. One cannot live more wisely than by love; Of all our motives, there is none above The urge to be compassionate and care: Generous, warm-hearted, moved to share. Our mission now’s not just to stay alive But cultivate the wisdom how to thrive.
What’s more important than the human mind In all the universe, for all we know? Perhaps with more exploring we shall find That occult cosmic forces may bestow Intelligence and even greater powers On other beings in the vasts of space, Some heavenly place where tranquil wisdom flowers Rebuking our wild history of disgrace. It’s better, though, if we do not assume That life exists in any place but here, Then if we fail we’ll absolutely doom Our hopes, and all of life will disappear. Consider us the most miraculous chance The universal void has to advance.
What could be wiser than to save our Earth? No motivation is of higher worth Than to direct our vast intelligence At man-made problems that have grown immense, For higher education’s highest goal Is cultivating that which makes us whole: The wisdom to decide what serves us best And then to act on what we have professed Bringing about a sane and thriving world In which our best potentials are unfurled. While contemplation will begin this course, Wise actions are the necessary force By which our cogitations are applied: Reflection and engagement are allied.