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Knowledge, Wisdom, and the Philosopher

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 February 2006

Daniel A. Kaufman
Missouri State University


The overarching thesis of this essay is that despite the etymological relationship between the word ‘philosophy’ and wisdom—the word ‘philosophos’, in Greek, means ‘lover of wisdom’—and irrespective of the longstanding tradition of identifying philosophers with ‘wise men’—mainline philosophy, historically, has had little interest in wisdom and has been preoccupied primarily with knowledge. Philosophy, if we are speaking of the mainline tradition, has had and continues to have more in common with the natural and social sciences than it does with the humanities and liberal arts.

In advancing this thesis, I divide the history of philosophy into three competing traditions: the mainline tradition of philosophy and two philosophical ‘countercultures,’ one conservative the other radical. At issue between these rival traditions is precisely the relative significance of knowledge and wisdom and their respective places in inquiry. I also provide an account of the distinction between knowledge and wisdom—which I argue is greater than has perhaps been appreciated—and between the natural and applied sciences, on the one hand, and the humanities and liberal arts on the other.

Research Article
The Royal Institute of Philosophy 2006

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