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Philosophy: Wisdom (Part 1)

Updated on April 2, 2013


According to the Random House Dictionary, wisdom is:

  1. The quality or state of being wise; knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action; sagacity, discernment, or insight.
  2. Scholarly knowledge or learning: the wisdom of the schools.
  3. Wise sayings or teachings; precepts.
  4. a wise act or saying.

My personal definition is:

  • The knowledge of how to use the knowledge you have.

Below are several quotations from many individuals across various time periods and locations around the world. As you read them, ponder the wisdom in them.

Though these historical and modern figures are often noted as wise, beware - Many of these quotations will contradict other wise words in this Hub. This is for the purpose of exemplifying that wisdom is not universal.

The Song of the Harper

Remember: It is not given to man to take his goods with him.
No one goes away and then comes back.

[c. 2650-2600 B.C.] St. 10


Teach him what has been said in the past; then he will set a good example to the children of the magistrates, and judgment and all exactitude shall enter into him. Speak to him, for there is none born wise.

The Maxims of Ptahhotpe [c. 2350 B.C.] introduction

The Holy Bible: Proverbs

Authorized King James Version
[1611 A.D.]

Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep:
So shall thy poverty come as one that traveleth, and thy want as an armed man.

He that hath knowledge spareth his words: and a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit.
Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise.

Wealth maketh many friends.

A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.

Answer a fool according to his folly

Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein: and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him.

Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth.

A fool uttereth all his mind.

The Holy Bible: Matthew

Authorized King James Version: [1611 A.D.]

They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.

Freely ye have received, freely give.

The tree is known by his fruit.

Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.

They be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.

The Holy Bible: Mark

Authorized King James Version: [1611 A.D.]

The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.

The Upanishads

[c. 800-500 B.C.]

If the slayer thinks he slays,
If the slain thinks he is slain,
Both these do not understand:
He slays not, is not slain.

Katha Upanishad, 2.19


[c. 700 B.C.]

Victory shifts from man to man.

Iliad, VI, l. 339

Even when someone battles hard, there is an equal portion for one who lingers behind, and in the same honor are held both the coward and the brave men; the idle man and he who has done much meet death alike.

Iliad, IX, l. 318

Miserable mortals who, like leaves, at one moment flame with life, eating the produce of the land, and at another moment weakly perish.

Iliad, XXI, l. 463

There are no compacts between lions and men, and wolves and lambs have no concord.

Iliad, XXII, l. 262

There is nothing more dread and more shameless than a woman who plans such deeds in her heart as the foul deed which she plotted when she contrived her husband's murder.

Odyssey, XI, l. 432

The wine urges me on, the bewitching wine , which sets even a wise man to singing and to laughing gently and rouses him up to dance and brings forth words which were better unspoken.

Odyssey, XIV, l. 463

Dreams surely are difficult, confusing, and not everything in them is brought to pass for mankind. For fleeting dreams have two gates: one is fashioned of horn and one of ivory. Those which pass through the one of sawn ivory are deceptive, bringing tidings which come to nought, but those which issue from the one of polished horn bring true results when a mortal sees them.

Odyssey, XIX, l. 560


[c. 700 B.C.]

Do not seek evil gains; evil gains are the equivalent of disaster.

Works and Days, l. 287

If you should put even a little on a little, and should do this often, soon this too would become big.

Works and Days, l. 368

Gossip is mischievous, light and easy to raise, but grievous to bear and hard to git rid of. No gossip ever dies away entirely, if many people voice it: it too is a kind of divinity.

Works and days, l. 761

The Seven Sages

[c. 650-c. 550 B.C.]

Know Thyself.

Inscription at the Delphic Oracle. From Plutarch, Morals

Nothing too much.

From Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, bk. I, sec. 63

Do not speak ill of the dead.

From Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, I, 70

Know the right moment.

From Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, I, 79


[c. 604-c. 531 BC]

When the people of the world all know beauty as beauty,
There arises the recognition of ugliness.
When they all know the good as good,
There arises the recognition of evil.

The Way of Lau-tzu, 2

The best [man] is like water.
Water is good; it benefits all things does not compete with them.
It dwells in [lowly] places that all disdain.
This is why it is so near to Tao.

The Way of Lao-tzu, 8

We look at [Tao] and do not see it;
Its name is The Invisible.
We listen to it and to not hear it;
Its name is The Inaudible.
We touch it and do not find it;
Its name is The [Formless].

The way of Lao-tzu, 14

Manifest Plainness,
Embrace Simplicity,
Reduce Selfishness,
Have few desires.

The Way of Lao-tzu, 19

One may know the world without going out of doors.
One may see the Way of Heaven without looking through the windows.
The further one goes, the less one knows.
Therefore the sage knows without going about,
Understands without seeing,
And accomplishes without any action.

The Way of Lao-tzu, 47

True words are not beautiful;
Beautiful words are not true.
A good man does not argue;
He who argues is not a good man.
A wise man has no extensive knowledge;
He who has extensive knowledge is not a wise man.
The sage does not accumulate for himself.
The more he uses for others, the more he has himself.
The more he gives to others, the more he possesses of his own.
The Way of Heaven is to benefit others and not to injure.
The Way of the sage is to act but to not compete.

The Way of Lao-tzu, 81


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    • Epsilon5 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Eastern Pennsylvania

      Thanks for reading. :)

    • Timothy Donnelly profile image

      Timothy Donnelly 

      8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Fantastic compilation! Very interesting indeed. Thank you for this work.

      Wisdom is never complete. Just as the wise one will always recieve instruction and consider it well enough to percieve [the] plain and precious words of understanding made available to them through the mouths of those without guile.


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