Educated (6): none the wiser

Chaerephon, as you know, was very impetuous in all his doings, and he went to Delphi and boldly asked the oracle … to tell him whether there was anyone wiser than I was, and the Pythian prophetess answered that there was no man wiser.



When I heard the answer, I said to myself, What can the god mean? and what is the interpretation of this riddle? for I know that I have no wisdom, small or great. What can he mean when he says that I am the wisest of men? And yet he is a god and cannot lie; that would be against his nature.


After a long consideration, I at last thought of a method of trying the question. I reflected that if I could only find a man wiser than myself, then I might go to the god with a refutation in my hand. I should say to him, “Here is a man who is wiser than I am; but you said that I was the wisest.”


Accordingly I went to one who had the reputation of wisdom, and observed to him – his name I need not mention; he was a politician whom I selected for examination – and the result was as follows: When I began to talk with him, I could not help thinking that he was not really wise, although he was thought wise by many, and wiser still by himself; and I went and tried to explain to him that he thought himself wise, but was not really wise; and the consequence was that he hated me, and his enmity was shared by several who were present and heard me.


So I left him, saying to myself, as I went away: Well, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is – for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know. In this latter particular, then, I seem to have slightly the advantage of him.

Socrates, in Plato’s – Apology

I’m not sure if this is part of being “educated”, or becoming wise (and as I write this I’m not sure how those are different), but either way it’s crucial: the knowledge that there are a lot of important things that we don’t know, will never know and in some cases can never know. So in a sense, “educated” (and certainly “wise”) demands a type of humility.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...