What is the meaning of Plato’s self-prescribed victory of intellectual wisdom over the instrumental one? The claim that there is a “true” knowledge and that only philosophy can determine the ultimate goals of action. The lessons of experience and the mastery of world affairs became unimportant, and the wisdom of active life was reduced to nothing more than a form of vanity.
Aristotle, at the death of Plato, his teacher and mentor for twenty years, took another decisive step in defining wisdom by providing a hierarchy of the different kinds of wisdom, putting the man of experience at the bottom and the theorist at the top.
The Greeks distinguished between two types of wisdom: the pure and the practical. For Aristotle, practical wisdom was the application of experience and he extensively explored practical wisdom, but segregated the man of action from the higher forms of wisdom.
Practical wisdom continues throughout history operating below the realm of theoretical philosophy, in the form of morality and ethics which the Romans did much to perfect. The Stoics, such as Seneca, cultivated concepts and techniques to attain an ethic where one experiences the joy and disappointments of human destiny with equanimity. The Epicurians considered pleasure a positive moral goal.Cicerocultivated rhetoric and brought it to perfection as a combination of culture, politics and education.
With the profound influence of Christianity, Roman thinkers such asSt. Augustine, again rejected the wisdom of the world, as illusion and vanity. Only pure wisdom opened the gates forSt. Augustine’s City ofGod.
The Middle Ages developed a society separated into peasants, craftsmen, merchants, knights and clergy. Only the later having taken over the prerogative of the philosophers. It would take a thousand years forEuropeto reconsider the hierarchy of wisdom. In the fifteenth century the Renaissance thinkers began developing a new approach to wisdom based on a philosophy of humanism. Let us make a parenthesis to acknowledge Leonardo da Vinci’s statement that “wisdom is the daughter of experience”, which was a radical declaration for his time.
Working wisdom was indeed a project of the Renaissance, but in the seventeenth century Enlightenment reestablished a new form of sophia as the queen of wisdom, crowning her with rationalism and the scientific method.
Francis Bacon (knowledge is power) was pivotal in defining the method of scientific investigation that would become the paramount means of discovering truth and Descartes established rationalism of the modern age.
The thinking of the Industrial Revolution, which was based on these philosophies, had decisive consequences on management theories. Taylorism, at the beginning of the twentieth century started from the assumption that management was a science and that the wisdom of the workers should play no part in it! Management concepts were later “humanized”, but practical wisdom was still eliminated from the vocabulary of the most people-oriented management approaches.
The continuing negligence of the profound significance of working wisdom (experience-abstraction-apply-knowledge-change and transformation) by conventional management approaches and educational ventures strongly compounded misunderstanding of experience and learning, especially within the organizational context.
The twenty first century is acknowledging the integrated foundations of working wisdom as coupling learn to learn, learn to do, learn to live together and learn to be.
Copyright 2003 QBS, Inc.