Scholars, get wise, not just smart

May 12, 2006

Universities should help people acquire wisdom rather than knowledge - this is the rallying cry of a growing band of academics who want to revolutionise the nature of academic inquiry.

Friends of Wisdom, a group of scholars from across the world, argues that the preoccupation with accumulating knowledge is flawed and that the higher aim must be to apply such knowledge to benefit society.

Members of the association believe that academic work should help humanity acquire more wisdom, which they defined as "the capacity to realise what is of value in life, for oneself and others".

Friends of Wisdom was started by Nicholas Maxwell, emeritus reader in philosophy of science at University College London. He said: "We hope to transform universities so that their basic aim becomes to help people realise what's of value in life - wisdom. That would include technical knowhow and understanding, but also other things as well.

"If the basic aim really is to help promote human welfare, then the problems that need to be solved are fundamentally problems of living, not problems of knowledge," Mr Maxwell said.

The pursuit of knowledge was important, but it was secondary to acquiring wisdom, he added. The Friends of Wisdom want universities to help people challenge politicians by raising public debate and giving individuals the power that comes from having the highest quality education.

"They must also promote a truly critical debate about what is genuinely of value in life and how it is to be achieved," Mr Maxwell said. He hopes the group will ignite debate, and there are plans to host a conference of like-minded academics.

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