Knowledge And Wisdom. Bertrand Russell Essay. Reintroduced By P. S. Remesh Chandran.
Editor, Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum.
Bertrand Russell was a British philosopher who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950. Roads To Freedom, Principia Mathematica, Marriage And Morals, The Conquest Of Happiness, etc, are a few of his famous writings. Here he distinguishes between and defines knowledge and wisdom. Life experiences of a person process his knowledge into wisdom. Knowledge, comprehensive vision, pursuit of purpose, emancipation or freedom and impartiality in opinions and views are what constitute wisdom.
Wisdom evolves from comprehensive vision and sense of proportion. Knowledge may sometimes lead to unwisdom.
Knowledge and wisdom are different things. Wisdom does not come immediately with knowledge. As Tennyson observed, ‘Knowledge comes but wisdom lingers.’ Knowledge may sometimes even lead to unwisdom to illustrate which Russell cites two excellent examples. When man attained enough knowledge to lower the death rate among infants, population increased, food supplies became short and standard of living declined. Thus lowering the death rate of children, in his opinion, was a mistake on the part of medical specialists. Military specialists also have landed in many such follies. When man invented the technique of splitting atom, everyone began to think that mountains could now be moved and the course of rivers and that of history could be changed. But instead of using this new gained knowledge for useful and beneficial purposes, man began to manufacture nuclear weapons. Even after witnessing the horrible mass genocides caused by them, even the advanced as well as the barbarian countries of the world still go on manufacturing them. One day they will wipe out the human race from the face of the earth. Wisdom does not come with knowledge. These are the evil effects of specialization in singular subjects. It is from a comprehensive vision and sense of proportion that wisdom evolves.
It is a distorted history that tells nothing about Mao’s deflowering dozens of girls each week and termination of revolutionaries in Lenin’s time.
A proper knowledge of human history also is needed to gain wisdom. Some history writings we see are distorted ones, fabricated with a view to inculcate some particular feelings or passions among people. People who wrote about Lenin were totally blind to the cruel political assassinations of his times, which gave rise to the ‘theory of revolutions eating out its own children’ evidenced by the death of Trotsky. Worshippers of Mao Tse Tung remained silent about the innocent peasant girls the chairman deflowered each week, as was revealed by the repentant personal physician. Had these acts also were recorded accurately by his historians along with the bold and unending marches of this revolutionary through the incessant rains, we sometimes may have even respected the man, out of the knowledge that he was not a god but only a man. It should be noted here that the greatest sins committed by Gandhi came to the world’s attention not by his opponents mentioning them but from his own autobiography which was rightly titled My Experiments With Truth. Gandhi never hesitated to tell the story of his stealing the gold bangle of his house servant to purchase liquor in his boyhood years. We only respect this people’s leader for the frankness and truthfulness with which he recorded his own follies. That is his greatness and India’s example. That is how and why it came to be written in India’s official seal ‘Truth Alone Will Triumph’ when India became independent. Great men were always truthful in recording their follies. Along with English economics and French socialism, German philosophy served as one of the three origins of Marxism. Hegel was the most followed in the field of German philosophy. Hegel wrote history to prove that the Germans were a master race from the time memorable. Such distorted recordings of history lead to unwisdom and destruction.
To set apart two quarrelling friends would be an act of wisdom. Fill your private life with such small acts of wisdom.
Wisdom has a key role to play in the private life of a man. Man except on rare occasions fails to see his future in advance. He seldom knows what the future has in store for him. He has to live beneficial to the world. Since mankind is a collective reality, animosity among its members cannot help it achieve the benefits of living. By practicing universal brotherhood alone can man gain wisdom and live beneficial to the world and its inhabitants. So, to set apart two quarrelling friends would be an act of wisdom. ‘If you can do this, you will have instilled some fragment of wisdom’, writes Russell. Our private life should be filled with such little acts of wisdom. But millions of men, instead of going after this well defined objective in their lives, have searched for the philosophers’ stone and wasted their lives. No doubt, if they could have found them they would have conferred great benefits on mankind, but it was their lives that were wasted. Russell warns us that we should not waste our lives on such impossible philosophical feats; we should instead fill it with small acts of wisdom. As we grow older we will gain more impartiality. Our horizon will widen. Our thoughts and feelings will become less personal and more detached from our own physical state. It is that stage in human life, which Shakespeare in his poem The Seven Stages Of Man’s Life described as the stage in which man begins to think and act like a judge. Thus we gradually become freed of all selfish motives but begin to think more for the society than for ourselves. According to Russell, this emancipation or freedom from selfishness is the essence of wisdom.
Sunday schools cannot supply wisdom. They can only supplement wisdom if we already have some.
Wisdom can be taught like any other virtue. Even though we are born unwise which we cannot help, we can cultivate wisdom. Sunday schools are not supposed to supply wisdom; they can only supplement wisdom if we already have some. They can only make wise men wiser. Thus, moral instruction and the teaching of wisdom differ much. Wisdom should be planted and nursed in one’s own mind. We are living in a war-stricken world which needs wisdom as it never has needed before. Therefore wisdom should be taught by any means. We cannot al be good Samaritans to our neighbours, but we can certainly reduce our hatred to others. It should be noted here that even nations are now unable to reduce their hatred to other nations. The Russian communists find they are unable to remain good Samaritans to the American anti-communists. But in the midst of all this mayhem and national hatred, a single man can remain wise when the whole world goes unwise.
It is the music lovers and film goers that keep the nations going and standing, not short-living intolerant governments.
So, ‘Hate Hatred’ should be our slogan. It is indecent for a government to show hatred to other nations or to its people because this world and the humanity in it is built up based on the principles and forces of harmony. But the short-sighted puny little minds that are the governments in many countries cannot understand this as they are nowhere near the much dreamt about concept of Plato’s Philosopher Kings. In many sister nations, even if the people like each other in their hearts, their governments cultivate animosity and hatred. We can point out dozens of modern day examples. The governments of India and Pakistan shout at each other and conduct war rehearsals but the Indian music lovers worship Habib Wali Muhammed, Mirza Ghalib, Fareeda Khanum, Gul Bahar Bano, Iqbal Bano, Munni Begum, Roshan Ara Begum and Salman Alvi who are the luminaries among the Pakistani Ghazal singers, many of them the stars of the undivided India. And Indian film stars like Devanand, Sunil Dutt, Narghese, Raj Kapoor and Amitab Batchan are the favourites of Pakistani film goers. Both governments view these admirers and fans suspiciously, but in the long run, it is not these short-living governments but these admirers and fans of music, literature and films who keep these nations going and standing. That is the importance and relevance of a single man’s stand in the midst of national lunacy. It is when such singular wisdom happened to fuse uniquely with vigour of action that the world was saved several times from near peril.
Powerful personalities in history who combined vigour of action and wisdom and saved the world.
In history we see many examples of active vigour in fusion with wisdom, forming powerful personalities, saving the world. We see Moses in The Bible, professing the Ten Commandments before a people too seduced to be saved. Queen Elizabeth the First in England, King Henry the Fourth in France and Abraham Lincoln in America were very impressive personalities who fused vigour with wisdom and fought the evil. The world has had the luck to have many such personalities in among her people. Abraham Lincoln even conducted a civil war without ever departing from wisdom. It was his vigour of action and wisdom which helped him abolish slavery and prevent the Northern and the Southern states of America from separating in that civil war.
[Originally Prepared in 1995]
If you cannot access all pages of P.S.Remesh Chandran, Editor, Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum, kindly access them via this link provided here:
To read about the life and people of Kerala, the author’s native land, visit KERALA COMMENTARY here.
Bertrand Russell, Boyhood Days Of Gandhi, British Philosophers, British Writers, Distorted History, English Essays, Falsified History, Frankness Of Leaders, Knowledge, Knowledge And Wisdom, P S Remesh Chandran, People Of India And Pakistan, Philosophical Writings, Political Killings In Lenins Time, Reintroduced Literature, Sahyadri Books And Bloom Books Trivandrum, The Death Of Trotsky, Threat Of Nuclear Weapons, Truth Alone Will Triumph, Truthfulness Of World Leaders, Virtues And Vices Of Mao, Wisdom
Meet the author
Editor of Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum. Author of several books in English and in Malayalam. And also author of ‘Swan, The Intelligent Picture Book’. Unmarried and single. Born and brought up in Nanniyode, a little village in the Sahya Mountain Ranges.
Share this page