We use the word know quite often, and education is part of our everyday use. Wisdom is a bit rarer, esoteric. Here are some thoughts on what each of these values is about, at least from one perspective. You will also find many quotations about wisdom, quotes about knowledge, and quotations on education to provide a little context, backdrop, and depth. What follows is an excerpt from the wonderful book Building a Life of Value, which is really a treasury of quotes about knowledge and many other values and virtues:
Wisdom is really a way of thinking, an ability to see beyond what something appears to be to what it represents. It requires a distinct openness to experience. It allows us to process things at a level that gives us a deeper understanding of what is what, if you will. Partisan political feelings and an inflexible belief about God are examples of the fact that if we close our minds to certain ideas and perspectives, we may be experiencing some convincing substitute for wisdom.
A hesitancy to believe was the first point I took from my philosophy class as a freshman in college. In the intervening 25 years, I have grown to have a lot of respect for the principle and practice of doubting. Hesitancy and doubt mark the pursuit of wisdom. Doubt is not just for curmudgeonly old men who say “Bah!” to the new and the progressive; “Doubt is part of all religion. All the religious thinkers were doubters.” – Isaac Bashevis Singer. Because not all ideas and beliefs have equal merit, a person pursuing wisdom tries to distill all the knowledge and facts surrounding them down to the richest points and the most important lessons. And then I suggest you hold on to that belief modestly! Realize you could very well be wrong. Doing so makes you right.
It can be a challenge to grasp the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Pouring over quotes about knowledge is one of the ways of disentangling the distinction. I think of it like this: knowledge may be right or wrong (such as the shape of the Earth), but wisdom is always true. It has also been said that wisdom may not be used for evil purposes. Peter Abelard offers a guideline: “The first key to wisdom is this – constant and frequent questioning… for by doubting we are led to question and by questioning we arrive at the truth.”
It takes a brave person to pursue virtues such as justice, truth, and honor— and the wiser one becomes, the clearer the values become. Developing virtue takes a lot of time, and some doubt that it can even be taught. However, Thomas Aquinas, an ancient pursuer of wisdom, remarked on the value of this lifelong quest: “Of all the pursuits open to men, the search for wisdom is more perfect, more sublime, more profitable, and more full of joy.” I don’t always listen terribly closely to the advice of individuals such as Aquinas and Augustine, though they each put in thousands of hours of study I admit. But his contention is worth careful consideration. Certainly, the pursuit of profit (a.k.a., working hard to get ahead, the love of money, materialism, etc.) is almost omnipresent in American society. As well, joy is synonymous with happiness and fulfillment – and what is more fundamentally “American” than the pursuit of happiness? I really think Aquinas was onto something special with this unique quotation on wisdom. Americans should ideally really appreciate that – if they believe it to be true…
True education is not limited to the classroom— we learn from our everyday experiences, our interactions with others, going to a museum, chatting with someone, or even reading the comics. Parents have a huge opportunity to educate their children, but oftentimes it takes a backseat to television or video games or problems going on in the home. Learning is so craved by humans that children are intent on barraging the world with questions and engaging in non-stop exploration.
Yet by the time most children reach adolescence, that once-insatiable sense of curiosity is replaced by apathy, as they sit in the classroom slumped in their chairs, repeating to themselves something like, “This teacher is a moron,” “This subject is so stupid,” or “Why am I even here?” I believe this is more than just age-based rebelliousness: something fundamental is wrong. Our public education system is in dire need of invigoration and reformation. Education is natural, fun, and profitable; it is one of the paths that lead to knowledge, and possibly to wisdom.
What can we do to keep the flame of desire for knowledge alive? Instead of teaching children simply to toe the line, let’s teach them to think critically, to act independently, and to challenge authority wisely. Let us swiftly move from a society of independent and competitive consumers to one of thoughtful citizens and creative individuals in community with each other. Education is about eliciting the potential within a child, and helping them find for themselves what is true and useful. In fact, it is derived from the Latin word educare, meaning “to draw out” (i.e., to coax, to elicit, to foment). It does not mean “inculcate,” “force-feed,” “train” or “dictate.”
We would see the majority of our national and planetary problems ease if we were to rethink and prioritize education in a way that honors the wonders it possesses. How can mere knowledge change the world? Consider Frances Vaughan & Roger Walsh’s astute insight: “Whereas knowledge is something we have, wisdom is something we become. Developing it requires self-transformation.” Socrates adds, “Let him who would move the world first move himself.”
Move yourself. Move the world. Powerful advice that I think constitutes wisdom.
Excerpted from the book, Building a Life of Value (2005) by Jason A. Merchey. There are many wonderful quotes about knowledge and other values such as creativity, fulfillment, love, and dedication in that timeless book. It is copyrighted material and rights for reprinting will be granted on a per-case basis.
Here are a few other quotes about knowledge, education, and wisdom for your perusal:
“The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.” – Leonardo da Vinci
“To realize the unimportance of time is the gate of wisdom.” – Bertrand Russell
“The philosophy of wisdom seeks to emphasize the profound value that inquiry can have when pursued for its own sake, and not only as a means to some other end.” — Nicholas Maxwell
“To be uncertain is to be uncomfortable, but to be certain is ridiculous.” — Chinese proverb
“Wisdom involves exceptional breadth and depth of knowledge about the conditions of life and human affairs, and reflective judgment about the application of this knowledge.” – Deirdre A. Kramer
“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” — Albert Einstein
“We live in a swirl of information, and we need some of this raw data to arrive at the answers we seek. Knowledge, however, is interpreted data. If the perspective or conceptual model through which we interpret our data is inappropriate, or flawed, then our knowledge is flawed and will lead us astray.” – Copthorne Macdonald
“I’ve been horribly educated, history-wise— and otherwise. There are glaring holes in my general knowledge of the world. I don’t pretend to know what I don’t, but I sure wish I knew more, and am pretty consistently working to make sure that’s the case.” – Hallie Smith
“Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of 80 and gradually approach 18.” – Mark Twain
“Only people who die very young learn all they need to know in kindergarten.” – Wendy Kaminer
“I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” – Albert Einstein
“The tragedy is that formal education so rarely helps us to recognize and to develop our early profound intellectual experiences and achievements. Instead of encouraging our instinctive curiosity to develop into adulthood, all too often education unintentionally stifles and crushes it out of existence.” – Nicholas Maxwell
If you enjoyed reading this smattering of quotes about knowledge and other values, try accessing The Wisdom Archive, the 25,000-quote product of 13 years of collection. You won’t find a better database of quotations on wisdom, knowledge, and education anywhere.
Here is the website of Nicholas Maxwell, the pioneer of the knowledge-to-wisdom approach to liberal education and social improvement.