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!

How to Cultivate Wisdom Through Writing (Part 1)

Andrew Pudewa honored me with an invitation to his IEW Symposium on writing a few weeks ago and what a blessing it was. Keep your eyes open for a July 2012 repeat of this wonderful conference.

One of the things he asked me to address was the question, “How can we cultivate wisdom through writing?” During this talk I got a little carried away on one or two points, so I didn’t say everything I hoped to and I also offended at least one person in the audience enough for her to get up and leave.

Nevertheless, I think IEW will be including this talk in a DVD or CD set in the not too distant future and I did make some discoveries along the way that I’d like to share with you.

Naturalistic materialism has come to dominate modern thought, which eliminates the soul from consideration. Thus when we try to define education, we find ourselves either confused or reduced.

In the old days, prior to the triumph of naturalism, education had to do with wisdom and virtue. Now it is necessarily utilitarian. Here’s why: Wisdom and virtue are qualities of the soul in which the will is guided by reason rather than appetite.

To the naturalist, there is no soul to be guided or formed, only a highly complex chemical structure called the brain. There is no will to be guided by a reason that also doesn’t exist.

In the old days, at least in its ideals, the goal of education was twofold: discipline the will to virtue and cultivate the reason to wisdom.

The way we understand the reason is determined by the paradigm with which we approach it. If I am a naturalist, I will think of the reason as the ability to calculate my advantage and make adaptations accordingly. Thus, I will build education on that presupposition.

If I actively believe in the Divine Image and apply that belief to my thoughts, I will think of the reason as that faculty that perceives the law of God written in our essence and that, from that preconscious perception, produces the impulses and activities that give rise to language, creativity, knowledge, membership in communities, and the other things that make us human.

In such a context, the education I provide will not be a matter of learning processes by which I can adapt to or overcome the environment. Instead it will cultivate the virtues that lead to every human excellence.

The reason and the will will be cultivated and the appetites controlled.

Conventional education does exactly the reverse.

How then can we cultivate wisdom? More on that in my next post.

Why write?

Writing is only incidentally a way of telling others what you think. Its first use is for the making of what you think, for the discovery of understanding, an act that happens only in language.

Richard Mitchell, The Gift of Fire, P. 11

Non-Pareil again

This one is mild, but I haven’t provided a non-pareil for a while. Here’s the latest. Can you tell what’s wrong with this sentence from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sports page?

He used free agency to sign defensive tackle Santana Dotson, kick returner Desmond Howard, wideout Don Beebe, left tackle Bruce Wilkerson, linebacker Ron Cox and traded for safety Eugene Robinson.

The Heart of the Story

Stories revolve around the virtues and vices of their characters because virtue is so astonishingly admirable. We are drawn to every kind of excellence unless envy interferes with our admiration. Even then, we are still drawn to the excellence. We just don’t like its carrier.

Living Like You Mean It

When Andrew Pudewa and I present our writing workshops, one of the topics we address is what we call the five paths to great writing. I’ve introduced them HERE.

I need to clarify that those five paths arise from a direct consideration of the use of language. There is one more thing a writer needs to do besides reading, thinking, and writing – and that is living. Some would-be writers, and I suspect I have this tendency, want to write because they love writing. This is a bit like teaching because you love teaching.

Fine. Do it. But have something to teach too!

Same with writing. I have this old New Yorker cartoon in my computer where a man’s wife is leaning over his shoulder while he is trying to come up with something to write in his journal. He has writer’s block. She says to him, “Maybe you should do something first and then write in your journal.”

Indeed. The greatest poets and writers all wrote about things they experienced or at least witnessed and their souls were informed by the experience. When poetry is written by poets who sit around writing poetry for readers who sit around reading poetry, poetry is living off the neighbor’s stream. The poet needs to dig his own well, just as the teacher needs to reinvent the wheel every year or two.

The poet must not only write the poem but must scrutinize the world intensely,  or anyway that part of the world he or she has taken for subject. IF the poem is thin, it is likely so not because the poet does not know enough words, but because he or she has not stood long enough among the flowers, has not them in any fresh, exciting, and valid way.

Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook (highly recommended!)

As Mary Oliver is using standing among flowers as a synechdoche for the act of living perceptively, I’m confident she will not object if I add a few more: from engaging in battle, raising children with your eyes open, holding a lover’s hand always for the first time, listening to Mozart’s Concerto for Harp and Flute with mind and ears engaged, participating in the liturgy, eating a freshly picked radish that you grew yourself, jumping out of an airplane, teaching an eager student, teaching a stubborn and unperceptive student, contemplating Euclid’s definition of a point, looking into your spouse’s eyes – you know, living like you mean it.

That’s what literature and writing should teach us.

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Andrew and I will be in California from June 7-10. Please come see us!

Even Poorer in Thanks

Still immersed in final preparation of LTW II so it’s been very hard to write on here. Camille Goldston called me this morning to see how I was doing  and whether there was anything I needed her to do.

It’s amazing how much work she has put into this project over the last couple years – and into studying and teaching the Lost Tools of Writing before that.

Camille has told me that she didn’t like writing before she got involved with this, and there are times when I’m sure I’ve made her like it even less. Yet she outlined and created the great bulk of the level II teacher’s guide and then subjected it to review by others, especially Dr. Timothy Diebler from Covenant Academy in Houston, TX.

That takes some courage.

Camille has written, modified, and edited module guides and worksheets, she has found others to help with various parts of the project and guided them in their roles, she has given me feedback on most of the things I’ve worked on directly.

When I review what Camille (and Leah) have worked on, and then I remember that another dozen people have been involved in this task, I ask myself what exactly I have done.

The only thing I can come up with is my normal role ever since school days: to create confusion and chaos for the people who are trying to be productive.

I hope that you will all get your hands on LTW II because it really is going to be the best upper school writing program for the teacher who wants to teach students how to think and who values practical communication skills that grow from clear and creative thinking.

And I hope that when you get the program you will drop Camille a line to thank her for the innumerable hours of work she has given to classical rhetoric, from her four years in the apprenticeship to teaching level I (including on-line with Memoria Press – see our website for details on that), to the last two years of showing constant initiative to complete level II and work through some really tough spots even when I felt like quitting.

It’s personal. I’m indebted to Camille for her work and for her encouragement. But I can’t thank her enough. Can you help me?