As Heraclitus said (and we never tire of repeating)
“If you do not expect the unexpected you will never find it, for it is hard to find and inaccessible.”
This is certainly a wise statement. A clear example of its truth presents itself every time we discover the answer to some question, or discover something new. Consider the paradoxical nature of learning.
If I don’t know something, if I am ignorant, if I don’t know the answer to a question…then how will I be able to find it? If one doesn’t know where he is going how would he know when he arrived? If one is in complete ignorance, it would seem impossible to learn anything.
For example, if you were trying to find a particular person but you did not know anything else about him except his name, how would you be able to recognize him even if you met him? I guess you could say “are you Harold?” and then trust his reply. But this seems quite perilous especially in a deceptive world.
It must be the case that whenever we learn something we have some fuzzy idea about what it is that we learned before we learned it. In other words we were not in complete ignorance, but rather had some vague, indistinct, unclear notion of what the answer was already! (Whatever Descartes might say to the contrary!)
So it is with our search for the wisest man in the world. How are we to recognize him or her among the over 7 billion human beings that inhabit the planet?
Well ok… I am going to boldly propose a small list of signs or characteristics by which you may recognize the wisest person in the world. Who knows? Maybe you will meet this person today!
A list Purporting to give Signs By Which the Wisest Man in the World Might be Recognized.
1) The Wisest Man Really Ought to be a Catholic. Now this is of course a little sensitive because I could have said Christian … or at least a “worshiper of the one true God.” But I hope my reader will indulge me on this point because part of being a Catholic is believing that the Catholic church is the one true church. And so one would not expect me to entertain the possibility that the wisest man in the world would not know this would one?
But look at that, what a powerful sign! We have now eliminated 5.8 billion candidates. Wow! Now we only need to go out and meet approximately 1.2 billion Catholics. But let’s see maybe we can whittle this down a little more.
2) The Wisest Man Has to be a Philosopher. Obviously! The wisest man will of course, like Solomon, love wisdom more than anything else. This is part of being wise. But he who loves wisdom before everything else is nothing other than a philosopher. Clearly. That is what the word means for heaven’s sake!
Homo sedens fit sapiens
So lets’ do some math. What percentage of Catholics are philosophers? Shall we say 1% or is that too generous? Let’s be generous and say 1%.
Ok so when we multiply 1,200,000,000 by 1% I get 12,000,000. That’s only twelve million! I still think that sounds kind of high. Do we really think that there are twelve million philosophers in the world? Maybe.
3) The wisest man in the world has to be a disciple of Aristotle. Now this is also pretty obvious isn’t it? Aristotle was, after all, the philosopher (by antonomasia) and so therefore the wisest man in the world would surely be a disciple of Aristotle. QED.
But this fact alone will eliminate 96% of all philosophers. Just think of all the strange philosophy out there. For example some are disciples of Descartes (the “Father of Modern philosophy”), some of Spinoza or some other of the so-called “rationalists.” But others are “empiricists” and are disciples of Bacon, Locke, Berkeley, Hume or Mill. Then you get others who are sort of in between and are disciples of Kant or Hegel? I don’t really know. But there sure are lots of philosophical schools out there and it is not as if Aristotle’s philosophy holds the majority any longer…especially after the “Newtonian revolution.” I am no expert by any means of the history of philosophy. But I do know that Aristotelians are “few and far between.”
So let’s say that there are as many as 4% of philosophers that actually admit to being “disciples of Aristotle.” This is really generous because many intellectuals really shy away from admitting that they are disciples of anybody …but perhaps themselves. But the wisest man in the world will boldly declare the fact!
So 4% of 12,000,000 gives us 480,000.
4) The Wisest Man has to be a Disciple of St. Thomas Aquinas. You might have thought I would have put this earlier, but I think it follows that one really can’t be a disciple of Aristotle without simultaneously being a disciple of St Thomas. St Thomas was the best student of Aristotle ever. He understood Aristotle better than anybody, and one might even wonder how likely it is that anyone could really appreciate Aristotle’s writings without the aid of the Angelic Doctor. (no offense Theophrastus!)
So I am going to go ahead and say that of the 480,000 Aristotelian philosophers out there, only 5% at most are at the same time disciples of St. Thomas Aquinas. Discipleship does not mean a passing acquaintance or familiarity with the writings of someone. Discipleship does not mean that one likes to consult another from time to time. Discipleship means that one wants not just to learn from but also to form one’s own mind after the mold of the teacher.
That leaves us with 24,000 Catholic Aristotelian Thomistic Philosophers among whom we need to find our man.
5) The Wisest Man in the World Must have a love for and expertise in Shakespeare. Now this might seem a little strange at first, but we must remember that being wise is not just having the intellectual “where withal” that one needs to burn brightly in the intellectual firmament. One must also possess the experience of soul that comes from a proper formation in the fine arts and especially the written works or imagination…because the “poet is the teacher of all” as they say. And “Homerus omnes docuit”… and…”no one is a philo-sophos who was not first a philo-mythos.“
How and why it is that the great works of poetry form the soul and dispose the mind for wisdom is not the subject of this post. That it is is all I need to make the point.
And so the wisest man in the world will enjoy and be refreshed by and be an expert in the very best literature or poetry.
And what would that be? Well, obviously Shakespeare! He is simply speaking the greatest poet ever. (even exceeding Homer if you can believe that!) But all of these things deserve a longer discussion. I am presently simply trying to deliver this myself of this list.
Now for the math. I will only allow that out of the 24,000 Catholic Aristotelian Thomistic Philosophers in the world there could possibly be as many as 5% who are lovers of Shakespeare in the way we have set forth.
Therefore we now have a pool of 1200 candidates from whom to find our man.
6) Now for the “coup de grace.” Just as the wise man will be a lover of the finest poetry, so too he will be a lover of the very finest music.
Music is of course most formative of the soul and especially the passions. One can hardly be wise with disorderly passions. Wisdom only comes to the rightly ordered soul, the soul at peace in its own desires, the soul perfectly disposed towards beauty.
Therefore the wisest man in the world must be a lover of Mozart. He must love the music of Mozart better than the music of Bach. There must be no argument in his mind about whether other lesser composers are better musicians. He will certainly love Vivaldi and Corelli and even Rameau, but he will shy away from music of the classical era and form his soul primarily from the Baroque.
These things take a great deal of discussion and experience of course to see…but again, our aim is simply to list six principles by which we may find our man.
Now of the philosophers I know, I have to say that this principle about what music he will love the most is very sticky. One cannot counterfeit his love for long …and should he have a lingering habit of listening to and even preferring the music of say Beethoven or Chopin or Shubert or someone else…these habits may prove too difficult to break.
So we must admit that of the 1200 candidates from whom we have to select the wisest no more than 2% will also love the music of Mozart more than all other music.
That leaves us with just 24 hypothetically possible candidates.
hmmmm….I definitely have a suspicion of who it might be.