Knowledge and Wisdom
Knowledge and wisdom is an essay written by Bertrand Arthur William Russell. In this essay, Russel defines wisdom and enumerates various ways of achieving it. He laments that though vast knowledge has been acquired, there has been no corresponding increase in wisdom.
Russel defines wisdom by telling us about things that contribute to wisdom. The first is a sense of proportion. It is the capacity to consider all important factors in a problem carefully. Specialization makes it difficult. For example, scientists discover new medicines but they do not know what impact these medicines will have on the life of people. The medicines may reduce the infant death rate. But it may lead to an increased population. In poor counties, it may lead to a shortage of food.
If there are more people, it may lower the standard of life. The knowledge of the composition of the atom could be misused by a lunatic to destroy the world. Knowledge without wisdom can be harmful. It should be combined with the total needs of mankind. Even complete knowledge is not enough. It should be related to a certain knowledge of the purpose of life.
The study of history can illustrate it. For example, Hegel wrote with great knowledge about history, but he made the Germans believe that they were a master race. It led to the war. It is necessary therefore to combine knowledge with feelings. Men who have knowledge but no feelings lack wisdom.
We need wisdom both in public and private life. We need the wisdom to decide the goal of our life. We need it to free ourselves from personal prejudices. We may pursue even a novel thing unwisely if it is too big to achieve. People have wasted their lives in search of the ‘philosopher’s stone ‘, or the elixir of life. They were not pragmatic. They were looking for simple solutions to the complex problems of mankind. A man may attempt to achieve the impossible, he may do harm to himself in the process.
Similarly in personal life wisdom is needed to avoid dislike for one another. Two persons may remain enemies because of their prejudice. One may dislike the other for imaginary faults. It they can be told that we all have some flaws, they may become friends. Russel believes that thought is reasonable persuasion. We can avoid hatred. Wisdom lies in freeing ourselves from the control of our sense organs.
Our ego develops through our senses. We cannot be free from the sense of sight, sound and touch. We know the world primarily through our senses. As we grow we discover that there are other things also. We start recognizing them. Thus we give up thinking of ourselves alone.
We start thinking of other people, we grow wise. We give up our egoism. It is difficult to completely get rid of selfishness, but we can think of things beyond our immediate surroundings. Wisdom comes when we start giving importance to things that do not concern us immediately. Wisdom comes when we start loving others.
Russel feels that wisdom can be taught as a goal of education. The message in the parable of the Good Samaritan is that we should love our neighbour, whether friend or foe. Many a time, we miss the message in this parable, because we cease to love those who cause harm to society.
The only way out is through understanding and not hatred. In brief, Russel exhorts us not to hate anybody. The author draws out examples from history, of Queen Elizabeth I, Henry the IV, and Abraham Lincoln, who were free from the errors committed by other eminent people in the past.
The dangers of hatred and narrow-mindedness can be pointed out in the course of giving knowledge. Russel feels knowledge and morals can be combined in the scheme of education. People should be educated to see things in relation to other things of the world. They should be encouraged to think of themselves as world citizens.
In conclusion, the author states five factors that contribute to wisdom. They are.
2) A sense of proportion
5) Awareness of human needs and understating.
Summing up, as knowledge increases, our power to do evil also increases. In order to make good use of our knowledge, we would require more and more wisdom. we need more wisdom to make good use of our increasing knowledge. Only then can we realize our purpose in life, and achieve our aims.
About The Author
Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell,(18 May 1872 – 2 February 1970) was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and social critic. At various points in his life he considered himself a liberal, a socialist, and a pacifist, but he also admitted that he had never been any of these in any profound sense. He was born in Monmouthshire, into one of the most prominent aristocratic families in Britain.
Russell led the British “revolt against idealism” in the early 20th century. He is considered one of the founders of analytic philosophy along with his predecessor Gottlob Frege and his protégé Ludwig Wittgenstein. He is widely held to be one of the 20th century’s premier logicians. He co-authored, with A. N. Whitehead, Principia Mathematica, an attempt to ground mathematics on logic.
His philosophical essay “On Denoting” has been considered a “paradigm of philosophy”. His work has had a considerable influence on logic, mathematics, set theory, linguistics, artificial intelligence, computer science (see type theory and type system), and philosophy, especially philosophy of language, epistemology, and metaphysics.
Russell was a prominent anti-war activist; he championed anti-imperialism and went to prison for his pacifism during World War I. Later, he campaigned against Adolf Hitler, then criticised Stalinist totalitarianism, attacked the involvement of the United States of America in the Vietnam War, and was an outspoken proponent of nuclear disarmament. In 1950 Russell was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “in recognition of his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought.”
Question and Answers
- What has scientific medicine succeeded in doing? what has been its other effect? Did the medical scientist want this result? Scientist has the knowledge to make more people live. But he hasn’t the wisdom to see something else-what is it?
⇒ Scientist medicine has succeeded in enormously lowering the infant death rate in Europe, America, Asia and Africa. Its other effect is an increase in population and a decrease in the standard of living. Scientists make more people live. But he has not had the wisdom to prevent its destructive aspect.
- Many eminent historians have done more harm than good. How did this happen? where did Hegel’s philosophy of history go wrong?
⇒ Many eminent historians did more harm than good. They viewed facts through the distorting medium of their own passions Hegel’s philosophy went wrong in the sense that he gave importance to Germany as the torch bearer for all nations. That was a narrow outlook that lacked comprehensiveness.
- Mr. A and Mr. B hate each other and through mutual hatred, bring each other to destruction”. What argument of the author’s does the example Mr. A and Mr. B prove?
⇒ Mr. A and Mr B must be convinced that each other has only the normal share of human wickedness and that their enmity is harmful to both.
- Why is it that we cannot help the “egoism of the senses”?
⇒ Every man always thinks of himself. we cannot stop it. Sight, sound and touch are bound up with our own bodies and cannot be made impersonal. when a person becomes old his thoughts become less personal. He achieves growing wisdom.
- How many factors contribute to wisdom? list them?
⇒ There are five factors which contribute to wisdom.
1. Sense of proportion
2. Certain awareness of ends of human life
3. Choice of ends to be pursued.
4. Emancipation from personal prejudice.
5. Emancipation from the tyranny of the here and the now.
- ‘We are told on Sundays that we should love our neighbors as ourselves’. What does ‘Sunday’ stand for here?
A. Sunday, here stands for a day of prayer or worship.
- In what form should resistance be used in order to prevent the spread of evil?
⇒Resistance should be used only if it prevents the spread of evil. If should be combined with the smallest degree of force and the greatest degree of understanding.
- In what way was the war conducted by Lincoln different from other wars? Do you think a war can be fought. Without deviating from wisdom?
⇒The was conducted by Lincoln was different from other was. It was fought for a noble purpose. Now a days it is impossible to wage a war as Abraham Lincoln did without deviating from wisdom.
- What is wrong with the customary moral instruction? In what way should the teaching of wisdom differ from moral instruction?
⇒Customary moral instruction lacks an intellectual element. In the course of giving knowledge, bad results of hatred and narrow mindedness should be pointed out knowledge and morals should be taught side by side.
- What is the author’s concept of a citizen? What is the difference between a citizen if the world and a citizen of a nation? Do you think you can be both at the same time?
⇒The author’s concept of a citizen is that a person must be a citizen of the world but not that of a nation. A citizen of the world has a narrow outlook. The former has more wisdom than the latter. One cannot be both at the same time.
- What does an increase in knowledge result in?
⇒Increase in knowledge results in the development of various skills further resulting in scientific advancement. It also augments our capacity for evil unless our purposes are wise. So increase in knowledge should result in wisdom, in proportion. otherwise, it would lead to hatred, destruction and disaster.