The Relationship between Wisdom and Philosophy: Socrates and Aquinas

Wisdom is defined as, “accumulated knowledge, insight, and judgment” (Marriam-Webster 2013). Ironically, the definition of wisdom reflects the concept of philosophy, the science of the nature of thought. Marriam-Webster dictionary goes further, defining philosophy as “the pursuit of wisdom” (2013). By dictionary definition the two terms are interwoven. Through philosophy, individuals think past themselves and reality. It allows us to ask questions and entertain conclusions based on what we know. Rather than accepting things as they are, philosophy opens the mind to new concepts that help us to better understand the things around us. The things we learn through thought –philosophy- can be applied to human nature or even biology and science. However, great philosophers such as Socrates and Plato argue that one cannot gain intimate knowledge and wisdom. Despite this, philosophers continue to search for answers to some of life’s most difficult questions. This presented an apparent contradiction. Although wisdom and philosophy are related by definition, according to Socrates there is a distinct difference between the two terms. This raises two questions, (1) are philosophers wise, (2) are wise men philosophers?

Great thinker, Saint Thomas Aquinas, used philosophical insight to identify faith and God. He offers his Christian beliefs for the basis of the argument. Plato, through his teacher Socrates, raised interesting questions concerning wisdom of the soul. He determined that man cannot become wise due to human nature and the need to satisfy the desires of the body. It may be true for some, however not all. There are many men including Aquinas, Socrates, and Plato are considered wise. The same is said for people today, from Maya Angelou to the Dalai Lama. Although philosophers such as Plato limit the amount of wisdom that can achieved by man, great thinkers continue to study, utilize, and apply philosophy all the while obtaining wisdom.

Plato helped to create the science of philosophy by detailing the life and teachings of Socrates. Socrates analyzed human nature and the human experience, introducing ethics and addressing problems through reason and logic. As early as, 500 BC, man was heavily contemplating human thought. In the piece, Phaedo, Socrates argues the human nature of thought. He describes how people think best, how to think when in deep thought, and the natural nature of man. He states that people think best, “as far as possible free from communication and contact with it, aspires to that which is”, (Plato 16). This is apparent to many people today. When faced with a problem people go to a quiet place to collect their thoughts. This is also true for students when studying. They require a place that is quiet so that can reflect, think, and take in knowledge and gain insight. Knowledge, from this understanding, is the consequence of thought. Socrates encourages people to think deeply. Day dreaming, worrying, and tallying bills do not constitute philosophical thought. Phaedo suggest that deep thought “includes everything for instance greatness, health, strength, and in a word, the reality of everything else that is to say, what each things really is”, (Plato 17). The ability to think, and to do so logically and thoroughly, allows people to begin to think philosophically. However, if he thinks in this manner, does he inevitably become wise?

Socrates introduces the reader to the platform of philosophical thinking. He does this by asking questions, providing an explanation, and then a reply. There is a since of an argument which includes a reply or rebuttal, however it is presented as dialogue. Concerning the wisdom of the soul, the replies are simple agreements with the argument. In the piece, Summa Theologica, Aquinas utilizes this same format to present his argument regarding faith and world creation. He presents a dialogue between to people with opposing beliefs, one believes by faith that God created the world and the other who believes the world created itself. Sometimes the antagonist agrees and sometimes he does not. It mimics that style of Plato however it is a divided argument with additional segmented structures. “For each question (article) theme deals with a number of objections to his own view to which he offers replies and then lays out the reasons for his own position”, (Howe 1). It is evident that Aquinas was familiar with the great philosophers including Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle. He referenced them throughout the work and mimicked their argumentative platform for thought. By structure of his argument and the thorough analysis he puts it to reason. It is clear that Aquinas was a deep thinker and philosopher.  He read the philosophical ideals of the people before him to obtain knowledge. He further applied this knowledge into his own works proving not only his knowledge, but also his ability to apply it to his own beliefs. In this way, Aquinas is not only a philosopher but also wise by apply philosophy to theological concepts.

In his work Aquinas asks the question: “Weather it is an article of faith that the world began?” (246). Although this is an argument about God, the true subject addresses the idea of faith and the world’s creation. Aquinas argues that by faith alone people assume the world began. Because faith is required to believe the world began, faith is then required to believe the existence of God. Aquinas lived during the 13th century in Europe. He was a Dominion monk and a Christian. He believed in the Bible and bases his argument on Genesis 1:1 which states that, “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. The foundation of the argument is that, the earth began. He provides many examples of how things are created in life. He used the analogy of a craftsman who creates a work, compared to the birth of life through lineage. Although the rebuttal made legitimate claims concerning the beginning of the world, Aquinas was able to maintain his argument through logic and reasoning. “To say that the world was made by God, it must therefore have been made from nothing, or from something. But it was not made from something; otherwise the matter of the world would have preceded the world” (Aquinas 247). Through this simple concept, Aquinas is able to stir thought into nonbelievers. He lived in a world without the science and technology that we see today. Even so, his reason can still be applied today. While astronomy tells us that the world was created from the big bang, it does not account for the universe. If the big bang was the “something” that created the world, what is the originator and explanation of the big bang? By utilizing this logic and knowledge of philosophy, Aquinas is able to further prove himself to be not only a great thinker, but also a man of wisdom.

To gain knowledge, insight, and wisdom, philosophers often draw back to the basic question of, what is. Confronted with the question of wisdom and the soul, Socrates associated the soul with the body. The body is observed as an enemy because people react to the needs of the body. Through philosophical application, Socrates came to the conclusion that, “freed as far as possible from eyes and ears, and so to speak from all the body together, because he thinks it only disturbs the soul and will not  let her obtain possession of truth and wisdom when it is in communication with her” (Plato 17-18). He clearly asserts that wisdom has limits, it is difficult to obtain if at all. Aquinas himself was aware of the works of Socrates and Plato and influenced by this. Therefore, Aquinas was aware of this insight regarding wisdom. Despite this, he and other philosophers continued on their quest on the science of human thought. It was not to obtain wisdom, however to understand the world and the people who live in it. Socrates assumes that philosophy only comes with thought. Through these concepts, one can learn more about the world without opening a single book, however by asking questions and applying reason to the knowledge that is already known. “The principle of demonstration is the essence of a thing. Now everything according to its species is abstracted from here and now; whence it is said that universals are ever and always. Hence it cannot be demonstrated that man, or heaven, or a stone were not always”, (Aquinas 248).  Accordingly, Aquinas was not affected by Socrates concept on wisdom and soul. He made philosophical arguments not only proving him a great thinker but also wise. With insight, knowledge, and judgment he is observed as a man who obtained wisdom through the science of philosophy. It can easily be assumed that men who practice philosophy will also obtain wisdom. It can even be said that wise men are philosophers. Just as long as they think thoroughly and apply reason, one can generate a better understand of human nature and existence.

 

Works Cited

Aquinas, T. (1912). The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, Part I. Translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province. R&T Washbourn LTD. Paternoster Row, London. Retrieved from: http://books.google.com/books?id=OTkNAQAAIAAJ&pg=PA246&lpg=PA246&dq=weather+it+was+an+article+of+faith+that+the+world+began+summa+theologica&source=bl&ots=vCbxW0Lk5L&sig=dVrBbxfPki2Su5OhuT4PwAS21R0&hl=en&sa=X&ei=omr3UaaOFYm-igKAuIGoBQ&ved=0CEYQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=weather%20it%20was%20an%20article%20of%20faith%20that%20the%20world%20began%20summa%20theologica&f=true

Howe, R. (2003). Two Notions of the Infinate in Thomas Quinas’ Summa Theologica 1,        Questions 2 and 46. Retrieved from: http://www.richardghowe.com/infinite.pdf

Plato. (1875). Translated by E.M Cope. Phaedo. Cambridge Warehouse 17. Paternoster Row, London. Retrieved from: http://books.google.com/books?id=ZLxCAAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=phaedo+wisdom+of+the+soul&hl=en&sa=X&ei=tmb3UaWUNeKniQLv1oH4CA&ved=0CDAQ6wEwAA#v=onepage&q=wisdom%20soul&f=true

About Russia Robinson

I use my writing talents, and skills I’ve learned through academics and experience, to benefit the greater good of society. Conducting research, writing articles, essays, and blogging, I give informative information on a variety of topics and issues that affect society. I also write creative works like children’s books, short stories, poems, and a novel in progress. I earned a BA in English creative writing and American literature from San Francisco State and graduate studies in Technical Writing at Kennesaw State University. Through my career in education and mental health I have spent more than 10 years’ helping young people succeed. I am a certifiable Language Arts teacher, working in education, social services, and mental health. Interested in my writing services? Feel free to contact me via email.
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