What is wisdom?

Philosophy as a Way of Life
5 min readFeb 13, 2020

“Wisdom” is arguably one of the most slippery, and yet important, concepts that concern us all. One way to summarize humanity’s problems over the past several millennia is that our intelligence and technology have far outpaced our wisdom. And things are likely to get worse, since our technological advancements are accelerating, possibly leading in the near future to the development of very intelligent, but unlikely to be wise, AI.

That, of course, is the point of studying philosophy, which, after all, is defined as “love of wisdom.” That’s also why, despite my background as a scientist, I think humanities courses (not just philosophy, but literature, history, and so forth) ought to be mandatory even at the pre-college level. We are making new generations of smart and technologically savvy people, who however will lack the wisdom to use well that technology, or to live meaningful (as opposed to merely “productive”) lives.

All of this is predicated on the idea that we know what wisdom is and how to become wiser ourselves. You can easily look up definitions of wisdom in the dictionary, and you will find something like the following:

Wisdom: The quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment. … The soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience, knowledge, and good judgment: some questioned the wisdom of building the dam so close to an active volcano.” (New Oxford American)

The ancient Greco-Romans thought quite a bit about the concept of wisdom, and came up with an interesting angle, which I think would be valuable for us to reconsider and take on board: wisdom as “fitting expertise” about “impressions.” Yeah, I know, not exactly catchy. But let me explain. Galen, Marcus Aurelius’ physician and part-time philosopher, puts it this way:

Others defined philosophy as the exercise of fitting expertise of the best life for human beings, saying that philosophy is exercise, and calling wisdom fitting expertise, which is also a cognition of human

Philosophy as a Way of Life

by Massimo Pigliucci. Practical philosophy, science, pseudoscience & good reasoning. Complete index of articles at https://massimopigliucci.org/essays/