What’s the Difference Between a Wise Man and a Fool?

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The bible and other religious texts go into detail about wise men versus foolish men, but what exactly is the significance of these two types of people?

What is the difference between “smart” and “wise,” and more importantly, how can a person considered to be wise best deal with one who is considered to be a fool? It’s actually much easier – and also trickier – than you think.

What’s the Difference Between a Wise Man and a Fool?

First, let’s take a close look at a few definitions. This can help you determine what these people are all about before we go any further.

  • A wise man is not just a smart man. In fact, many of the wise men in the biblical texts were not educated but considered very wise. Wise people can be educated or uneducated, but they have what we’d call today common sense or street sense. Because of this, they are able to give very practical advice to those who are seeking it.
  • A foolish man is one that has no common sense or doesn’t react to things with good judgment. They don’t have true wisdom and often make decisions “by the seat of their pants” or without much thought beforehand. It doesn’t necessarily mean an uneducated person but one who some people call silly or stupid.

Both wise men and foolish men can be either educated or uneducated. They usually get their labels due to their specific actions in certain situations. To be sure, a person’s formal education doesn’t have a lot to do with their wisdom or their ability to give other people practical advice. This is because there can be a big difference between “book” smart and “street” smart or common knowledge.

The Origins of Each Word

Now let’s take a look at the origins of each of these words, which can help you further understand the differences between them.

1.  Wise

The word “wise” has been around since before the year 900. It comes from a variety of different words, including wis(e) Middle English, wīs Old English, wīss Old Norse, and un(weis) Gothic.

In the Gothic language, it usually means unlearned or ignorant, and it is similar to numerous other words from many different languages. The word “wise” can mean:

  • To instruct
  • To guide or show the way to
  • To direct the course of
  • To advise or induce
  • To cause to turn

Some of the many words that can be used to mean “wise” include rational, prudent, careful, astute, well-informed, contemplative, sagacious, and perceptive, among others.

2.  Fool

The first recorded evidence of the word “fool” was found in 1225-75. It comes from fol or fool Middle English, fol Old French, and follis Latin, the latter of which can be translated into “bag” or “bellows.” Some of the many words that can describe the word “fool” include:

  • Simpleton
  • Dunce
  • Saphead
  • Numbskull
  • Nincompoop

As you can see, the word is not used in a positive manner, which is probably why no one ever wants to be described as a fool.

What Are the Main Differences Between Wise Men and Foolish Men?

It’s interesting to note that while the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament claims there are two types of people in the world, wise and foolish, we often think of people as being in one of those categories even today. Of course, wise men and fools are not only mentioned in sacred texts. Confucius, Aristotle, and even Shakespeare are just a handful of people who have written about them.

Take a look at some of the quotes that have been written about wise men and foolish men:

“The fool tells me his reason; the wise man persuades me with my own.” (Aristotle)

“A fool despises good counsel, but a wise man takes it to heart.” (Confucius)

“A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.” (William Shakespeare)

“A wise man will be master of his mind, a fool will be its slave.” (Publilius Syrus)

“Nothing is more like a wise man than a fool who holds his tongue.” (St. Francis de Sales)

Wise men do not slander or gossip, are humble, are willing to learn from others, and honor and listen to others. They know that they are not the center of the universe and consider learning to be a lifelong endeavor.

On the other hand, fools constantly talk about people behind their backs, are stubborn, don’t wish to learn from others, are arrogant, and believe the world revolves around them. When you think about it, the differences between the wise and the foolish can be summed up like this: their attitude.

The good thing is, people can choose which type of person they want to be, especially since education is not a necessary part of the equation. Many people believe that everyone innately knows the difference between right and wrong. They also believe that people can choose to be either wise or foolish, so they have control over the outcome.


There have always been, and always will be, both wise and foolish men. It doesn’t have anything to do with how well-educated you are. It has to do with how receptive you are to the truth and to learning practical solutions to the world’s problems.

Being wise is not something only the people of yesteryear aspired to; indeed, it is both an attitude and a way of life, which means it is something that is not beyond our control.


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