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The Irony of Wisdom and 7 Signs of a Wise Fool (Written By Ms. Intan Adamas)

Updated: Feb 8

A giant guessing at nature

(Mr. Tomasio Rubinshtein's note: This article is the winner of the first King of Writer's Fist Contest, sponsored and bought to you by Sint Marteen's Simpson Bay Pharmacy. I would like to thank everyone who participated and who made this competition possible. Hopefully it will occur once more, in the Seventh of December, 2024....)


(Disclaimer: The guest posts do not necessarily align with Philosocom's manager, Mr. Tomasio Rubinshtein's beliefs, thoughts, or feelings. The point of guest posts is to allow a wide range of narratives from a wide range of people. To apply for a guest post of your own, please send your request to mrtomasio@philosocom.com)



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Introduction


Anyone can become wise. You don’t have to already be intelligent and full of knowledge to become wise. In fact, there are no pre-conditions of age, sex, race, religion or class when it comes to embodying wisdom. Wisdom is a virtue free for all to possess, and all that is required to set out in pursuit of wisdom is the burning desire to inquire and learn.


As Socrates famously declared “Wisdom begins in wonder” and “the beginning of wisdom is to desire it” said Solomon Ibn Gabirol. Obviously, wisdom is not intelligence obtained through accumulation of knowledge from formal education. Neither can it be acquired simply through memorization of concepts, theories, axioms and formulas from scholars, scientists or experts.

As Michel de Montaigne puts it, we can be knowledgeable with other men’s knowledge, but we cannot be wise with other men’s wisdom. Instead, wisdom is the ripening of knowledge, sharpening of truths, and refinement of morality through profound life-shattering, heart wrenching, tragic-stricken life experiences. Thus, if it is wisdom you desire, prepare yourself for a lifetime of hardship, misery and misfortune. 


But how does one identify a wise person, when the wise are said to be prone to disguise their wisdom, feign ignorance and act foolishly? Whilst wisdom is a complex subject matter which have preoccupied philosophers since the beginning of time, a survey of opinions from prominent philosophers, scientists, religious icons and spiritual gurus may provide us with some clues as to what (or what does not) constitute wisdom. 


Here are 7 ageless signs of wisdom in a person, as understood by some of the most brilliant minds in history. 



Wisdom springs from truth, and the first criteria of wisdom is self-honesty. Indeed, according to Aristotle, knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom. It is said that only the wise can discern wisdom, because they alone are able to grasp the essential truths of human existence and be completely honest about it. In contrast, the ignorant are unable to differentiate between truth and falsity due to lack of knowledge; while tyrants are unwilling to isolate good from evil, in spite of knowledge of right and wrong. 


Tyrants frequently engage in debauchery because they reject the existential truths of human morality, while the ignorant are often exploited because they refuse to learn the truths of human reality. Hence, neither can be wise. Willingness to isolate what is true from what is false, what is good from what is evil, and what is beneficial from what is harmful, is the prerequisite of all true knowledge. 


Thus, according to Thomas Jefferson, honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom. Indeed, without cognitive honesty and an intuitive sense of morality, all that one claims to be knowledge, true opinion or justified belief could turn out to be just errors, invalid facts, mistaken beliefs or false assumptions based on self-deception. Therefore, if you want to be wise, be honest with yourself first, and be truthful to others around you. 


This may sound easy, but as Ludwig Wittgenstein observed, nothing is so difficult, as much as not deceiving oneself. Indeed, as Plato warned, no one is more hated than he who speaks the truth.


Nevertheless, a sure sign of wisdom is someone who is honest and consistently speaks the truth by differentiating right from wrong, and good from evil - even when it would be foolish or fatal to do so. 


The classic case is Socrates. When asked to denounce his beliefs in fake Gods, he refused. It could be that Socrates refused because he did believe in the existence of God, of which he claims to have no knowledge of. This would indeed be foolish. Or it could be that Socrates refused to renounce his belief in God because he thought that even a fake God would be better than a real devil. 


In the end, rather than tell an evil lie and live dishonestly amongst his fellow citizens, Socrates chose to die an honourable death as an honest fool. But in pleading ignorance and maintaining faith in the divine, his death made him nothing less than a wise fool - for the wise always chooses good over evil, and honesty over dishonesty, despite his own ignorance and even in the face of death.

2) Insatiable Curiosity


The wise often appear stupid as he is habitually questioning the most commonplace of phenomenon. Why is the sky blue? Why don’t the stars fall to earth? Why should I be good if everyone else is evil? Just like the unknowledgeable child, most of the time philosophers seem to be asking some very dumb questions about common sense reality which everyone else have accepted as a matter of fact. 


Nonetheless, according to Thomas Moore, wisdom and deep intelligence require an honest appreciation of mystery. According to Emerson “The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common”. Ironically, while the curious child might come up with a whole list of interesting answers to his questions, the wise would ultimately punctuate his astoundingly detailed explanation with an “I don’t know.” 


It is as though the whole point of philosophizing is to raise endless questions in an effort to sustain an insatiable curiosity for the mysteries of life as a thinking being. Nonetheless, as explained by Milan Kundera “The wisdom of the novel comes from having a question for everything. The stupidity of people comes from having an answer for everything”. Indeed, George Santayana warned that “The hunger for facile wisdom is the root of all false philosophy”. 


Similarly, according to Arthur Schopenhauer, “The more unintelligent a man is, the less mysterious existence seems to him”. To quit questioning would mean to end the adventure of learning, and this is the last thing the wise would willingly do, for he is in love with wisdom and is caught in the endless pursuit of knowledge. Indeed, a trademark of the wise man is that he has an unlimited supply of questions, and this is simply because “the wisest mind always has something yet to learn” (Santayana). 


3) Misplaced Humility (modesty) 


Although Plato declared that the wisest have (or should have) the most authority, Socrates had consistently insisted that the only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing. True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us, said Socrates. In which case, either Socrates was overly modest, truthfully stupid or inadvertently wise. Indeed, for the wise to refuse authority to guide his fellow men and leave governance in the hands of the ignorant or tyrants seems to be a travesty. 


The heaviest penalty for declining to rule is to be ruled by someone inferior to yourself, said Plato. Nonetheless, humility is a recurring theme in any analysis of wisdom and just as Socrates had declared himself to be worthless of wisdom, this misplaced humility is seen in the most brilliant of minds. “If I am a fool, it is, at least, a doubting one; and I envy no one the certainty of his self approved wisdom” said George Byron.


“Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.” said Einstein. Ever since the fall from grace of Lucifer, the wisest and most favoured angel in all heavens, arrogance and vanity are thought to be the two worst enemies of wisdom which would entail forfeiture of love from God. 


Ancient philosophers, sages and saints believe that wisdom is a divine gift which can be taken away anytime. Therefore, they dare not risk the wrath of God and always maintain humility even to those less knowledgeable than themselves. Hence, the philosopher’s denial of authority over knowledge and truth, far from being misplaced modesty, is instead motivated by profound love for the divine Beloved.


Knowledge may be powerful, but it is not power that the wise seek. The wise desires wisdom and is scornful of power which would corrupt the soul in its journey towards divine reunion with the Beloved. Rather than power to rule the masses, the wise prefer solitary devotion to the Beloved, which would increase their stature as a knowledgeable, albeit powerless, person. 


According to Xenophanes, it takes a wise man to recognize another. However, the reverse is not quite true. While it requires wisdom to recognize truth, stupidity does not even recognize its own errors! Thus according to Einstein, the difference between genius and stupidity is that genius knows its limits, whilst stupidity is limitless. To be aware of one’s own ignorance, is already to be wise, and the philosopher’s plea of ignorance is merely to facilitate his endless pursuit for higher and deeper knowledge. 


4) Undeserving Kindness 


According to Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Wisdom has its root in goodness, not goodness its root in wisdom [not vice versa]”. If so, it follows that the wise are those who embody ethical values such as kindness, patience, empathy and compassion.


In fact, the distinction between the wise and the gullible, may just be that the wise are morally virtuous even to his enemies and the undeserving; whilst the gullible tend to show kindness only to those in his favour or for his own benefit. Kindness is a sensitivity to the well-being of others which is demonstrated by actions which alleviates the suffering of another, eases his burden or relieves his hardship. 


As someone accustomed to grief and misery, and knowledgeable on matters of good and evil, the wise would be the first to relieve the pain and suffering of another, to defend the weak over the powerful, and to demonstrate gentleness over aggression.


As Hellen Keller puts it, the highest result of education is tolerance. The wise are compassionate because of a strong sense of empathy towards fellow human beings as mortal beings suffering from existential angst and who are for the most part victims of circumstances. The wise is patient even under the most unjustified circumstances because he understands the nature of man as fallible human beings that frequently errs in action due to ignorance or weakness of will.

 

The wise are compassionate because he knows that mortality evokes fear and awakens the demons within. That is while his awareness of the fragility of humanity beseech him to treat all humans with patience, gentleness and tolerance, even when they act out against the interests of others. As Joseph Joubert put it, a part of kindness is loving people more than they deserve. Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle, said Plato.


Compassion will cure more sins than condemnation, said Henry Ward Beecher. Due to his own experience, the wise always sees beyond an evil act to the reason which caused the act, and therefore tends to respond to evil with kindness and tolerance even when the perpetrators are clearly in the wrong. 


His love of humanity exhorts him not only to help those who are wronged, but places a moral responsibility on him to also guide the ignorant, the tyrannical and those who suffer from moral weakness, to appreciate kindness and thus relieve them from the clutches of evil and their demons within. “To light one candle to God and another to the Devil, is the principle of wisdom” said Jose Bergamin



Nonetheless, the wise know that goodness itself is a double edge sword. As Plato puts it, “If a man perfectly righteous should come upon earth, he would find so much opposition that he would be imprisoned, reviled, scourged, and in time crucified by such, who, though they were extremely wicked, would yet pass for righteous men.” 


Thus, the good man is as rare as the wise man, and it takes one to recognize the other. 


5) Absurd Cheerfulness 


“Cheerfulness is the most certain sign of wisdom” said Michel de Montaigne, and according to Sophocles, “There is no happiness where there is no wisdom”. However, cheerfulness of the wise is not to be confused with the joy of ignorant bliss, nor happiness from wealth, fame or physical pleasures.


"Supreme happiness will be the greatest cause of misery, and the perfection of wisdom the occasion of folly”, said Leonardo Da Vinci. "I don't know why we are here, but I'm pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves", said Ludwig Wittgenstein. So what is the difference between the happiness of the fool and the cheerfulness of the wise? 


The distinction is simple. Fools are most happy when their fears and grief are drowned out through short-lived pleasures and enjoyment, whilst the wise are most cheerful in the midst of their deepest pain and sorrows. Although we may tend to think of the wise as very serious people leading gloomy and miserable lives, this may be far from the truth. Instead, wise is he who smiles through his tears, laughs through his misery and makes jokes of his own personal tragedy. The wise are cheerful because they know all too well that wisdom cannot be obtained except through hardship, misery, sacrifice and tragic life experiences. 


Indeed, for the wise, cheerfulness is simply a natural reflection of optimism and resilience in the face of severity one encounters on the road to wisdom. "There is no love of life without despair of life", writes Albert Camus. “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself” said C.S. Lewis.

"We become wiser by adversity; prosperity destroys our appreciation of the right", said Seneca. Thus, the more suffering he has to endure, the more cheerful the wise man gets.

Although seemingly absurd, the wise treasures his pain and sorrow; and is comforted by knowledge that failures, injustice and misery can only further elevate his stature as a knowledgeable person. Indeed, according to the wise, wisdom ascends through the aesthetical reflection of a wounded soul which confronts existential suffering through sheer faith in a divine reality beyond ordinary human existence


"The purpose of life is not to be happy, said Ralph Waldo Emerson. "It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate. To have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well. Based on deep conviction of a divine power which guides human destiny based on love and justice, the wise is in fact honoured to endure misery in his journey towards the divine source of wisdom. Thus, "An ounce of cheerfulness is worth a pound to serve God with", said Thomas Fuller


Indeed, it is by virtue of his profound sadness and constant grief that the wise are able to find immense joy in the smallest, most mundane things like the sunrise, the sunset, the moonlight, the starry skies and the singing bird on a tree branch. Just waking up to observe the folly of mankind throughout the day brings him joy.


In the words of Khalil Gibran, “Pain and foolishness lead to great bliss and complete knowledge, for Eternal Wisdom created nothing under the sun in vain”. Indeed, a trademark of the wise is a great sense of humour - for what is merely a cheap thrill or misery for others, is for him an exquisite experience of living life in the shadows of the divine. 


"He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that [one] cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God". - Aeschylus


6) Hopeful Courage 


According to Bertrand Russell, “To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom… Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty.” But it is easy to confuse the courage of the wise with the bravery of the fool or the bravado of the fearless.


What are the differences? Whilst bravery is the absence of fear that one demonstrates in facing risky or dangerous situations; courage is a direct confrontation of fear itself, for the purpose of defending something which one has strong convictions about. But courage is not simply physical resistance involving violent means.


Otherwise, all wise men would end up as soldiers. In its essence, philosophical courage is a non-violent resistance to submission or participation in all that is evil. As Martin Luther King Jr. lucidly espoused: "Nonviolent resistance … is based on the conviction that the universe is on the side of justice".


Consequently, the believer in nonviolence has deep faith in the future. This faith is another reason why the nonviolent resister can accept suffering without retaliation. For he knows that in his struggle for justice he has cosmic companionship.


It is true that there are devout believers in nonviolence who find it difficult to believe in a personal God. But even these persons believe in the existence of some creative force that works for universal wholeness. Whether we call it an unconscious process, an impersonal Brahman, or a Personal Being of matchless power of infinite love, there is a creative force in this universe that works to bring the disconnected aspects of reality into a harmonious whole. 


The strong may be confident, the smart may be brave and the foolish may be fearless. However, only the wise can be truly courageous. And what would be the most terrifying thing that humans have to face, if not death?


Contemplation of death is one of the cornerstones of philosophizing, and philosophers have long grappled with the question of life and its ultimate purpose. According to Bernard Williams, death is necessary in order for life to be meaningful. In the words of Karl Popper “It is the ever-present danger of losing life which helps to bring home to us the value of life.” It follows therefore that only those who truly understand the meaning and purpose of existence would defend the values of life, while only the truly courageous would give up life itself for the sake of humanity.  


But what is it that makes the wise a courageous person, and a courageous person wise? Fundamentally, courage is a sacred energy motivated by deep faith in divine love and demonstrated by an absolute commitment to fight evil and injustice. Ultimately, it is a sacred sacrifice in the name of the most precious values of humanity, and undertaken with conviction of divine mercy from the Beloved. “As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well spent brings happy death”, said Leonardo Da Vinci. In this context, courage is the final test of wisdom, for as Baltasar Gracian puts it “Without courage, wisdom bears no fruit”.


7) Tragic Love


According to Marcel Proust we don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us. However, if the sole purpose of the philosopher is to acquire wisdom through an endless pursuit of knowledge, then wisdom is not really something that can be possessed, unless the journey itself ends. So when does the journey end? 


The journey ends and wisdom begins when we cease questioning truths which are self-evident in the human heart. Wisdom arrives when we stop looking for external answers outside of the divine reality within our own soul. Wisdom speaks when we realize that we can know no more than what we receive through divine grace. In which case wisdom, as Socrates said, is no more than a realization of one’s own ignorance in the infinite possibilities of divine existentiality. According to John Adams, there is no such thing as human wisdom - all is the providence of God. 


But, if wisdom is bestowed upon knowledge seekers through divine grace, what is it that has to be proven in order for lovers of wisdom to receive wisdom? If to pursue wisdom is to undergo misery and suffering, what is it that gives the lovers of wisdom the courage and faith to endure hardships, sacrifices and injustice, and yet remain cheerful in the hero’s journey? If wisdom is merely a means to an end, what is it that the philosopher ultimately desires? In other words, what is the golden fruit of wisdom? 


According to Charles Dickens, a loving heart is the truest wisdom. Love for life, love for humanity and most of all love for the infinite source of life itself – divine Love. Could it be that in the pursuit of higher and higher knowledge, the lovers of wisdom are unwittingly seeking divine love? After all, is it not divine love which promises immortality for mortal beings?


Was it not man’s betrayal of divine love for knowledge, which caused the downfall of humanity in the first place? Perhaps then the ultimate purpose of philosophizing is to obtain salvation from an otherwise meaningless existence, and to be gifted with that which is the most precious of all human values, love for divine Love itself. 


Indeed, according to Plato, the madness of love is the greatest of heaven’s blessings. Hence, If wisdom is indeed the greatest human good which is granted to the selected few by divine grace, it would seem that only an unquestioning love for Divinity would entitle one to possess wisdom.


Thus, love indeed is the final sign of wisdom in a wise person’s heart. The hero’s journey on earth, like that of all other mortal beings, will inevitably end with death; and it is only through death that mortal love can return to the infinite universe of the divine Beloved. Hence, according to Honore De Balzac, wisdom is that apprehension of heavenly things to which the spirit rises through love.


That is why according to Jean de La Fontaine, death never takes the wise man by surprise.


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Tomasio A. Rubinshtein, Philosocom's Founder & Writer

I am a philosopher from Israel, author of several books in 2 languages, and Quora's Top Writer of the year 2018. I'm also a semi-hermit who has decided to dedicate his life to writing and sharing my articles across the globe. Several podcasts on me, as well as a radio interview, have been made since my career as a writer. More information about me can be found here.

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