Scientism contra Philosophy

Many people mistake knowledge for wisdom because they are intimately related, and this is unfortunate because they are quite different in an important way. Knowledge is the accumulation of facts and information. Wisdom is the synthesis of knowledge and experiences into insights that deepen one’s understanding of relationships and the meaning of life. In other words, knowledge is a tool, and wisdom is the craft in which the tool is used.

If one understands this difference, he or she will also appreciate why it is vital to properly distinguish between the two. With the Internet, it is now relatively easy for a reasonably diligent person to quickly become knowledgeable in virtually any field of his or her choosing. We are literally awash in a sea of information! But having a hammer and knowing how to use it are two entirely different propositions. A hammer is amoral. Whether it is used for good or ill depends entirely on the wielder. Sadly, history is a lengthy record of the harms wrought by knowledgeable, well-meaning people who lacked wisdom.

In contrast to knowledge, wisdom is generally considered to be morally good. Why is this the case? Albert Einstein once said, ‘Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.’ Such a process is lengthy and arduous, which teaches the pursuer patience and humility. Seldom is a person unchanged by such a trial. When one finally uncovers a connection or insight that he or she believes to be universally applicable ‘truth,’ it often inspires awe akin to a spiritual experience.

‘Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers,’ wrote Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Truths stay with a person for the rest of his or her life, coloring all subsequent thoughts and actions. Wisdom requires no law or threat of punishment to ensure compliance. The practitioner typically feels a strong compulsion to obey his or her own beliefs. The wise can still fall prey to indiscretions and questionable moral behavior–being flesh and blood like us all–however, if one tracks such statistics, the odds of such failings are likely to be very small compared to the general populace.

Society esteems the wise for their virtuosity and for their rarity. Subject matter experts number in the thousands, but the wise may only number in the tens or hundreds. And history records their names and achievements for posterity’s sake.

. . . . .

This critical insight is brought to you by Justarius of

If scientific method is only one form of a general method employed in all human inquiry, how is it that the results of science are more reliable than what is provided by these other forms? I think the answer is that science deals with highly quantified variables and that it is the precision of its results that supplies this reliability. But make no mistake: Quantified precision is not to be confused with a superior method of thinking.

– James Blachowicz, The New York Times

See Also

Hawking contra Philosophy

The Parable of the Arrow


The Buddha was sitting in the park when his disciple Malunkyaputta approached him. Malunkyaputta had recently retired from the world and he was concerned that so many things remained unexplained by the Buddha. Was the world eternal or not eternal? Was the soul different from the body? Did the enlightened exist after death or not? He thought, “If the Buddha does not explain these things to me, I will give up this training and return to worldly life.”

Thus, he approached the Buddha with this question, who replied:

It’s just as if a man were wounded with an arrow thickly smeared with poison. His friends and companions, kinsmen and relatives would provide him with a surgeon, and the man would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know whether the man who wounded me was a noble warrior, a priest, a merchant, or a worker.’ He would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know the given name and clan name of the man who wounded me… until I know whether he was tall, medium, or short… until I know whether he was dark, ruddy-brown, or golden-colored… until I know his home village, town, or city… until I know whether the bow with which I was wounded was a long bow or a crossbow… until I know whether the bowstring with which I was wounded was fiber, bamboo threads, sinew, hemp, or bark… until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was wild or cultivated… until I know whether the feathers of the shaft with which I was wounded were those of a vulture, a stork, a hawk, a peacock, or another bird… until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was bound with the sinew of an ox, a water buffalo, a langur, or a monkey.’ He would say, ‘I won’t have this arrow removed until I know whether the shaft with which I was wounded was that of a common arrow, a curved arrow, a barbed, a calf-toothed, or an oleander arrow.’ The man would die and those things would still remain unknown to him.

Whether the view is held that the world is eternal or not, Malunkyaputta, there is still birth, old age, death, grief, suffering, sorrow and despair – and these can be destroyed in this life! I have not explained these other things because they are not useful, they are not conducive to tranquility and Nirvana. What I have explained is suffering, the cause of suffering, the destruction of suffering and the path that leads to the destruction of suffering. This is useful, leading to non-attachment, the absence of passion, perfect knowledge.

Thus spoke the Buddha, and with joy Malunkyaputta applauded his words.

– Majjhima-nikaya, Sutta 63