Aristotle, in the Nicomachean Ethics, divides the intellectual virtues into distinct categories, practical and philosophic, on the basis of whether they are concerned with what can, or what cannot, be otherwise. Considering the latter, for Aristotle, philosophic wisdom involves knowledge of necessary, scientific, first principles and propositions that can be logically derived from them. Unlike the scientific disposition, practical wisdom cannot be reduced to formulae; it is concerned with things that can be other than what they are. It has certain elements in common with opinion, as opposed to natural laws or fact. Recall that Aristotle defined moral virtue in Book II as a natural disposition to find the mean relative to oneself, as determined by a rational principle. Aristotle proceeds to determine this ‘rational principle,’ which he calls practical wisdom. Unlike arts, practical wisdom is the quality of seeing what is good for oneself, or one’s group in regard to any question, as opposed to objects of the art, which are concerned with how things are made or how states are produced. Aristotle uses this distinction to address the common misconception that wisdom is a manifestation of extensive factual knowledge (WFK).
Wisdom as factual knowledge theory (WFK) nicely distinguishes between mere expertise and knowledge of the mundane from the important, broad, and general kind of knowledge in wise people. However, Aristotle suggests that WFK is fundamentally flawed in that some of the most knowledgeable people are not wise. Although they have an abundance of important factual knowledge, they lack the kind of practical know-how that is a mark of a wise person. Wise people know how to progress through the world in a variety of...