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The term Wisdom is employed in the arts to denote those men who are the most perfect masters of their art, for instance, it is applied to Pheidias as a sculptor and to Polycleitus as a statuary. In this use then Wisdom merely signifies artistic excellence. [2] But we also think that some people are wise in general and not in one department, not ‘wise in something else,’1 as Homer says in the Margites: “ Neither a delver nor a ploughman him
The Gods had made, nor wise in aught beside.

” Hence it is clear that Wisdom must be the most perfect of the modes of knowledge. [3] The wise man therefore must not only know the conclusions that follow from his first principles, but also have a true conception of those principles themselves. Hence Wisdom must be a combination of Intelligence and Scientific Knowledge2: it must be a consummated knowledge3 of the most exalted4 objects. For it is absurd to think that Political Science or Prudence is the loftiest kind of knowledge, inasmuch as man is not the highest thing in the world. [4] And as ‘wholesome’ and ‘good’ mean one thing for men and another for fishes, whereas ‘white’ and ‘straight’ mean the same thing always, so everybody would denote the same thing by ‘wise,’ but not by ‘prudent’; for each kind of beings will describe as prudent, and will entrust itself to, one who can discern its own particular welfare; hence even some of the lower animals are said to be prudent, namely those which display a capacity for forethought as regards their own lives.

It is also clear that Wisdom cannot be the same thing as Political Science; for if we are to call knowledge of our own interests wisdom, there will be a number of different kinds of wisdom, one for each species: there cannot be a single such wisdom dealing with the good of all living things, any more than there is one art of medicine for all existing things. It may be argued that man is superior to the other animals, but this makes no difference: since there exist other things far more divine in their nature than man, for instance, to mention the most visible, the things5 of which the celestial system is composed. [5]

These considerations therefore show that Wisdom is both Scientific Knowledge and Intuitive Intelligence as regards the things of the most exalted6 nature. This is why people say that men like Anaxagoras and Thales7 ‘may be wise but are not prudent,’ when they see them display ignorance of their own interests; and while admitting them to possess a knowledge that is rare, marvellous, difficult and even superhuman, they yet declare this knowledge to be useless, because these sages do not seek to know the things that are good for human beings. [6] Prudence on the other hand is concerned with the affairs of men, and with things that can be the object of deliberation. For we say that to deliberate well is the most characteristic function of the prudent man; but no one deliberates about things that cannot vary nor yet about variable things that are not a means to some end, and that end a good attainable by action; and a good deliberator in general is a man who can arrive by calculation at the best of the goods attainable by man. [7]

Nor is Prudence a knowledge of general principles only: it must also take account of particular facts, since it is concerned with action, and action deals with particular things. This is why men who are ignorant of general principles are sometimes more successful in action than others who know them: 8 for instance, if a man knows that light meat is easily digested and therefore wholesome, but does not know what kinds of meat are light, he will not be so likely to restore you to health as a man who merely knows that chicken is wholesome; and in other matters men of experience are more successful than theorists. And Prudence is concerned with action, so one requires both forms of it, or indeed knowledge of particular facts even more than knowledge of general principles. Though here too there must be some supreme directing faculty.9

1 The sense rather requires ‘wise in some particular thing,’ but the expression is assimilated to the quotation.

2 See 6.1, 2.

3 Literally ‘knowledge having as it were a head,’ a phrase copied from Plato, Plat. Gorg. 505d.

4 See 7.4, 5, and, for the technical sense of τίμιος, Bk. 1.12.

5 This means apparently the sun, stars, and planets, elsewhere referred to by Aristotle as ‘the divine bodies that move through the heaven,’ ‘the visible divine things,’ ‘the heaven and the most divine of visible things’ (Aristot. Met. 1074a 30, Aristot. Met. 1026a 18, Aristot. Phys. 196a 33).

6 See 7.3, third note.

7 Thales was the first of the Seven Wise Men: Anaxagoras belonged to a later generation.

8 The words ‘for instance . . . chicken is wholesome’ in the mss. come after ‘theorists.’

9 i.e., πολιτική, Political Science or Statesmanship (cf. Bk. 1.1, 2), the relation of which to Prudence is next considered.

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