Summary of 'Knowledge and Wisdom' by Bertrand Russell

Summary of Knowledge and Wisdom Writer, Bertrand Russell

Summary of Knowledge and Wisdom Writer, Bertrand Russell

Main Summary [Brief]

In this essay, Russell differentiates between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge and wisdom are different things. According to him, knowledge is defined as the acquisition of data and information, while wisdom is defined as the practical application and use of knowledge to create value. Wisdom is gained through learning and practical experience, not just memorization. 

Major Word Meanings of this Essay

proportion (n.): a part or share of a whole 

absorb (v.): to take, draw or suck something in 

distorting (v.): pull or twist out of shape 

inculcate (v.): implant, infuse, instil 

bound up (v.): to limit something 

fanatical (adj.): a person who is too enthusiastic about something 

Bertrand Russell

Bertrand Arthur William Russell (1872–1970) was a British philosopher, logician, essayist and social critic best known for his work in mathematical logic and analytic philosophy. His most influential contributions include his championing of logicism (the view that mathematics is in some important sense reducible to logic), his refining of Gottlob Frege’s predicate calculus (which still forms the basis of most contemporary systems of logic), his defence of neutral monism (the view that the world consists of just one type of substance which is neither exclusively mental nor exclusively physical), and his theories of definite descriptions, logical atomism and logical types.

Summary

“Never mistake knowledge for wisdom. One helps you make a living; the other helps you make a life.”

– Sandra Carey

Knowledge and wisdom are different things. According to Russell, knowledge is defined as the acquisition of data and information, while wisdom is defined as the practical application and use of knowledge to create value. Wisdom is gained through learning and practical experience, not just memorization.

A sense of proportion is very much necessary for wisdom. By inventing medicine, a scientist may reduce the infant death rate. Apparently, it leads to a population explosion and a shortage of food. The standard of life comes down. If misused, knowledge of atoms can lead humans to destruction by manufacturing a nuclear weapon.

Knowledge without wisdom can be harmful. Even complete knowledge is not enough. For example, Hegel wrote with great knowledge about history but made the Germans believe that they were a master race. It led to war. It is necessary, therefore to combine knowledge with feelings.

We need wisdom both in public and private life. We need the wisdom to decide on the goal of our life. We need it to free ourselves from personal prejudices. Wisdom is needed to avoid dislike for one another. Two persons may remain enemies because of their prejudice. They may become friends if they can be told that we all have flaws.

Question Answer

a. What are the factors that contribute to wisdom? 

Ans: - In the essay “Knowledge and Wisdom”, Bertrand Russell talks about several factors that contribute to wisdom. According to him, the factors that contribute to wisdom are :

i) a sense of proportion, 

ii) comprehensiveness with broad feeling, 

iii) emancipation from personal prejudices and tyranny of sensory perception, 

iv) impartiality and

v) awareness of human needs and understanding. 

b. What message does the writer try to convey with the examples of technicians? 

Ans: - Russell has given some examples of technicians to convey the message that lone technical knowledge can be harmful to humankind if that knowledge is applied without wisdom. They can't find out how their knowledge in one field can be harmful in another field. For example, the discovery of medicine to decrease the infant mortality rate can cause population growth and food scarcity. Similarly, the knowledge of atomic theory can be misused in making atom bombs. 

c. Which leaders does Russell say were able to mix knowledge and wisdom soundly? 

Ans: - According to Russell, Queen Elizabeth I in England, Henry IV in France and Abraham Lincoln can mix knowledge and wisdom soundly. Queen Elizabeth I and Henry IV remained free from the errors of their time being Global Trade Starts Here Alibaba.com unaffected by the conflict between the Protestants and the Catholics. Similarly, Abraham Lincoln conducted a great war without ever departing from wisdom. 

d. Why is the wisdom needed not only in public ways but in private life equally? 

Ans: - Wisdom is not only needed in public ways but also used in private life equally. It is needed in the choice of ends to be pursued and in emancipation from personal prejudice. In a lack of wisdom, we may fail in choosing the target of our life and we may not have sufficient patience and sufficient persuasiveness in convincing people. 

e. What, according to Russell, is the true aim of education? 

Ans: - The true aim of education, according to Russell, is installing wisdom in people. It is wisdom that makes us utilize our knowledge in practical life purposefully without doing any harm to humankind. Along with knowledge, people must have the wisdom to be good citizens. 

f. Can wisdom be taught? If so, how? 

Ans: - Yes, wisdom can be taught. The teaching of wisdom should have a larger intellectual element than moral instruction. The disastrous results of hatred and narrow-mindedness to those who feel them can be pointed out incidentally in the course of giving knowledge. For example, while teaching the composition of an atom, the disastrous results of it must be taught to eliminate its misuse such as making an atom bomb. Reference to the Context Answer the following questions. 

a. According to Russell, “The Pursuit of Knowledge may become harmful unless it is combined with wisdom.” Justify this statement. 

Ans: - Humans are curious creatures who always want to learn new things. Most people have spent their whole lives in pursuit of knowledge. Some pieces of knowledge are noble and beneficial for humans whereas some pieces of knowledge are harmful to us. The knowledge which is combined with wisdom is useful for us because it addresses the total needs of mankind. The knowledge of atomic composition has become harmful to mankind because it is used in making bombs.

Similarly, Hegal, though he had great knowledge about history, made the Germans believe that they were a master race. It led to the great disastrous wars. So, it is necessary to combine knowledge with the feeling of humanity. We need an event to decide the aim of our life. It makes us free from personal prejudices. Even noble things are applied unwisely in the lack of wisdom

b. What, according to Russell, is the essence of wisdom? And how can one acquire the very essence? 

Ans: - According to Russell, the essence of wisdom is emancipation from the tyranny of being partiality. It makes our thoughts and feeling less personal and less concerned with our physical states. It is wisdom that makes us care and love the entire human race, it takes us into the higher stage of spirituality. It makes us able to make the right decision, and install a broad vision and unbiasedness in our minds. We can acquire the very essence by breaking the chain of the egoism of our senses, understanding the ends of human life, applying our knowledge wisely for the benefit of humans, finding noble and attainable goals of our life, controlling our sensory perceptions, being impartial gradually and loving others. 

Reference Beyond the Text 

a. Why is wisdom necessary in education? Discuss.

Ans: It is wisdom that makes our minds broad and unbiased. When we gain wisdom, our thoughts and feelings become less personal. It makes us use our knowledge wisely. It helps us to utilize our knowledge for the benefit of humankind. When we have wisdom we love even our enemy, we completely get rid of ego, and we don't have any kind of prejudices.

If education/knowledge is one part of human life then wisdom is another part. If one compasses these both parts appropriately, then s/he becomes a perfect being. The goal of education is not only to impart knowledge but also to create good citizens. People may misuse the acquired knowledge if they don't have wisdom and it doesn't come automatically, it must be taught. It must be one of the goals of education and must be taught in schools. It must be planted and nursed in one's mind with practical examples. 

Understanding the Text 

a. What are the factors that contribute to wisdom? 

b. What message does the writer try to convey with the example of technicians?

c. Which leaders does Russell say were able to mix knowledge and wisdom soundly?

d. Why is the wisdom needed not only in public ways but in private life equally? 

e. What, according to Russell, is the true aim of education? 

f. Can wisdom be taught? If so, how? 

g. Why does the world need more wisdom in the future? Reference to the context 

a. According to Russel, “The pursuit of knowledge may become harmful unless it is combined with wisdom.” Justify this statement. 

b. What, according to Russell, is the essence of wisdom? And how can one acquire the very essence? 

Reference beyond the text 

a. Why is wisdom necessary in education? Discuss. 

b. How can you become wise? Do you think what you are doing in college contributes to wisdom? 

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