I am of the mind that human advancement over the course of history has come at a cost.This is especially true of technological advancements in the last 50 years.  While we collectively know more than the best of our ancient predecessors in a number of areas, they still beat us when it comes to understanding the relationship between wisdom/knowledge and the human condition.

BrownCase in point:  Intelligence is qualified by possessing a high level of knowledge in one or a number of subjects.  Universities reinforce this notion by awarding degrees to those who complete programs of study that are narrowly fashioned around a specialized field.  But fields of study weren’t always so confined.  The first American universities, like Harvard, Yale, Brown, Princeton, etc., considered the development of virtue as a necessary counterpart to knowledge.  As a matter of fact, Brown’s original charter read:

“Institutions for liberal Education are highly beneficial to Society, by forming the rising Generation to Virtue[,] Knowledge & useful Literature & thus preserving in the Community a Succession of Men duly qualify’d for discharging the Offices of Life with usefulness & reputation…”[1]

aristotleThis attitude towards cultivating virtue was drawn from the widely understood axiom that knowledge and wisdom is directly tied to living a moral and virtuous life.  Aristotle once wrote that, “it is not possible to be good in the strict sense without practical wisdom, nor practically wise without moral virtue.”[2]  Plato also argued that our cognitive abilities cannot perform correctly unless they are immersed in a virtuous character.[3]  Even Solomon and Job recognized that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” Proverbs 1:17, and, “to depart from evil is understanding” Job 28:28.

Consider this a plea to return to the wisdom of the ancients in this regard.

I’ll end with a personal anecdote and analogy.  Since making the decision to follow Jesus of Nazareth four years ago, I’ve had the privilege of studying Philosophy in my undergrad.  My desire to adhere to the biblical standard of morality coupled with a newfound understanding of epistemology, metaphysics, and ethics has greatly sharpened my mind and cleaned up my thinking when it comes to assessing ideas and arguments.  There is no coincidence that many of the greatest thinkers of history have believed in the Creator and now I know why.  Seeking true virtue orders the mind in such a manner that invites wisdom to take hold.

I’ve heard it explained this way:  There are particular methods (i.e. styles of eating, exercise, etc.) that are good for our physical bodies and others that are not.  Seeking to maximize good methods and cut out bad habits is, therefore, the ideal goal for those that want to promote an efficient functioning of their bodies and prevent them from becoming unhealthy and sick.  What makes us think that we should treat our minds/souls any differently?


[1] Walter C. Bronson, The History of Brown University 1764-1914 (Providence: Brown University, 1914), 1.

[2] Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics, Trans. by W.D. Ross (New York: Start Publishing LLC, 2012), Book 6, Chap. 13, Par. 2

[3] W. Jay Wood, Epistemology: Becoming Intellectually Virtuous (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 159.

1 COMMENT

  1. I loved this. My momma always said that if I felt the urge to fib (lie) that I should remember that to tell the truth was to shame the Devil. I still live by that. LOL