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November 2015

Wisdom, Truth, And Nothing In The Way

By Jose-Miguel Rosillo-Cevallos

0. Introduction
I argue that for wisdom to be truth, it must acknowledge the value of both
conversation and contemplation, without neglecting one for the other, such that
dialectics and aesthetics are recognized as the complementary components of

1. How is wisdom truth?

1.1. What is wisdom? What is reason? Why is wisdom reason?
"Reason is a mental operation capable of distinguishing and connecting the
things that are learned." This is how Augustine begins the eleventh chapter of De
Ordine, a work the title of which is translated to English as "On Order". He dedicates
much of the rest of De Ordine to elucidating the nature and implications of reason.
He highlights what he takes to be the two primary activities of reason: analysis
and synthesis. Analysis consists of dividing a whole into parts in order to better see the
relation of the parts to each other and to the whole. Synthesis consists of unifying
separate wholes as parts of a greater whole, so as to accomplish a completeness of parts
and relations. Augustine's project is "to grasp the order of things", and he takes reason
to be his primary tool and subject.
He states in section 33 of chapter 11 that "a purposeful act is the characteristic of
a rational animal". This is useful to us because it sheds light on what he means by
reason. He assumes a definition of "Man [as] an animal, rational and mortal" (section 31,
chapter 11) and takes mortality to be the soul's fall and reason its rise. Augustine
explains reason as that which makes man purposeful, both in being and in doing.
Reason, in other words, endows things with an origin and a direction.
So much for Augustine's concept. I will now introduce mine: wisdom. Wisdom
is knowledge of ignorance. A person is wise insofar as they recognize true knowledge,
which requires knowledge of its absence. This notion of wisdom is valuable because it
amounts to an honest relationship with reality, which in turn constitutes a happy

We may now ask how my idea of wisdom corresponds with Augustine's idea of
reason. In fact, they must be one and the same. Reason as Augustine conceives it is
what I call wisdom because they are both in essence an awareness of distinctions. To
see a part as a part is to know ignorance of its whole, which is the recognition of true

1. How is wisdom truth?

1.2. What is truth? What is number? Why is truth number?
Augustine presents number as the supreme organizing principle. In section 44
of chapter 15, for example, when describing the cause for geometry and astrology, he
says reason ...realized that nothing pleased it but beauty; and in beauty, design; and in
design, dimensions; and in dimensions, number, and ...understood that nothing
other than dimension and number held sway.
In the same vein, he mentions rhythm and harmony in his explanations of
beauty in sound and sight. For instance, in section 40 of chapter 14, he defines rhythm
as ...whatever was not restricted by a definite limit, and yet ran according to
methodically arranged feet and then goes on to declare that ...in Latin this can be
called nothing other than number.
Crucially, what he seems to respect most about number is the fact that it is
unchanging. From section 50 in chapter 19: The ratio was no truer yesterday than
today, nor will it be truer tomorrow or a year hence. Even if the whole world should
fall in ruins, that ratio will always necessarily be: it will always be such as it is now.
Furthermore, in section 41 of chapter 14 he states: And because whatever the mind is
able to see is always present and is acknowledged to be immortal, numeric proportions
seemed to be of this nature.
We may reasonably infer, then, that for all intents and purposes Augustine
takes number to be that which exists independently of space and time, that which does
not change. Number for Augustine is absolute truth. And this is where my notion of
truth comes in: I here take truth to only count as such when it is absolute, necessary,
objective in short, when it is as Augustine characterizes number.

There is a case to be made for insight via relativity, contingency, and

subjectivity. But I contend that it is inaccurate to limit the word truth to them. The
meaning of truth is diluted when it is used to refer exclusively to things that are so
fundamentally antithetical to the reason we have such a term in the first place, which
is to remind us of the existence of something that stands separate from fallibility;
something we can trust without question or pause.

2. How is wisdom not truth?

2.1. What is lie? What is sense data? Why is lie sense data?
Every positive implies a negative. Truth is no exception. If truth is number
objective, absolute, necessary lie is the subjective, the relative, the unnecessary. This
is my conception of not-truth and it happens to coincide with Augustines conception
of knowledge from sense perception.
Augustine repeatedly shuns the information received from our senses as
unreliable, and even counterproductive, in the effort to understand order. He not only
dismisses it as devoid of independent value; he condemns it for distracting the
philosopher from numeric purity. In section 30 from chapter 11 he cautions that ...for
anyone who has advanced towards objects of sense, it is difficult to return to himself.,
and in section 39 from chapter 14 he says of reason that It longed for a beauty which it
alone could by itself behold without these eyes of ours; but it was impeded by the
Sense data includes all information obtained by means of sight, sound, taste,
touch, or smell. But Augustine distinguishes vision and hearing from the rest. He
argues that since reason ...proceeds from a rational soul into reasonable things which
are done or spoken (Ch 11 Sec 31), there are ...therefore two things wherein the faculty
and power of reason can even be brought before the senses. Namely, the works of man
which are seen and his words which are heard. (Ch 11 Sec 32). So he wishes to say that
sight and sound are different from the rest because rational action is visible and
rational speech is audible, thus making them vehicles for numeric truth. The problem,
of course, is that they nevertheless retain the negative epistemic attributes of sense
data. Words and actions, although they may represent timeless ideas, are still no more

than words and actions, subject to the blind vicissitudes of fortune. In other words,
although they can be useful representations, they cannot also be what they represent.
We should take a moment here to reflect on what it means for something to be
a lie, beyond the three aforementioned qualities. Put simply, it is a not-truth. And, as
such, it is apt to provide insight into truth. If we know what is truth, we know also to
that extent what is not. Knowledge of truth implies knowledge of not-truth because
the one is defined as the absence of the other. Couldnt it be, then, that a lie, a nottruth, might serve the same function that a truth would? In other words, wouldnt
knowledge of the absence of truth come necessarily accompanied by knowledge of
what would constitute its presence? And would this not be wisdom? My point here is
that to recognize a lie for what it is, requires a recognition of it for what it is not.
Therefore, lie reveals truth.

2. How is wisdom not truth?

2.2. What is aesthetics? What is wrong reason? Why is aesthetics wrong reason?
Augustine distinguishes between what is rational and what is reasonable. The
rational is that which produces the reasonable, and the reasonable is that which is
produced by the rational. Reason is the activity whereby the rational results in the
reasonable. An example is a good architect drawing a good blueprint; the architect
may be called rational and the blueprint reasonable.
He then lists three primary categories for the reasonable: action, discourse, and
meditation. In his own words: The first admonishes us to do nothing without purpose;
the second, to teach correctly; the last, to find delight in contemplation. The first deals
with right living; the other two, with those branches of learning which we are now
considering. It is at this point that I wish to connect Augustines ideas with mine. I
established earlier that wisdom, the knowledge of ignorance, is reason, number. We
now find him proposing what I take to be the most efficiently comprehensive
distinction one could make for the nature of reason namely, the difference between
theory and practice. Practice he reduces to action, simply enough. Then, to clarify the
nature of theory, he employs yet another masterful classification: discourse and
meditation. This subcategorization successfully encompasses the interplay of elements
involved in learning. On the one hand, learning is an iterative process of giving and
receiving new information, with oneself and/or with others. This is also called
dialectics. On the other hand, learning involves wonder, and it amounts to plainvanilla appreciation. This is aesthetics.
Now we may ask what wrong reason is. We have already defined reason as the
activity whereby the rational results in the reasonable, which occurs primarily by

means of analysis and synthesis. What we need now, then, is a version of this that
retains the characteristic of being reason but in such a way that it creates a dichotomy
with room for both right and wrong. I propose that such a dichotomy already exists in
the current formulation: analysis versus synthesis. Analysis is right reason whereas
synthesis is wrong reason. But why, you might ask, should we call one right and the
other wrong? What does the wrongness of synthesis signify? Does it mean it should be
avoided? Not exactly. It is merely the necessary side two of the coin. We can more
helpfully characterize it as folly. Synthesis is unification, such that it pretends to
understand how the parts fit together to form a fully coherent whole. Clearly, however,
those who claim such knowledge are fooling themselves. There can be no true
synthesis because it would require total knowledge, nothing left out. Otherwise, its
just another analysis, another tracing of imaginary lines along the underlying
seamlessness of reality. In short, incomplete synthesis is not actually synthesis.
And what is aesthetics if not synthesis? Contemplation is, in a sense, arrogant,
because it presupposes the capacity to see a whole. But in truth there is only one
whole, and that is totality. Yet totality is not conceivable, let alone perceivable. This is
perhaps what Augustine referred to when he said in section 47 of chapter 18 that the
soul has no knowledge [of the very Author of the universe] save to know how it
knows him not. Thus, aesthetics is wrong reason.

3. How is wisdom truth?

3.1. What is dialectics? What is right reason? Why is dialectics right reason?
As we have said, dialectics is the iterative process of giving and receiving new
information, with oneself and/or with others. Augustine characterizes it in section 38 of
chapter 13 as the discipline of disciplines, the method by which reason comes to
know itself. Reason, then, comes to know its own resources its tools and machines
by engaging in discourse with itself. Recall what reason is: the mental operation
capable of distinguishing and connecting the things that are learned." And it operates
as a concert of analysis and synthesis. How else would it achieve self-knowledge, other
than by itself undergoing the very division and addition to which it subjects things?
And what other form could this auto-dissection take, if not the shape of conversation?
Discourse is, ultimately, the only way to increase the precision of concepts, since the
exchange of information entails (and is entailed by) changes in relative levels of
knowledge and ignorance.
Right reason is the analytic portion of the full concept of reason. Reason is the
activity by which the rational creates the reasonable, and the right version of it is the
one that actually does it. As we saw in the previous section, synthesis is wrong reason
because it does not represent an example of an activity by which the rational creates
the reasonable, but rather one whereby we encounter a certain level of irrationality,
unreasonableness, or both.
Dialectics is right reason because it limits itself to giving and receiving new
information without prescribing a need for it to be consolidated. Instead, conversation
flows back and forth in permanent search mode.

4. Conclusion
The driving question for the argument forwarded here is whether wisdom is
truth. To answer it, we ask two organizing questions: first, how is wisdom truth?;
second, how is wisdom not truth?. The purpose of this inquiry is to arrive at a useful
conception of comprehension.
Section 1 answers the question of how wisdom is truth by analyzing the
concepts of wisdom and truth, reason and number, and then synthesizing them to
produce the concepts of wisdom as reason and truth as number. The further synthesis
of these two concepts, however, does not become apparent until Section 3.
Section 2.1 answers the question of how wisdom is not truth by equating lie
with sense data and reframing not truth as not-truth, a necessary and therefore
commensurately useful implication of truth.
Section 2.2 then introduces an analysis of reason itself, which complicates the
simplicity of Section 1 by distinguishing between reason as a theoretical activity and
reason as a practical activity, and dividing the theoretical portion into right and wrong,
dialectics and aesthetics, respectively. After this account of how wisdom is not truth (in
the sense that it is partly comprised of wrong reason, which is sense data), Section 3
completes the picture by explaining how wisdom is also comprised of right reason,
which is number.
By proposing both positive and negative answers to our guiding question, the
investigation is more insightfully presented. The argument takes the structure of a
simple dichotomous analysis that reveals the duality of unity, and implies its own
perfect synthesis there is, after all, nothing in the way.