With age comes wisdom? Maybe...or maybe not. | Collège universitaire dominicain

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With age comes wisdom? Maybe...or maybe not.

jeudi, 10 Juillet 2014

By Maxime Allard O.P.

Bust of Aristotle and drawing of Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom

“Wise old…”–hum!!

                One hears that wisdom comes with experience. Youth would not be a time for wisdom! That would be Greek wisdom… and its bourgeois avatar! At the other end of the spectrum, one also hears of the wise comments of the very young ones, of the ones that have remained “child-like”! These little ones would be like Jesus, the teenager, in the Temple (Luke 2, 46-47)! They have not been corrupted by life, disgruntled by sad and traumatic experiences. There is freshness! This would be a certain Christian wisdom… and its contemporary bourgeois avatars!

                The “old” are not necessarily wise. One should meditate Aristotle’s description of their social emotions in his second book of the Rhetoric! The “young” are not necessarily wise either. Check out the same book of the Rhetoric! Aristotle was very realistic in his view of the strengths and weakness of character that one generally finds in youth and in seniors! Wisdom does not come with age nor is it something that pops up, intermittently, in little ingénues! Wisdom requires meditating on what one has felt, seen, learned. It requires a meditation that questions critically! And, however good and praised a reflexive-life might be (at least since Socrates’ time), on the whole, one is quite content to live on without the exhausting thought process. Precipitation, inconsistency and neglect are quite common vices[1]… in all periods and walks of human life.

                In Sophocles’ tragedy, Creon, old, controlling, power-hungry, disillusioned, has no more wisdom than young, utopian, vibrant, righteous Antigone, whichever interpretation you choose to give to their encounter, confrontation, collision, fatal dialogue.[2] But there lies a road for us to explore.

Antigone stands before Polynices

                Wisdom is a question of disposition. But, let’s not give in to romantic images of dialogue. Wisdom comes from agonic debates where the protagonists dare listen to both Creons and Antigones of this world! Life and death situations might be at stake… and their impact on family, social and political aspects of the human experience. In that sense, one does not become wise alone. Inscription in a community of debates between men and women is required. Confrontations of old and young people are not to be avoided. Tough–often unsatisfactory and unfair–struggles and decisions are unavoidable between the rich and the poor. Why? Because wisdom is not primordially the accumulation of truths, of universal principles and of exemplary stories or fables. In that sense, wisdom is not the fruit of speculative reason’s feats or of history’s meditated “lessons”. Wisdom is, foremost, a breath of vision that aims at orchestrating concrete and diverse possibilities in a torn world. It is doing this without being limited to the “application” of one set of immutable principles. In music, one may choose to orchestrate like Bach, Mozart, Wagner, Strauss or like Schönberg, Webern or Boulez! The wise one will be able to figure out which orchestration is appropriate when and for whom and to what end!

                Some get to this point quickly. Some painstakingly make it. Some never get it! Engaging oneself in philosophy or theology – amongst other university disciplines and experiences – may help one on the way!


[1] Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, IIaIIae, q. 53 and 54.

[2] Sophocles, Antigone and G. Steiner, Antigones: How the Antigone Legend has Endured in Western Literature, Art, and Thought, Oxford, 1986.