Sunday, December 13, 2015

Maximes on Wisdom

The maxime was a genre of philosophical writing pioneered in the seventeenth century salons of Paris, and in particular the salon of Madeleine de Souvré, Marquise de Sablé. Sablé's salon was often the most intellectually vivacious salon of her day, and a great many new approaches to philosophy grew out of it. A maxime is a short, polished aphoristic sentence, but this does not entirely convey its character. It is properly a summation of philosophical conversation; the writing of a maxime was a collaborative exercise, in which drafts of these short sayings would be submitted to a wide variety of people and argued over until they reached a final form. If we look at the most famous of all maximes to come from Sablé's salon, those of La Rochefoucauld, there is a long drafting process behind each one, in which Sablé herself criticized and suggested revisions to La Rochefoucauld's proposal, and also sent versions to friends and acquaintances who she thought might have something to say about that particular topic, and collected their responses. Sometimes responses would be about form, devoted to eliminating logical or rhetorical awkwardnesses, or excessive complications; sometimes they would be about content, trying to get them as close to truth and clarity as possible. [Those who are interested in the historical background here might be interested in John J. Conley, SJ, The Suspicion of Virtue, which looks at a number of the salonièrres and their highly creative outside-the-box philosophical work.]

I have a lot of short aphoristic sentences built up in Dashed Off posts and notebooks. It seems to be worthwhile at least to submit them for collaborative polishing, should any be possible. So I think I will occasionally put some out and see if anyone wants to argue with them, or suggest improvements on them, or propose their own on similar topics. And so I start with a few on wisdom:

All folly is mutilated wisdom.

The young often have wisdom, but only with age can they consistently recognize it for what it is.

Without law, there is no forgiveness; without wisdom, there is no reconciliation; without love, there is no healing.

Wisdom is distilled drop by drop, as understanding is reached step by step.

The first step toward wisdom is to sit down quietly.

Goodness and wisdom naturally create traditions.

Half the power of wisdom is found in listening.

The fear of the Lord prepares for wisdom by destroying pride.

Who loves wisdom finds it everywhere.

Wisdom is fertile with measure and meaning.

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