Knowledge and Wisdom by Bertrand Russell

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Here, you will find a summary and questions/answers to chapter 2 (prose) “Knowledge and Wisdom” by Bertrand Russell which is a part of Class 12 Alternative English syllabus for students studying under the Nagaland Board of School Education (NBSE).

Knowledge and wisdom

Summary: Russel defines wisdom and lists many methods for obtaining it in this essay “Knowledge and Wisdom”. He bemoans the fact that, despite tremendous information, there has been no equivalent rise in wisdom. Russell defines wisdom by describing the factors that influence it. A sense of proportion is the first. It’s the ability to carefully evaluate all of the key aspects of a subject. It’s challenging due to specialisation. Scientists, for example, develop novel drugs but have no idea how these medicines will affect people’s lives.

Drugs may help to lower the infant mortality rate. However, it may result in a rise in population. It may result in a food crisis in impoverished areas. The standard of living may be lowered as the population grows. A maniac could use knowledge of the atom’s composition to kill the entire world. Wisdom without knowledge can be dangerous. It should be coupled with humanity’s overall needs. Even having all of the facts isn’t enough. It should be linked to a basic understanding of life’s purpose. It can be demonstrated through the study of history. Hegel, for example, wrote with tremendous historical knowledge, yet he persuaded the Germans that they were a superior race. It resulted in the conflict. As a result, it is vital to blend information with feelings. Wisdom is lacking in men who have knowledge but no sentiments.

Wisdom is required in both public and private life. To choose our life’s objective, we need intelligence. We require it in order to be free of personal preconceptions. If something is too huge to achieve, we may pursue it unwisely. People have squandered their lives in search of the elixir of life, often known as the “philosopher’s stone.” They were not pragmatic in the least. They were looking for simple solutions to the world’s complicated challenges. Man may attempt the impossible, but he may inadvertently damage himself in the process.

In the same way, wisdom is required in personal life to avoid dislike for one another. Because of their bias, two people may remain adversaries. One may loathe the other because of imagined flaws. They may become buddies if they are told that we all have flaws. Russel believes that reasoned persuasion is possible. We have the ability to prevent hatred. The key to wisdom is to be able to detach ourselves from the control of our sense organs. Our ego grows as a result of our senses. We can’t live without our senses of sight, sound, and touch. Our senses are the primary means by which we see the world. As we mature, we realise that there are other things to consider. We begin to notice them. As a result, we stop thinking of ourselves as individuals. We become wise when we begin to think about other people. We relinquish our egoism. It’s tough to entirely eliminate selfishness, yet we can think about things that aren’t in our close vicinity. Wisdom emerges when we begin to value things that do not directly affect us. When we love people, we gain wisdom.

Wisdom, according to Russell, can be taught as an aim of education. The Good Samaritan tale teaches us to love our neighbours, whether they are friends or foes. We often misunderstand the point of this tale because we stop loving people who cause harm to society. Understanding, rather than animosity, is the only way out. In a nutshell, Russell exhorts us not to hate anyone. The author uses historical examples such as Queen Elizabeth I, Henry IV, and Abraham Lincoln to show how they avoided the mistakes made by other famous people in the past.

In the course of imparting knowledge, the hazards of hatred and narrow-mindedness might be highlighted. Knowledge and morals, according to Russell, can be blended in an educational plan. People should be taught how to think about things in terms of other things in the world. They should be pushed to consider themselves global citizens.

Answer the following questions.

1. Which leaders does Russell say were able to mix knowledge and wisdom soundly?

Answer: Russell cites Queen Elizabeth I of England, Henry IV of France, and Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, as examples of leaders who successfully combined knowledge and wisdom.

2. What according to Russell is the true aim of education?

Answer: The true goal of education is to develop the ability to solve problems objectively, whether they are personal or public in nature. It is also the ability to make a man aware of the importance of incorporating wisdom into our knowledge. We gain access to it through education because wisdom is an essential component of education.

3. Why is wisdom necessary in education?

Answer: Wisdom is required in education because knowledge alone leads to its misuse because one cannot see its true purpose in life. It has the potential to be dangerous and harmful to humans. If one does not consider an individual’s ability to suppress his personal ego and consider all of the facts and figures run by them, the circumstances would greatly benefit him in the long run. He will gain wisdom and produce fruitful results as a result of doing so. The essayist emphasises that in order to be a productive individual, all of these issues must be considered and that focusing on one’s egotistical personality only hinders one’s ability to gain true wisdom.

4. What are the four factors that Russell refers to in the essay?

Answer: Bertrand Russell asserts in his essay ‘Knowledge and Wisdom’ that four factors contribute to wisdom: a sense of proportion, awareness of the ends of human life, choice of ends to pursue, and emancipation from personal prejudice. The essence of wisdom, according to the essayist, is to free oneself from the confinement of the physical and emotional worlds and look beyond. Though people cannot avoid being partial, the wise man is less partial than the unwise man. According to the author, we can begin to learn wisdom by loving others and letting go of selfishness. Give up our egos and begin to think about things other than our immediate surroundings. This prevents hatred and allows one to grow in wisdom.

5. What is the ideal approach to imparting wisdom in education?

Answer: Wisdom, according to Russell, should be taught as a goal of education. He uses the parable of the Good Samaritan’s love for his neighbours as an example and message. According to the essayist, we often miss the message in this parable because we fail to love those who cause harm to society. Understanding, not hatred, is the only way forward. Russell, in a nutshell, tells us not to hate anyone. In the cause of spreading knowledge, the dangers of hatred and narrow-mindedness can be highlighted. He believes that knowledge and wisdom can be combined in an educational scheme. People should be educated to see things in context with the rest of the world. They should be encouraged to consider themselves global citizens.

7. Why does Russell say that Hegel’s philosophy of history was lacking in wisdom?

Answer: Russell claims that Hegel’s philosophy of history lacked wisdom because he was only concerned with his own facts and figures. He wrote with great historical knowledge and made the Germans believe they were a master race, and this false sense of pride drove them to war. According to Russell, it is critical to combine knowledge with feelings. When an intellectual uses his knowledge to demonstrate his theory or principles without considering the feelings or outcomes of such ideas, he may cause more harm than good. According to the author, such people have a very narrow mind. It results in a false embodiment of the person involved, which may incite unwanted actions or situations. The essayist also stated that men who have knowledge but no feelings lack wisdom, which is required in both public and private life in order to set goals and free ourselves from personal prejudices. Man, in his quest for the impossible, may end up hurting himself in the process.

8. How does Russell distinguish between knowledge and wisdom?

Answer: Bertrand Russell discusses the difference between wisdom and knowledge in his essay “Wisdom and Knowledge,” and how having only knowledge without wisdom can hinder our progress in life. He defined knowledge as the acquisition of facts and information, whereas wisdom is the practical application and use of knowledge to create value. According to Russell, wisdom is gained through learning and practical experience rather than memorization. It is not something that comes naturally. According to the essayist, a wise person possesses both insight and foresight, whereas a clever person may or may not. A clever person reacts quickly to external changes, but a wise man can see through the changes and make the correct decision. To be wise, one must have a broad vision and an unbiased mind, and one can gain a lot of wisdom through constant thinking and experiencing. Wisdom is gained when a person’s thoughts and feelings become less personal. According to the essayist, one who possesses intellectual knowledge must combine it with wisdom in order to avoid harm. Wisdom and knowledge should go hand in hand in order to make progress in one’s life quest by being less partial and showing due respect and interest in various things.

9. Explain: With every increase of knowledge and skill, wisdom becomes more necessary, for every such increase augments our capacity of realizing our purposes, and therefore augments our capacity for evil if our purposes are unwise.

Answer: The author is assured that wisdom must be an integral part of education because a man or person can be well-educated but lack the wisdom to understand the true meaning of life. Most people would agree that we are more knowledgeable today than we were in the past, owing primarily to incredible advances in science and technology. Most people would agree, however, that despite this vast increase in knowledge, we are not necessarily wiser than people a few thousand years ago. The fundamental concept is that knowledge and wisdom are not synonymous. Thus, the path of wisdom is to act with compassion and understanding rather than fear and compulsion. People should be educated to see things in context.

Think and discuss.

1. How can a potential benefit become a threat? Explain in the context of wisdom and knowledge.

Answer: Bertrand Russell discusses how a very intelligent person’s knowledge can become harmful when exercised without wisdom in his essay ‘Knowledge and Wisdom.’ The essayist uses history and famous people to demonstrate how great people’s knowledge has caused harm. According to the essayist, knowledge without wisdom can be harmful, and even complete knowledge is insufficient and should be combined with the total needs of mankind. Using the example of historian Hegel, who wrote with great knowledge but led the Germans to believe that they were a superior race, led to war. We begin to understand and comprehend how such potential knowledge could have deteriorated into something so dangerous.

To avert this, the author suggests combining feelings with knowledge, becoming impartial, avoiding personal prejudices, and taking the big picture into account in order to make the potential success and advancement for humanity. The essayist also uses science and technological advancement as an example, where new inventions and discoveries have both positive and negative outcomes, with much being used to create weapons rather than for the good of mankind.

2. Is the teaching of wisdom impossible?

Answer: According to Bertrand Russell’s essay “Knowledge and Wisdom,” wisdom can be taught as a goal of education in school; in fact, he emphasises the issue, that wisdom should be taught in school alongside knowledge, and he gives the readers the chives and principles to follow for applying wisdom in a wide range of subjects. Wisdom, he claims, should be planted and nurtured in one’s mind. He instructs his readers to love their neighbours, whether they are friends or foes, and to hate no one. The author also warns his readers about the dangers of prejudice and bigotry. He advises his readers to rid themselves of selfishness and to realise that knowledge and wisdom can be combined in an educational scheme.

Wisdom can be gained by considering other people’s feelings and letting go of one’s ego. Even though it is difficult to completely eliminate selfishness, we can think about things that are not in our immediate vicinity. When we start loving others, we gain wisdom. The author informs his readers that two people can remain enemies because of prejudice and a dislike for imaginary flaws. If we are wise, we will be able to avoid hatred. Understanding the possibilities and scenarios of one’s knowledge might be the most important lesson to teach when it comes to intellectual education. Avoiding one’s pride and opening up to one’s surroundings will bring more progress in one’s life.

Additional/extra questions and answers/solutions

1. What factors, according to Russell, influence wisdom?

Answer: Bertrand Russell discusses several factors that contribute to wisdom in his essay “Knowledge and Wisdom.” According to him, a sense of proportion, comprehensiveness with broad feeling, emancipation from personal prejudices and the tyranny of sensory perception, impartiality, and awareness of human needs and understanding are all factors that contribute to wisdom.

2. With the examples of technicians, what message is the writer attempting to convey?

Answer: Russell has used the example of technicians to convey the message that lone technical knowledge can be harmful to humans if applied without caution. They are unable to see how their knowledge in one field can be detrimental in another. For instance, the discovery of medicine that reduces infant mortality can lead to population growth and food scarcity. Similarly, atomic theory knowledge can be used to build atom bombs.

3. Why is wisdom required not only in public but also in private life?

Answer: Wisdom is not only advantageous in public situations, but also in private ones. It is required for the selection of goals to be pursued as well as personal prejudice emancipation. We may fail to choose our life’s goal due to a lack of wisdom, and we may lack the patience and persuasiveness needed to persuade others.

4. What, in Russell’s opinion, is the true purpose of education?

Answer: According to Russell, the true goal of education is to instil wisdom in people. Wisdom is what allows us to put our knowledge to good use in the real world without causing harm to others. To be good citizens, people must have both knowledge and wisdom.

5. Is it possible to teach someone wisdom? If that’s the case, how should it be done?

Answer: Yes, it is possible to learn wisdom. More than moral instruction, wisdom education should include a strong intellectual component. In the course of imparting knowledge, the disastrous consequences of hatred and narrow-mindedness to those who feel them can be mentioned. When teaching the composition of an atom, for example, the disastrous consequences of its misuse, such as the creation of an atom bomb, must also be taught.

6. “The Pursuit of Knowledge may become harmful unless it is combined with wisdom,” Russell says. Justify.

Answer: Humans are inquisitive creatures who are eager to learn new things. The majority of people have spent their entire lives in search of knowledge. Some pieces of knowledge are noble and beneficial to humans, while others are harmful. Knowledge combined with wisdom is beneficial to us because it addresses all of humanity’s needs. Because it is used to make bombs, knowledge of atomic composition has become harmful to mankind. Similarly, Hegal, despite his extensive knowledge of history, persuaded the Germans that they were a superior race. It resulted in massively destructive wars. As a result, knowledge must be combined with a sense of humanity. We require an event to determine our life’s purpose. It liberates us from our prejudices. In the absence of wisdom, even noble things are used in injudicious ways.

7. Russell defines wisdom as “the essence of wisdom.” And how does one go about obtaining the essence?

Answer: Emancipation from the tyranny of being prejudiced, according to Russell, is the essence of wisdom. It makes our feelings and thoughts less personal, and it makes us less concerned with our physical well-being. Wisdom is what causes us to care for and love the entire human race, and it is what propels us to the next level of spirituality. It enables us to make the best decisions and instils in us a broad vision and objectivity. By breaking the link of our senses’ egoism, recognising the aims of human life, applying our knowledge intelligently for the benefit of humanity, choosing noble and attainable life goals, managing our sensory perceptions, progressively becoming impartial, and loving others, we might obtain the very essence.

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