A wise old owl sat on an oak;
The more he saw the less he spoke;
The less he spoke the more he heard;
Why aren’t we like that wise old bird?”
(Edward H Richards)
Philosophy (from the Greek philo – love, liking; sophia – wisdom) as we know, means ‘love of wisdom’. The sine qua non of wisdom is truth – the knowledge of truth. So philosophy means a search for the truth. It follows that truth has to be absolute, not relative, a matter of opinion. Unfortunately, the ‘philosophy’ of relativism is prevalent in the Western World today. This is why so many are confused, living in a world of uncertainty, with no fixed, permanent values, and unsure of the meaning and purpose of life.
“I prayed, and understanding was given me; I called on God and the spirit of wisdom came to me.” (Wisdom 7:7)
Peter Abelard (1079–1142), a philosopher and theologian, and a renowned teacher at the University of Paris, maintained that the first key to wisdom is assiduous and frequent questioning, for, by doubting, we come to inquiry, and by inquiry we arrive at truth.
Zoroaster, or Zarathustra, the Persian founder of a dualistic religion (sixth century BC), was like-minded: “A knife of the keenest steel requires the whetstone, and the wisest man needs advice.”
How true this is exemplified, with tragic consequences, in this account: An executive from the aircraft industry watched a small plane, full of passengers, being prepared for take-off. He went to the pilot and said: “Surely, you are not going to take off in this dreadful weather, are you?”
“Of course I am,” said the pilot.
“But you won’t make it,” said the man.
“I’m the one who flies it and I know I can,” said the pilot.
“I come from the firm that built the plane,” said the man, “and I say you can’t.”
Not long after the plane had taken off, it crashed and killed
everybody on board.
Who knows not, and knows not that he knows not, is foolish; shun him.
Who knows not, and knows that he knows not, is humble; teach him.
“Who knows, but knows not that he knows, is asleep; wake him.
Who knows, and knows that he knows, is wise; follow him.” (Anonymous)
Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels, portrayed wisdom as “a hen, whose cackling we must value and consider, because it is attended with an egg; but then, lastly, it is a nut which, unless you choose with judgment, may cost you a tooth, and pay you with nothing but a worm.”
Plato, the Greek philosopher, has a more sober and profound description: “Perfect wisdom has four parts, namely, wisdom, the principle of doing things aright; justice, the principle of doing things equally in public and private; fortitude, the principle of not flying danger but meeting it; and temperance, the principle of subduing desires and living moderately.”
A youth was giving himself airs in the theatre and said: “I am wise, for I have talked with many wise men.” Epictetus, a Stoic philosopher, replied: “I too have conversed with many rich men, yet I am not rich.”