Philosopher vs. Priest: Wisdom Personified

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This week, we are changing things up and Jimmy is asking me a question!

The first reading this week is from Proverbs Chapter 9.  In what is read at Mass this week, we see wisdom personified as a lady who beckons. The full text of Proverbs Chapter 9 shows Wisdom personified as a Lady who beckons and Folly personified as a lady who beckons.  In short the listener is to discern between the voice of Lady Folly and the voice of Lady Wisdom.

Is this ancient personification of wisdom and folly a useful philosophical tool or not? If it is useful what are its limitations and if its not useful how should we best think  of wisdom?  As an additional question, I think now a days we tend to think of the pursuit of wisdom as a one-sided approach as myself approaching wisdom but is there a way in which wisdom can call towards us?

This type of personification is something you would find in some of the great works of philosophy such as those by Plato or Nietzsche, though interestingly, you would not see it in any serious, similar way in current philosophical literature. However, I do think it can be a useful in philosophy.

One of the themes in philosophy that has interested me lately is this idea that true knowledge is something that can’t (easily? at all?) be shared through traditional explanation. There’s an internal understanding that must click into place, and nothing someone else can say can explain that. This is especially true for traditions like Buddhism, but you also get it in Western philosophy like Wittgenstein. When you venture into this realm, I think personification becomes especially useful.

I think this particular vision of Wisdom as a lady who beckons is particularly interesting, because it suggests that wisdom is out there and all around us, calling us to it. Although I don’t think of this as literally true, I do think this can be a new way to see the approach to wisdom: instead of our typical way of pursuing wisdom, it might make more sense to realize wisdom is all around us constantly. Perhaps one could say our curiosity is provoked. What it takes is being able to see this world around us in a new way, that may not necessarily meet the expectations we already have.

In a lot of ways, I think most philosophical and religious traditions can apply this – wisdom is available to us, we just have to be open to it. I think the limit of this, though, is that Lady Folly is always constantly calling to us as well, always surrounding us. Wisdom and Folly are notoriously difficult to tell apart, and wisdom can often look like madness. So even though this personification is useful, I think we reach its limit when we realize how difficult it is to tell Wisdom from Folly.

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