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Plato and the Virtues of Wisdom

Author(s): Eric Russert Kraemer

Journal: Analytic Teaching and Philosophical Praxis
ISSN 0890-5118

Volume: 31;
Issue: 1;
Start page: 31;
Date: 2011;
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Is wisdom a virtue? I think it is and also that it is an important virtue. But, it should be granted at the outset that the claim is controversial, that there are philosophers who either do not think of wisdom as a virtue1, or do not think of it as relevantly similar to other virtues. For example, Stanley Godlovitch comments:Wisdom sits alone. We cannot rehearse or practice it. We cannot be prompted to assume it —wheth er for our sake or for the sake of others. We cannot expect, should we be in possession of it, to win friends and influence people. Wisdom calls into prominence a state of mind rather than a readiness to act in specified ways. As such, its status as a virtue must remain rather aloof.While one may disagree with Godlovitch’s five negative claims about wisdom, as I do, one can learn from him that any attempt to present wisdom as a serious virtue must not only be sensitive to the contrary view, namely that wisdom is an oddity, and must also be able to explain why this contrary view arises.In this discussion I begin by considering two reasons that might be given to support the contrary claim. I then propose a simple, if somewhat familiarly “ontological” argument for wisdom’s being a virtue. I then look to Plato to see what kinds of thing the virtue of wisdom might be. Attempting to accommodate as much of the positive Platonic data I can, I propose a pluralistic account of virtue, setting out a half dozen specific virtues of wisdom.I recommend that when we call someone wise there is always one or another, or perhaps several of these specific kinds of wisdom-virtue to which we refer. I will argue that the pluralistic account can be used to explain both the controversy surrounding wisdom’s status as a virtue as well as other concerns that have been raised about it. Attempting to forestall an obvious objection to such an account, namely that it is merely a hodgepodge, lacking all systematicity, I suggest an underlying conceptual core for all forms of wisdom, namely the disposition to make apt judgments. After clarifying and defending this account, I provide several instances of its explanatory power and turn to address some concerns the account raises.Trying to anticipate yet another objection, I consider the role of reflection in wisdom. I argue that, while reflection is often a useful means to apt judgment, it is not a necessary feature of all instances of wisdom. I conclude by arguing that my account makes wisdom a more explanatorily attractive and a more interestingly egalitarian virtue, hence, a much less odd or “aloof” virtue than some have thought.
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