Deliberate Youth

In Book VI, Socrates discusses several different topics such as practical wisdom, art, philosophical wisdom, political wisdom, wisdom, and knowledge, but the topic most intriguing to me is the idea of practical wisdom. 

Aristotle defines practical wisdom by how it “is concerned with things human and things about which it is possible to deliberate,” indicating that practical wisdom is the ability to make decisions to create the most good either for oneself or for others (VI, 7). Aristotle seems to draw a distinction between knowledge and practical wisdom throughout the entirety of the reading, but I tend to disagree, and I don’t think you can actually have practical wisdom without knowledge, and knowledge without practical wisdom is useless.

To me, I don’t see how one can make a truly practical decision and deliberate between two tough choices without knowledge of general facts. It seems that the facts would help someone make the decision, because absent the facts encompassed within the category of knowledge, the decision would be made based solely on intuition.

I believe this is also the reason it is impossible to find “a young man of practical wisdom,” not because a young man has “no experience,” although that is part of it, but more so because the young man does not have a clear enough understanding of the generally acknowledged truths and facts.

I like the example of the light vs. dark meat that Aristotle gives, but I think it could be flipped so that rather than indicating that the information known to the person is from experience, that can also be characterized as knowledge. People do not exclusively learn from experience, but rather from lots of sources, so it could be argued that the fact that white meat is healthier than dark meat is knowledge or it could be argued that that information came from experience (VI, 7). It could also be argued that the experience is simply a form of discovering knowledge.

Aristotle indicates that they are different and that absent experience the person would not know which meat to eat, but I believe that they are the same and that without knowledge, which is acquired from experience, then the person is not informed enough and has no idea what to eat or not eat.

That’s why, in my opinion, practical wisdom should not be evaluated as a separate category from knowledge, but rather the former is simply an application of the latter, and without the former, the latter is useless.

One response to “Deliberate Youth

  1. For Aristotle, to have theoretical knowledge of something is to know the “why” of it. Someone with practical knowledge may know the same sorts of things as the person with (theoretical) knowledge, but only knows that it’s the case and does not know why. With the meat example, it is the difference between knowing that light meat is healthier than dark, and knowing that it’s healthier because it affects you in certain ways, by interacting with certain other systems in your body, etc. To really know something is to know, in a sense, the thing’s causes. You could be very practically wise about how and when to implement a certain cost-cutting measure, let’s say, but not know the intricate details of how the measure works–whether it be the manipulation of tax codes interacting with the economy, or the benefits of a more efficient machine. Your dissatisfaction with the separation between the two is definitely legitimate, but there is a very specific meaning Aristotle attaches to them, and he does think that you can have a kind of knowledge from practical wisdom.

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