The Latin maxim sapere aude means “dare to be wise”. It was put forth by the Roman poet Horace, but made popular by the influential 18th Century German philosopher Immanuel Kant. As we will discuss below, it does take daring to be wise, but the rewards far outweigh the risks.
Someone can have knowledge but not wisdom. This is because knowledge refers only to possessing information and experiences, while wisdom involves putting one’s knowledge and experience into action. Let us look at this issue from the perspective of Horace and Immanuel Kant. What do you think it was from their experiences that would make them say “sapere aude” or “dare to be wise”?
What possible risks could come from a) acquiring knowledge and b) acting upon that knowledge? Horace and Kant were among the wisest men of their eras. The fact that we are discussing both centuries later suggests that they are among the wisest men in history. Why would they suggest we should dare (i.e. have the courage and boldness) to be wise?
The first thing to remember about learning is that it changes us biologically. When we learn new things synaptic plasticity develops within our brains, which results in improved memory and increased cognitive ability. When we learn our brains are physically changing.
Learning changes us intellectually and emotionally too. That is the whole point of learning. What is the sense of going into any training if we are the same going out as going in? Yet, scientists tell us that human beings are resistant to change in general. Some people will not like the changes they see in others who have learned new things. Professionals who want to become change agents might be resented by those who want to keep the status quo. This was true during the Roman Empire and 18th Century Europe. It is still true today.
Horace knew it. Kant knew it. Wise people today know it.
Gaining knowledge and applying wisdom will always be threatening to those who resist new ideas. This fact of our human experience is self-evident. We must dare to be wise. Companies and careers struggle not so much because of what people do. Rather, they suffer for lack of daring. It is good for professionals to remember that career success is not about being popular. It is not about fitting-in with the crowd. A successful career is all about having wisdom. Sapere aude…dare to be wise.