Book 6: The Intellectual Virtues.

Chapter 7: (5) Of wisdom as the union of science and intuitive reason. Comparison of the two intellectual virtues, wisdom and prudence.

The term σοϕία (wisdom) is sometimes applied in the domain of the arts to those who are consummate masters of their art; e.g. it is applied to Phidias as a master of sculpture, and to Polyclitus for his skill in portrait-statues; and in this application it means nothing else than excellence of art or perfect development of the artistic faculty.

But there are also men who are considered wise, not in part nor in any particular thing (as Homer says in the Margites—

“Him the gods gave no skill with spade or plough,

Nor made him wise in aught”),

but generally wise. In this general sense, then, wisdom plainly will be the most perfect of the sciences.

The wise man, then, must not only know what follows from the principles of knowledge, but also know the truth about those principles. Wisdom, therefore, will be the union of [intuitive] reason with [demonstrative] scientific knowledge, or scientific knowledge of the noblest objects with its crowning perfection, so to speak, added to it. For it would be absurd to suppose that the political faculty or prudence is the highest of our faculties, unless indeed man is the best of all things in the universe.

Now, as the terms wholesome and good mean one thing in the case of men and another in the case of fishes, while white and straight always have the same meaning, we must all allow that wise means one thing always, while prudent means different things; for we should all say that those who are clear-sighted in their own affairs are prudent, and deem them fit to be entrusted with those affairs. (And for this reason we sometimes apply the term prudent even to animals, when they show a faculty of foresight in what concerns their own life.)

Moreover, it is plain that wisdom cannot be the same as statesmanship. If we apply the term wisdom to knowledge of what is advantageous to ourselves, there will be many kinds of wisdom; for the knowledge of what is good will not be one and the same for all animals, but different for each species. It can no more be one than the art of healing can be one and the same for all kinds of living things.

Man may be superior to all other animals, but that will not make any difference here; for there are other things of a far diviner nature than man, as—to take the most conspicuous instance—the heavenly bodies.

It is plain, then, after what we have said, that wisdom is the union of scientific [or demonstrative] knowledge and [intuitive] reason about objects of the noblest nature.

And on this account people call Anaxagoras and Thales and men of that sort wise, but not prudent, seeing them to be ignorant of their own advantage; and say that their knowledge is something out of the common, wonderful, hard of attainment, nay superhuman, but useless, since it is no human good that they seek.

Prudence, on the other hand, deals with human affairs, and with matters that admit of deliberation: for the prudent man’s special function, as we conceive it, is to deliberate well; but no one deliberates about what is invariable, or about matters in which there is not some end, in the sense of some realizable good. But a man is said to deliberate well (without any qualifying epithet) when he is able, by a process of reasoning or calculation, to arrive at what is best for man in matters of practice.

Prudence, moreover, does not deal in general propositions only, but implies knowledge of particular facts also; for it issues in action, and the field of action is the field of particulars.

This is the reason why some men that lack [scientific] knowledge are more efficient in practice than others that have it, especially men of wide experience; for if you know that light meat is digestible and wholesome, but do not know what meats are light, you will not be able to cure people so well as a man who only knows that chicken is light and wholesome.

But prudence is concerned with practice; so that it needs knowledge both of general truths and of particular facts, but more especially the latter.

But here also [i.e. in the domain of practice] there must be a supreme form of the faculty [which we will now proceed to consider].


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