How to Cultivate Wisdom Through Writing (part 2)

Click here to see Part 1

To understand how to cultivate wisdom, we need to understand what wisdom is. Now, any number of definitions are available, but I want to look at this from the practical angle.

In other words, if we’re going to think about “how” to do something, we need to think of it as the end of actions. If it can’t be seen that way, then there is no how to.

For example, if redness is simply a state of being and there is no way to become or make something red, we’d be wasting our time trying to think about how to become red.

Looked at from this angle, there are three ways to look at wisdom that all mean the same thing but are worth expressing in three different ways.

First, wisdom is the knowledge of causes.

Second, wisdom is the ability to order and to judge.

Third, wisdom is the ability to perceive the nature of things so as to know how to appropriately relate to them.

These definitions help us see that there are different kinds of wisdom.

There is what I call, for lack of a better term, mechanical wisdom, which is characterized by great precision and regularity. It is guided by the principle of effectiveness and its end is utility. The standard of excellence for this form of genuine wisdom is usefulness.

Then there is artistic wisdom, which is less precise and therefore requires more judgment. It is guided by the principle of propriety and its end is creative human production. The standard of excellence is the beautiful.

Next comes ethical wisdom, which is even less precise and requires even more judgment. It is also guided by the principle of propriety, but its end is human action itself. The standard against which human action is measured by this wisdom is virtue.

Even higher comes philosophical wisdom, which is amazingly imprecise though its foundations remain absolute. It is the knowledge of first causes or principles. It requires astounding judgment. Philosophical wisdom is guided by the principle of truthfulness and its end is knowledge of truth; therefore it is measured by the standard of the truth.

The highest wisdom of all is theological wisdom, which becomes knowledge of the unknowable. It is the knowledge of Him who transcends knowledge. No judgment can reach this knowledge and all other forms of wisdom are subject to it. The standard by which it is measured is, if there can be one for here I am speculating far beyond my capacity, the harmony of the useful, the beautiful, the virtuous, and the true.

If that is what wisdom is and if these are the kinds of wisdom, the next question becomes, “how do we get it?”

More on that in my next post!

The Distinction Between Productive and Contemplative Knowledge – Part II.

If there is a distinction between natural things and products of human craft — as I argued some time ago — and this distinction lies in the presence of an internal principle of motion in natural things and an absence of that principle in things produced by craftsmanship, then we may explore the character of God’s creation of the natural world in light of this distinction.

One thing should be immediately evident: that Christians ought to be very wary about thinking of creation in a way that makes God a craftsman and creation a product of his art.

This image has some metaphorical value even if it is not an especially Biblical metaphor, but the metaphor is limited by the fact that natural things are fundamentally different than the products of a craft and God is fundamentally different from a craftsmen.

God does not create as a craftsman does, by gathering material together and impressing a form upon it. God creates ex nihilo, from nothing.

Further, God creates natural things, things that have their own internal principle of motion. To the extent that one thinks of creation in a way that denies the intrinsic nature of things, one thinks in opposition to reality.

This argument has a practical consequence in the current debates about the origin of species. William Paley’s design argument fails to fully take into account the distinction between natural things and the products of human craft.

Paley argued that just as if we found a watch in a field we would infer that an artificer exists, so when we look at created things we should likewise infer the existence of an artificer.

Every indication of contrivance, every manifestation of design, which existed in the watch, exists in the works of nature; with the difference, on the side of nature, of being greater or more, and that in a degree which exceeds all computation.

In other words, the same sort of structure that one finds in a watch, one finds in created (i.e., natural) things. To the extent there is a difference, it is a difference of degree rather than of kind.

This is precisely the denial that things have inner natures, and therefore it is a denial of the way in which God created the natural world. Or, to put it another way, it is a denial that God’s ways are above ours. However innocent Paley’s mistake, it is one we should not commit ourselves.