If Socrates is known for anything, it is that he was executed for supposedly doubting the gods and corrupting the youth and for claiming that all the he knew was that he ‘knew nothing.’ Or that the only thing that he could know with absolute certainty is that he knew nothing with certainty. This claim has been completely ignored with modern Scientism – the naïve view that our descriptive account of the world is “reality” as it really (really, really) exists. There is a type of laughable smallness in this – the smallness of a child who believes he is big. Scientists will say “but we know so much!” routinely ignoring entirely the claims of the skeptics, of those such as Descartes, Hume and the Greek Skeptics.
In a way, the certainty of our “reality” and the “objective” or “self-evidently true” moral and political claims of our society are the gods that aspiring minds are “executed” for doubting in the form of ostracism and told to apologize for in the form of forced conformity and reduction of potential. For a strong and yearning mind wants to explore, to play with possibilities and can handle the oceans of doubt that the small and weak minded populous of humanity is afraid of – instead taking shelter on the shores of alleged certainty, whether it be of faith or science.
The fact that if a child asks a parent a philosophical question, mainly will respond with either ignorance or hostility shows the lack of wisdom in our society – in both knowledge and sentiment. Most are unwise not simply because they lack knowledge (this could easily be repaired with the correct legislation) but because they lack the reflectiveness (in regard to the intellectual) and activeness (in regard to the moral) which exhibits an appreciation for the higher capacities and potentials of the human soul – both intellectually and morally.
Skepticism and compassion, skepticism in the descriptive realm of existence and compassion in the normative, are the two great virtues of humanity; we must always work on improving ourselves through them, and help others by stimulating them to explore the moral and intellectual realms of human existence. For though we can never anything about “reality” we can learn things about this world.
Now more than ever before the most impactful fact of this world is that people live on it. People live, and they exhibit behaviors, and though I can never be certain that other minds exist, because it seems to be the case, I have to act as if those who exhibit minds do in-fact have minds, because if I treated everyone as if they weren’t of moral consideration (they couldn’t really suffer) it would be far-worse than if I treated all living beings with due consideration and it turns out they never really existed the way I do.
We can observe behaviors that appear to take place in a world exterior to our own minds (regardless of whether or not my mind is generating this world; or if this world is “reality” or not – two entirely separate questions) and learn how it is that people think and feel. How they respond to certain stimuli external to them both in action and in observed feeling. We can use many things, art, politics, every day human acts of kindness, to change the world to reduce suffering which we ourselves have experienced and which we ourselves know the wretchedness of. We can learn so much about the world simply through experiencing it and reflecting upon it. We learn so much about people simply by observing them and our own internal existence – the consciousness in which we learn all things, both things interior and exterior to it.
Wisdom then is not the same as knowledge. It is instead the capacity to reflect on experience and get out of it the proper meaning that has value – the meaning that is useful to obliterating, reducing or preventing suffering. For if this is not wisdom then what can wisdom be that is useful to us? We love wisdom because it is the wise reflection that sees existence in a light that is both purposeful to us and serene in acknowledgement of the purposelessness or meaninglessness of existence. Existence is meaningless, but wisdom is meaningful, for it is wisdom that makes humans capable of generating meaning out of experience. It finds meaning in otherwise senseless sense perceptions, and uses that meaning, that interpretation of something, to act, think and experience the world in a way that reduces suffering and therefore allows both the wise and those who are influenced by the wise (whether through instruction or wise legislation) to live both more pain-free lives through ethics and more meaningful lives through the pursuit and activity of wisdom. Wisdom in its highest state acts as constant pondering, not proclaiming. Those who are the wisest are forever in the search of wisdom; forever taking their experiences and reflecting on them in a way to better understand. Forever swimming in the perhaps limitless seas of human thought, rather than living the banal life of the average on shore.
It is the wise man who both says he knows nothing about reality and is not concerned about reality but with the world. He is concerned with understanding and acting properly in the world, regardless of the fundamental nature of everything. Pragmatically there is no distinction between Materialism and Dualism. As long as one views the primary concern as getting rid of suffering, and that it is sentient beings that suffer, whether there consciousness is separate in some way from the material realm is inconsequential, as long as both parties are in agreement that what matters is knowing and acting in a way that provides desirable consequences for these desiring beings, these desiring minds.
Though it is wisdom that develops attitudes and beliefs about existence and the world, it is not the primary faculty of action. There are many faculties or motives of human action, but the primary one (arguably the only) of moral action is compassion. Many philosophers (Schopenhauer being one of the main ones) argue that only compassion can be sufficient of (so therefore would be necessary for) moral intent, for it is only when we are compassionate that we value the well-being of others for their own sake, without regard to our own. Just as it is the aesthetic mode of being, that sees existence through disinterested appreciation, so ethical mode of being is one that sees the ethical obligations towards others disinterested of the potential benefits one can gain from such actions. Art is ethical because it alleviates suffering; and Ethics is beautiful because it is a personally disinterested perception or mode of being that can still feel good – the goodness of the Good Will. But as aesthetics has us see existence as “intrinsically” good, ethics sees our world as intrinsically “potentially” good through normative claims. That is – it is the ethical view of existence which “says” that existence is not inherently good but has the inherent potential for goodness through human motives, actions and states of being that are ethical. That are focused on or embody the normative realm, which is a non-existent world where no one suffers and everyone embodies this good will of compassion and universal love for all beings.