“Learned we may be with another man’s learning: we can only be wise with a wisdom of our own.”

—Michel de Montaigne

This is one of my favorite of Montaigne’s insights. He draws a distinction between wisdom and knowledge: knowledge is impersonal while wisdom is inevitably personal.

Knowledge—at least, academic knowledge—can be broken down into a collection of propositions; and these propositions, forming a complex whole, can be transmitted to others through language. This is what we do when we read history, science, or even math: we absorb new information and new theories, thus leading to a new understanding of the empirical, logical, or mathematical world.

Wisdom is not solely knowledge about the world; it must consist of knowledge of the self. For me, wisdom requires a great deal of self-awareness. Wise people have an understanding their habits, their faults, their tendencies; and this self-awareness allows them to carry themselves more calmly and successfully through the world.

Put another way, wisdom involves knowing-how in addition to knowing-that. A wise person knows how to deal with herself. She may not be an expert on any academic subject, but she is an expert on herself, and can use this expertise to move through the world with tranquility and joy.

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