My 10 year old son asked today: “what is the difference between knowledge and wisdom?” One might think that as a professional philosopher I’d have a good answer. One would be wrong. Especially since I was still waking up after only a little sleep the night before due to a very early morning virtual meeting with colleagues in another part of the world.
So, any suggestions to help my son out? How would you try to explain it to a 10-year-old?
@eliasg Yes, I think I said something like this to my son but honestly I can’t remember. It was too early for philosophy. I do remember, after struggling out loud for awhile, saying that the question itself was an example of something wise. Or at least it could be, depending on how one means it!
The issue is that wisdom can be defined in so many different ways that I had a hard time with the question. I mean, I have a *sense* of a difference but in my sleep deprived brain (which is still its current state) I couldn’t articulate it well.
How about talking about knowledges as in there are many different approaches to understanding life always in transformation, I understand Knowledge as a very colonialist notion....
Does this make any sense?
The simplistic -very simplistic- example I like is the tomato analogy that goes around. Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put a tomato in a fruit salad.
In less fruity terms, knowledge is having a grasp on information. Wisdom is knowing how to use that information to best effect in a given context.
@chendricks In one way wisdom looks like a kind of knowledge (the sort taught at the school of hard knocks?) in that we can accumulate wisdom, read books of epigrammatic wisdom, etc.
But then there are those 'Gods of the Copybook Headings' moments when you realise that having 'known' something from your mother's knee, now you actually understand it too.
(I'm reminded of those discussions in Plato about whether virtue can be taught.)
@chendricks maybe wisdom is knowledge that humans have to experience to learn: things that you can't be told. Using a hypothetical AI as an example, we would probably teach it those things manually meaning those things are a form knowledge and we wouldn't call the AI wise. Or would we?
@jasondclinton That’s an intriguing way to think about it. It does make sense to me to distinguish between things you can just be told or memorize or that can be programmed, and things that can’t. It makes me wonder about what sorts of things the latter category would contain.
@chendricks Most of the replies to this so far seem to me to be suggesting that wisdom requires knowledge, but I'm not sure that it does. I tend to think that wisdom is demonstrated when a connection is drawn between at least two things (A and B), or when the quality of such a connection is appraised — which is confident with the other replies — but I also think that connections themselves may be considered without considering what they connect.
@chendricks A tree branch may connect fruit to the trunk of its tree, and we may consider the qualitative fitness/robustness of that branch with respect to what it's connecting (the fruit and the trunk; how well it supports the fruit whilst not applying too much force to the trunk), but we can also consider the nature of the branch itself (it may be falling apart due to rot). In the same way, wisdom need not be considered with respect to what knowledge it connects; also its connective potential.
@chendricks ... Now I'm second-guessing this and worrying both about how you'd convey this to a 10 yr old and whether it's misleading or not. 😅
I suspect that I've described a process of wisdom application instead of what wisdom is. 😥 I'm a bit tripped up over whether I'm to describe a stock of established wisdom (which we might call knowledge, or the seeming succession of rules used over time in considerations of qualitative fitness) or the process, manner, or means of considering qual fit.
@bthall I think of wisdom more as a kind of process of what you do with something rather than a stock of items or rules, myself. But I think some may use the term in the latter sense. I’m trying to think of stereotypical examples of “wise” people and I often picture an older person who has a lot of knowledge. Could be like a static, established set of data they have.
@GardenOfForkingPaths @bthall This is great! And actually a good description of wisdom I think. It reminds me of Socrates a bit, who said he was wiser than others insofar as he doesn’t think he knows what he doesn’t know. Would also include understanding what not to do when you realize you don’t know something.
@bthall Really interesting and philosophical ideas here. I wonder if, though, we can even see the connections in terms of conceptual things or knowledge or information without understanding something of what that data is that is being connected. If we can’t grasp the data he can we see even *that* it’s connected, is what I’m asking.
@clint That last part is a great way of thinking about philosophy itself I think! Someone else also mentioned what one can gain from experience vs static resources and this reinforces that idea to me. It makes me think about what is significantly different about learning in those two ways, and about what we “have” or can do as a result of each kind that is different from the other.