Sandra Massey, Research Program Coordinator

The words I have been thinking about lately are knowledge and wisdom. There is a difference; like the difference between what you know and what you do with what you know. And that, depends on your values, beliefs and ways of living; in other words, the Living Heritage you carry with you and that informs your behaviour and the choices / decisions you make every day. Knowledge / information / facts can in fact, be interpreted in a variety of ways and used to support different points of view. Moreover, what we say / write can so easily be misunderstood; so how we say it, is crucial to how our ideas or interpretation of information will be received by others, and depends in large part, on their own point of view. It gets really complicated! This leads me back to thinking about the work of research; collecting a lot of information is only the first step in a much longer and far more complex process of making sense of it all in the pursuit of making wiser choices / decisions.  

Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham provide a ten point comparison of knowledge and wisdom in their book, Experiencing Spirituality: Finding Meaning Through Storytelling (2014). Found on pages 285 through 296 of this book is an explanation for each of the ten points from which I have extracted the following quotes for quick reference and ease of comparison. This helps me think about the differences and hopefully aids in my understanding and pursuit of wisdom.



Knowledge seeks to collect facts, data - to amass a “body of knowledge.” It is concerned with technique and focuses on push forces, efficient causality. Knowledge’s “Why?” really asks, “How?”

Wisdom is concerned with meaning, and thus with “value.” It searches for pull forces, final causality. Wisdom’s “Why? Asks, “Wherefore? To What End?” seeking reasons rather than “causes.”

Knowledge is primarily a method; it seeks and attains truth by experiment and aims at exactness, focussing on quantity, asking “How much?” knowledge produces experts.

Wisdom is a vision. It seeks truth by understanding, is concerned with adequacy, and focuses on qualities. Wisdom questions “What kind of?” and produces artists.

Knowledge can be and must be added to, even replaced; it advances. We find knowledge in textbooks or articles that we read once, perhaps use, and then may “refer to.”

Wisdom is less added to than deepened. We find it in “classics,” works that we reread and ponder because we change more than they do. With each new reading and pondering, we have a sense of profiting because we have “seen them before.”

Knowledge gives answers: one “possesses” knowledge, and therefore can sell/merchandise it.

Wisdom suggests new perspectives on ultimate questions: one does not “possess” it but rather is possessed by it. Those who claim to sell wisdom are regarded as charlatans.

The source of knowledge is leisure, either the possession of it or the desire for it.

The source of wisdom is suffering. As Aeschylus first (as far as we know) dramatized, “wisdom’s price is suffering, and it is always paid unwillingly, although sent in truth as a gift from the gods.”

Knowledge attends to and focuses on realities as things, tending to analyze, to take apart.

Wisdom attends to and examines realities as personal, inclining to synthesize, to view and embrace wholes.

Knowledge locates human identity and uniqueness in the capacity to think.

Wisdom locates human identity and uniqueness in the capacity to love.

Knowledge insists on the separation of “fact” and “value,” carefully distinguishing between data and interpretations.

Wisdom insists that “What can I know?” and “How shall I live?” are not totally unrelated questions - one reason for its reliance on stories.

Knowledge searches out and is fascinated with “the new.”

Wisdom assumes the connectedness of reality, encouraging mindfulness of “the old”; it tends to prefer that which has endured the test of time.

Knowledge accepts only what has been (or can be) in some sense proven.

Wisdom acknowledges the possibility of the existence of that which escapes strict proof, holding that faith in the existence of certain realities has to precede the ability to see their operation.


No doubt I am drawn to this comparison because it aligns with my thinking about the value of story / narrative and my interest in the fine line between fact and fiction. Clearly, the value of data / information depends entirely on the person / persons who use it and for what purpose. There are no short cuts when it comes to negotiating a shared future in a pluralistic world. Civic engagement in this ongoing conversation is essential but it depends on our ability and willingness to consider different perspectives; and with different perspectives comes a more diverse range of options. If we are willing to explore our differences we will inevitably discover our common humanity and then we can create the future we want. Using knowledge wisely for the greater good; in other words transforming knowledge into wisdom begins with a personal journey but in the long run, everyone benefits; the impact on community life and society overall, is truly immeasurable.



Kurtz, Ernest and Katherine Ketcham, Experiencing Spirituality: Finding Meaning Through Storytelling. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher / Penguin Group, 2014.