Wisdom, Suffering, and Humility
Wisdom comes from experience.1 But not all experiences are conducive to wisdom. Among the experiences sometimes thought to be conducive to wisdom are adversity and suffering.2 Suffering, the story goes, has the ability to clarify one’s moral vision: it can help one grasp what’s most important in life, compel one to restructure one’s priorities, develop a greater appreciation for life’s simple pleasures, and more. Michael Brady puts the point starkly: “[T]he standard refrain remains true: we won’t get to develop or cultivate virtue, in this case the virtue of wisdom, without suffering. Negative experiences might not be sufficient to make us wise. But they are certainly necessary.”3 While suffering can facilitate wisdom, it can also be crippling. Suffering can leave a person angry and cynical; even worse, it can precipitate serious mental or physical illness. As such, suffering also has the potential to diminish a person’s capacity for wisdom.4
What exactly is wisdom? Under what...
Funding was provided by John Templeton Foundation (Grant No. 60622).