It’s good to know things. As the old maxim goes, ignorance is not an excuse. If you’re caught for going eighty in a sixty zone, not knowing the limit does not excuse your actions. You’re culpable regardless.

The same goes for all situations; the truth is you will always reap the natural punishment for your ignorance whether you realise it or not. The modern world has a love/hate relationship with knowledge. In one instance, we believe that the application of knowledge through applied science will save us. In another instance, we question “what’s the point of knowing this?” As a teacher, I get this question all the time, mostly from fifteen-year-old boys and directed at Shakespeare.

This reduction of knowledge to pragmatic utility unfortunately exposes a gaping hole in our reason.

If we only care to know what is useful, how do we know what is useful? Could it be that it’s not until we appreciate Shakespeare and push through the ignorance, that we realise how ‘useful’ it is? Sure, it won’t help you understand what’s wrong with your computer – but it might help you understand what’s wrong with you. Self-knowledge seems completely impractical, because we assume that we know ourselves. We are told to ‘be true to ourselves’. But do we really understand ourselves?

This is where the contrast between knowledge and wisdom comes in.

People ask the same question of the Bible and Shakespeare. What’s the point in reading it? It helps us understand ourselves. It tells us who we are, and gives us wisdom as to how to live our lives. Wisdom is the proper use of useful knowledge. And it’s far more practical than we think. Proverbs was written to help people to “know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth.” If you look around the world and think humanity needs a little more justice, equity, prudence and discretion, pick up Proverbs. Ignorance is not an excuse.

Difff Crowther