What is the difference between wisdom and knowledge?

From Wikipedia:

Wisdom, sapience, or sagacity is the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, and insight. Wisdom is associated with attributes such as unbiased judgment, compassion, experiential self-knowledge, self-transcendence and non-attachment, and virtues such as ethics and benevolence.


Knowledge is a familiarity, awareness, or understanding of someone or something, such as facts (descriptive knowledge), skills (procedural knowledge), or objects (acquaintance knowledge). By most accounts, knowledge can be acquired in many different ways and from many sources, including but not limited to perception, reason, memory, testimony, scientific inquiry, education, and practice. The philosophical study of knowledge is called epistemology.

Is knowledge just a part of wisdom?


5 Answers 5


Wisdom is the ability to apply knowledge rightly.

A person who knows very little can act wisely. For instance, he can know that he is ignorant about a subject, and so refrain from judgments that are actually past his capacity.

Likewise, a person who knows much can act unwisely. He can know a lot about a subject, but assume that means he knows everything significant, and so can judge everything in that subject, and does not have to learn more.

  • 1
    Don't technicians apply knowledge rightly? Jul 13, 2021 at 10:51
  • 1
    Some do, some don't. It does help to have a strict framework to apply your knowledge in.
    – Mary
    Jul 13, 2021 at 23:22

We say someone is wise if they have learned what choices pay off in the long run. Wisdom involves stepping back and taking the long view. For instance, it is wise not to lie to friends, because in the long run it hurts you, even if you gain short-term benefits.

Wisdom is a kind of knowledge, but someone can know a lot without being wise, if they don't integrate the knowledge and use it to think ahead.

  • 1
    Do people who are very clever and cunning do the same thing you mentioned in the first para? Jul 13, 2021 at 10:49
  • @SonOfThought Good question. I think that wisdom assumes equality. A wise person treats others as potentially as 'smart' as they are, if not now, then at some later time. We treat people well because we don't expect all of our motives and reasons to stay hidden forever. Manipulative people don't expect others (or perhaps themselves) to be around that long.
    – Scott Rowe
    Oct 6, 2022 at 13:32
  • I can't help but think of the Yellow Emperor that 1st unified China. He was all about the long term. So much so he is thought to have died from drinking potions claimed to make him immortal. Having a giant tomb complex aimed at also securing immortal power but containing vast amounts of liquid mercury metal, probably neither secured his longevity or sanity, despite their designers claims. The Qin dynasty only lasted 3 years after it's founder's death. Was Qin Shi Huang wise?
    – CriglCragl
    Oct 6, 2022 at 18:36
  • @CriglCragl If you think you know what choices pay off in the long run, but in fact you're completely wrong, that isn't wisdom.The Yellow Emperor is as much legend as historical fact, and not the same person as Qin Shi Huang.
    – causative
    Oct 6, 2022 at 18:40
  • Oh yeah, oops. Many takes on wisdom focus on being present in the moment, not just being preoccupied with 'the long run'. I don't think your definition works.
    – CriglCragl
    Oct 6, 2022 at 18:52

I would say wisdom is a Philosophical framework for avoiding short-term strategies and contradictory aims.

I'd set it in the context of prioritising decision making as the key test of character, especially the solving of dilemmas, see: Wisdom and John Vervaeke's awakening from the meaning crises? In particular, not being pursuaded to ignore the true state of things, or your true interests - ie what Harry Frankfurt calls bullshit, "speech intended to persuade without regard for truth".

Wisdom is about how we apply knowledge, and avoid compulsive behaviour of all kinds, actions which do not come from the integrated centre of pur concerns.

  • For what reason have you excluded compulsive behavior? Jul 13, 2021 at 6:45
  • @TheLoneDeranger: Because such behaviours 'do not come from the integrated centre of our concerns'. As such they often bulwark contradictory aims (eg smoking vs health), and encourage us to ignore our true interests (eg advertising trying to trigger automaticity in our buying choices, undermining our decision making abilities and freedom of choice - like say, tobacco adverts).
    – CriglCragl
    Jul 13, 2021 at 9:38

We cannot say knowledge is just a part of wisdom.

'Wisdom' is mainly related to the essence while 'knowledge' is for other details. The essence may be of a thing, action etc. Since one is related to the essence and the other is for other details, the former is almost changeless when compared to the latter.

Many other details are given in your question.

Exceptional case:

When wisdom is at its highest level it transcends even knowledge. This is what we see in the enlightened.

In verse 1.1.3 of Mundaka Upanishad, a Grihastha (householder) approaches a teacher, and asks,

कस्मिन्नु भगवो विज्ञाते सर्वमिदं विज्ञातं भवतीति ॥ ३ ॥

Sir, what is that through which, if it is known, everything else becomes known?


Those who don't have that wisdom won't have that knowledge. If that also is knowledge, we won't have a word to call wisdom.


(I'm taking a simple correspondence theory of truth here.)

Knowledge is the relationship you (the subject) have to the truth (the object). There are of course different forms of knowledge: Immediate perceptual knowledge comes from the senses, knowledge of electron orbitals comes from reason.

If you are describing a knowledge of reality as a whole, i.e. when you can see the big picture, then that's wisdom.

  • That means, all astronomers will have wisdom?! Jul 13, 2021 at 15:18
  • I feel like new materialism might disagree with a "big picture" being somehow better. Jul 13, 2021 at 15:53
  • @SonOfThought No, because Astronomy doesn't study reality as a whole. Since it's the comments, I'll insert my opinions here. I think the people that study reality as a whole are 1) Philosophers 2) Mathematicians, and 3) Theologians, and that insofar as they succeed, they are wise.
    – psitae
    Jul 13, 2021 at 16:48

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