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Friday, April 3, 2020

What Is Wisdom, Really?

I’ll have more to say about overlapping ability scores, but I want to go back and discuss Wisdom some more. On Why I Like both Wisdom and Intelligence, PatrickW had this to say:
High INT, low WIS is absent-minded genius.
High WIS, low INT is Edith Bunker.
The difference is clear.
Is it, though?

Leaving aside the characterization of Edith Bunker as low INT (she’s clearly way smarter than Archie, possibly smarter than Gloria, and I’d consider Gloria above average,) I don’t think Wisdom means the same thing for those two examples. When I think of smart but foolish characters, I think of mad scientists or socially-awkward geniuses, not characters who forget what time it is or which shoe goes on which foot. But it does raise the question: Does everyone agree what “wisdom” is? Not the ability score with that name, but real-life wisdom, as commonly understood?

Take the famous example of Solomon and the two women who both claim the same child is theirs. Solomon tells them that logically, none of the facts support one woman’s claim over the other, so the smart thing to do is divide the child evenly between the two – literally. But his secret wisdom is a gut feeling that the real mother, or at least the one who would be the best mother, would do anything to keep her child from being killed, including giving the child to the other woman. This wasn’t a wholly rational thought process, but just an awareness that the right choice is not what’s best for the two women, but what’s best for the child… and the best mother for any child is one that puts what’s best for the child ahead of her own personal preferences.

Another example is the story of the Gordian Knot. Whoever undoes the Gordian Knot will become the ruler of the whole world. Everyone who tries, can’t figure out how to untie it. Only Alexander thinks “Untying the knot is not the point. Removing it as an obstacle is.” And so he just cuts through the knot.

There’s a whole lot more that could be said about this. Blurting out the wrong thing in social situations is certainly considered foolish, which means wisdom must include empathy or emotional intelligence as well as intuition. Choosing to do what is moral rather than what is rational is also considered a matter of wisdom over intelligence, which I’d argue is the reason why Gygax made Wisdom the prime ability for Clerics.

But I cut through this Gordian Knot by interpreting Wisdom as a sense of right or wrong. Common sense, danger sense, and moral sense, as I’ve said before. If you just know that what you are about to say or do would be wrong, in some sense of that word, and so choose not to do it, regardless of the facts, you are operating on a completely different level than if you’ve weighed all the available facts and reasoned out what the best option is, choosing to do that.

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  1. Mr Scott = INT
    Dr McCoy = WIS
    Kirk = CHA

  2. INT = objective reasoning, focus into problem
    WIS = subjective understanding, eye on the wider context


  3. The reaching to explain or justify such esoteric attributes as INT and WIS reveals the original problem in including them; they weren't supposed to MEAN anything; they were a way to give Magic-Users and Clerics a mechanical advantage vis-a-vis the XP bonus. To rationalize their use or inclusion for ANY other reason is folly.
    This is why I abandoned both decades ago and added the SENSE score, called PERCEPTION by some. It's easier to explain, codify, and the adjustments for DETECT/SENSE rolls now actually make "sense" (har-har).