Hi Sunday Stoic Listeners and welcome to my second co-host episode of The Sunday Stoic. I am Al and I would like to continue to use this opportunity to look at the why of stoicism.
In the last episode, I covered the dichotomy of control, why we should make a clear distinction between things up to us (our own actions) and everything else, and to focus our energy on the former.
But how should we act? How do we know what the correct actions are?
In Stoicism, we are told that we should follow the four virtues (wisdom, courage, temperance & justice) and that these (and only these) should guide our actions.
This week I would like to examine wisdom, both what it is and why we should aim for wisdom in all our actions.
Before I go any further I should say, I thought that this would be the easiest virtue to cover.
It seems pretty obvious that we should pursue wisdom, I mean, who doesn’t want to have a few extra IQ points? When would being smarter ever be a disadvantage? But of course, wisdom and intelligence are not the same thing.
Apart from anything else, there is little we can do to change our intelligence (apart from avoiding sports injuries). Our intelligence is largely an external thing. Something not up to us.
What exactly should we, as stoics, be looking to achieve?
When we think back to moments in our past, it is easy to remember things that make us cringe. Things that we are ashamed we did, stupid things we said or mistakes we made. Why did we make so many mistakes, things that were obviously wrong, at least obvious to us now.
Experience: You only get it after you need it.
As we live our lives, we are going to make mistakes. If we learn from our mistakes, we can avoid making the same mistakes in the future. Is wisdom simplify experience?
Perhaps we can learn from the mistakes of others. If we pursue a life of knowledge, learning from many different sources, would this constitute living with wisdom?
While it might be, I suspect that there is more to it than that.
I suspect that most of our knowledge is actually another preferred indifferent, similar to money. Sure it is nice to be able to explain the structure of atoms, cells, or the solar system, but I am not convinced that it really helps us live our best lives. Was Socrates hindered by not knowing these things?
So if any knowledge is not the goal, what kinds of knowledge does constitute wisdom? What exactly should we be trying to learn?
The Stoics made a big deal about us being rational. We have the ability to think things through. Consider what could happen next. What the effect of our actions might be.
Perhaps this is what we are looking for. Wisdom is the ability to think through what the outcomes could be. Working out what will happen and picking the best course of action. In this case, we are not seeking any old fact or knowledge. We want to gain an insight into what could happen next. Anything that helps us make better choices.
So when considering what read about or research, perhaps we need to ask: why am I learning this? Is it just to make me look smart at the dinner table? Is this just for pure pleasure? Or will it help me make better choices in the future?
This definition of wisdom "knowledge that helps us make better decisions" works for me and also helps explain why we should focus on it. If we have the knowledge to help decide the best course of action, we are more likely to take it.