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Wisdom

WISDOM

Historical background

Throughout recorded history, wisdom has been viewed as the ideal endpoint of human development. Of course, the psychological study of wisdom is still rather young compared to its philosophical treatment, for the very definition of philosophy is love or pursuit of wisdom. Historically, wisdom has been conceptualized in terms of a state of idealized being, as a process of perfect knowing and judgment (as in King Solomons judgments), or as an oral or written product, such as wisdom-related proverbs or the so-called wisdom literature. It is important to recognize that the identification of wisdom with individuals, such as wise persons (the predominant approach in psychology), is but one of the ways by which wisdom is instantiated.

Historically, the interest in the topic of wisdom has waxed and waned, (Baltes and Staudinger, 2000). In general, two main lines of argument have been in the center of the historical evolution of the concept of wisdom: (1) the distinction between philosophical and practical wisdom, and (2) the question of whether wisdom is divine or human. Recently, interest in the concept of wisdom has been revived (Welsch, in press). Archeological and cultural work dealing with the origins of religious and secular bodies of wisdom-related texts in China, India, Egypt, and Old Mesopotamia has revealed invariance with regard to core features of the definition of wisdom across cultures and historical time. This relative invariance gives rise to the assumption that concepts such as wisdom, with its related body of knowledge and skills, have been culturally selected because of their adaptive value for humankind.

Psychological approaches to the definition of wisdom

Among one the major reasons for the emergence of the psychological study of wisdom in the late 1970s and early 1980s was the search for positive aspects of aging. An early approach to defining wisdom from a psychological perspective can be seen in its treatment in dictionaries. The Oxford English Dictionary defines wisdom as, Good judgment and advice in difficult and uncertain matters of life.

In a next step, psychologists further specified the content and formal properties of wisdom-related phenomena. In 1922, Stanley Hall associated wisdom with the emergence of a meditative attitude, philosophic calmness, impartiality, and the desire to draw moral lessons, all of which tend to emerge in later adulthood. Furthermore, writers emphasized that wisdom involves the search for the moderate course between extremes, a dynamic between knowledge and doubt, a sufficient detachment from the problem at hand, and a well-balanced coordination of emotion, motivation, and thought (see Kramer, 2000).

Implicit (subjective) theories about wisdom

Most empirical research on wisdom in the field of psychology has focused on further elaboration of the definition of wisdom. Moving beyond the dictionary definitions, research explored the nature of everyday beliefs, folk conceptions, or implicit (subjective) theories of wisdom (see Sternberg, 1990).

These studies, in principle, build on research initiated by Vivian Clayton in 1976. Clayton found that three characters are typical of wise people: (1) affective characteristics such as empathy and compassion, (2) reflective processes such as intuition and introspection, and (3) cognitive capacities such as experience and intelligence.

A study conducted in 1986 by Robert J. Sternberg focused on the relationship of wisdom with characteristics such as creativity and intelligence. Wisdom was found to be defined by six aspects: reasoning ability, sagacity, learning from ideas and the environment, judgment, expeditious use of information, and perspicacity. A large overlap was found between intelligence and wisdom, though sagacity was found to be specific to wisdom. In later theoretical work, Sternberg defined wisdom as balancing intrapersonal, interpersonal, and extrapersonal interests to achieve a common good (Sternberg, 1998).

Another major study on subjective theories of wisdom was conducted by Stephen Holliday and Michael Chandler, also in 1986. A factor analysis of the attributes judged to be most prototypical of a wise person revealed two factors: (1) exceptional understanding of ordinary experience, and (2) judgment and communication skills.

In 1999, Fritz Oser provided initial evidence on the implicit theories about wise acts, which seem to be characterized by seven features. Wise acts tend to be: (1) paradoxical and unexpected; (2) highly moral and (3) selfless; and they involve (4) overcoming internal and external dictates; (5) a striving towards equilibrium; (6) an implied risk; and (7) a striving towards improving the human condition.

Explicit theories and assessment of wisdom

Another recent line of empirical psychological inquiry on wisdom addresses the question of how to measure behavioral expressions of wisdom. Within this tradition, three lines of work can be identified: (1) assessment of wisdom as a personality characteristic, (2) assessment of wisdom in the Neopiagetian tradition of adult thought, and (3) assessment of wisdom as an expertise with regard to difficult problems involving the interpretation, conduct, and management of life (see Baltes and Staudinger, 2000).

Within personality theories, wisdom is usually conceptualized as an advanced stage, if not the final stage, of personality development. Wisdom, in this context, is comparable to optimal maturity. Ryff and Whitbourne, for example, have undertaken an effort to develop self-report questionnaires based on the Eriksonian notions of personality development and focused on integrity or wisdom.

Central to Neopiagetian theories of adult thought is the transcendence of the universal truth criterion that characterizes formal logic. This transcendence is common to conceptions such as dialectical, complementary, and relativistic thinking. Such tolerance of multiple truths (ambiguity), has also been mentioned as a crucial feature of wisdom. Empirical studies in this tradition by Gisela Labouvie-Vief or Deirdre Kramer found that, at least up to middle adulthood, performance increases on such measures of adult thought are observed.

Besides these measures of wisdom as a personality characteristic or as a feature of mature thought, there is also work that attempts to assess wisdom as an expertise concerning the interpretation, conduct, and management of life. This approach is based on lifespan theory, the developmental study of the aging mind and aging personality, research on expert systems, and cultural-historical definitions of wisdom (see Baltes and Staudinger, 2000). By integrating these perspectives, wisdom is defined as a system of expert knowledge in the fundamental pragmatics of life. Such knowledge allows for exceptional insight, judgment, and advice involving complex and uncertain matters of the human condition.

The body of knowledge and skills associated with such wisdom entails insights into the quintessential aspects of the human condition, including its biological finitude and cultural conditioning. Wisdom involves a fine-tuned coordination of cognition, motivation, and emotion. More specifically, wisdom-related knowledge and skills can be characterized by a family of five criteria: (1) rich factual knowledge about life, (2) rich procedural knowledge about life, (3) lifespan contextualism, the ability to view issues in a lifespan perception, (4) value relativism, and (5) awareness and management of uncertainty (see Baltes, Smith and Staudinger 1992).

To elicit and measure wisdom-related knowledge and skills in this approach, research participants are presented with difficult life dilemmas such as the following: Imagine that someone receives a phone call from a good friend who says that she/he cant go on anymore and has decided to commit suicide. What should one do and consider in such a situation? Participants are then asked to think aloud about such dilemmas. The five wisdom-related criteria are used to evaluate these protocols. The obtained scores are reliable and provide an approximation of the quantity and quality of wisdom-related knowledge and skills of a given person (see Baltes and Staudinger, 2000). When using this wisdom paradigm to study people who were nominated as wise according to subjective beliefs about wisdom, it was found that wisdom nominees received higher wisdom scores than comparable control samples of various ages and professional backgrounds.

Part of this paradigm also is a general framework outlining the conditions for the development of wisdom as it is reflected in the thoughts and actions of individuals. The empirical work based on this model has produced outcomes consistent with expectations (see Staudinger 1999). Specifically, it seems that wisdom-related knowledge and judgment emerge between the age of fourteen and twenty-five. During adulthood, however, growing older is not enough to become wise. When age is combined with wisdom-related experience, such as professional specializations that involve training and experience in matters of life, higher levels of wisdom-related performance were observed. Besides experience, it was found that during adulthood wisdom-related performance was best predicted by openness to experience and measures drawing on both cognition and personality, such as a judicious cognitive style, creativity, and moral reasoning.

Is there wisdom-related potential?

Given the fact that wisdom-related performance had been successfully operationalized, a question has arisen as to whether it is possible to increase wisdom-related knowledge and judgment. At least three studies have been conducted to test this idea (see Baltes and Staudinger, 2000). In a 1993 study conducted within the Neopiagetian tradition, Kitchener and colleagues demonstrated that the level of reflective judgment in adolescence could be raised by presenting examples of higher-level responses.

Within the wisdom paradigm just described, two different approaches have been successful in activating wisdom-related potential (see Staudinger, 1999). The first study found that dyads who know each other quite wellhaving had a chance to discuss the wisdom problem before they individually responded (real dialogue)demonstrated performance levels (significantly standard deviation) higher than observed in the standard setting. In line with notions of symbolic interactionism, increases in wisdom-related performance were also identified when participants thought about what other people might say while thinking about the problem (virtual dialogue). A second study focused on one of the five wisdom-related criteriavalue relativismand adopted a successful memory training technique (known as the method of loci ). With this method participants trained to think about life problems as if they were taking place in different regions of the world. This process creates links between geographic locations and life problems in order to make it easier to remember the life problem. Participants trained in this knowledge-activating strategy significantly outperformed the control group (by more than half a standard deviation).

The concept of wisdom represents a fruitful topic for psychological research in that it emphasizes the search for continued optimization and the further evolution of the human condition, and because it allows for the study of collaboration among cognitive, emotional, and motivational processes. It is expected that future research on wisdom will be expanded in at least three ways: (1) toward the further identification of social and personality factors, as well as life processes, relevant for the ontogeny of wisdom, (2) exploration of wisdom as a meta-heuristic, and (3) it will examine how wisdom research can contribute to building a psychological art of life.

Ursula Staudinger

See also Intelligence; Problem Solving.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Baltes, P. B.; Smith, J.; and Staudinger, U. M. Wisdom and Successful Aging. Nebraska Symposium on Motivation 39 (1992): 123167.

Baltes, P. B., and Staudinger, U. M. Wisdom: The Orchestration of Mind and Virtue towards Human Excellence. American Psychologist 55 (2000): 122136.

Kramer, D. A. Wisdom As a Classical Source of Human Strength: Conceptualization and Empirical Inquiry. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 19 (2000): 83101.

Staudinger, U. M. Older and Wiser? Integrating Results from a Psychological Approach to the Study of Wisdom. International Journal of Behavioral Development 23 (1999): 641664.

Sternberg, R. J., ed. Wisdom: Its Nature, Origins, and Development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Sternberg, R. J. A Balance Theory of Wisdom. Review of General Psychology 2 (1998): 347365.

Welsch, W. Wisdom, Philosophical Aspects. In International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Edited by N. Smelser and P. B. Baltes. London: Elsevier, in press.

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Wisdom

701. Wisdom (See also Genius.)

  1. Amenhotep (fl. 14th century B.C.) pictured as bearded man holding papyrus roll. [Ancient Egypt. Art: Parrinder, 18]
  2. Athena (Rom. Minerva) goddess of wisdom. [Gk. and Rom. Myth.: Brewer Dictionary, 713]
  3. Augustine, St . (354430) patron saint of scholars; voluminous theological author. [Christian Hagiog.: Brewster, 384385]
  4. Balder most beautiful, luminescent, and wise god. [Norse Myth.: Parrinder, 40]
  5. blue salvia traditional symbol of wisdom; indicates mature judgment. [Flower Symbolism: Flora Symbolica, 177]
  6. Bodhi knowledge by which one attains Nirvana. [Buddhism: Parrinder, 48]
  7. Bragi god of wisdom, poetry, and eloquence. [Norse Myth: Parrinder, 50]
  8. Chiron knowledgeable Centaur; instructed Achilles, Jason, and Asclepius. [Gk. Myth.: Parrinder, 62]
  9. Confucius (551479 B.C.) Chinese philosopher and writer. [Chinese Hist.: Parrinder, 65]
  10. Enki god of wisdom; counterpart of Akkadian Ea. [Sumerian Myth.: Parrinder, 90]
  11. Fudo Japanese god of wisdom. [Jap. Myth.: Leach, 427]
  12. Ganesha wisdom god having a human body and an elephant head. [Hindu Myth.: Leach, 440]
  13. gold symbol of sagacity. [Color Symbolism: Jobes, 356]
  14. Hiawatha wise man; legendary founder of Iroquois Confederacy. [Am. Hist.: Jameson, 229; Am. Lit.: Hiawatha in Benét, 466]
  15. Jerome , St. Latin doctor of Church; preeminent biblical scholar. [Christian Hagiog.: Attwater, 185]
  16. Mimir guardian of well of wit and wisdom. [Norse Myth.: Wheeler, 244]
  17. Nebo god of sagacity; inventor of writing. [Babyl. Myth.: Brewer Dictionary, 749]
  18. Nestor sage counselor and just king of Pylos. [Gk. Hist.: Wheeler, 257; Gk. Lit.: Iliad ]
  19. Odin god; drank from fountain, became all-knowing. [Norse Myth.: Brewer Dictionary, 774]
  20. owl associated with Athena, goddess of wisdom. [Gk. Myth.: Hall, 231]
  21. Plato (427347 B.C.) Greek philosopher revered for wisdom. [Gk. Hist.: NCE, 2165]
  22. Sarastro High Priest represents benevolent guidance. [Ger. Opera: Mozart The Magic Flute in Benét, 619]
  23. scroll early form of manuscript; symbolic of learning. [Christian Symbolism: Appleton, 85]
  24. Socrates (469399 B.C.) wise and respected teacher adept at developing latent ideas. [Gk. Hist.: EB, 16: 10011005]
  25. Solomon invested by God with unprecedented sagacity. [O.T.: I Kings 3:713; 4:2934]
  26. tree of the knowledge of good and evil eat of its fruit and know all. [O. T.: Genesis 2:9; 3:6]
  27. white mulberry traditional symbol of wisdom. [Tree Symbolism: Flora Symbolica, 176]

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wisdom

wisdom wisdom literature the biblical books of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus collectively; similar works, especially from the ancient Near East, containing proverbial sayings and practical maxims.
Wisdom of Solomon a book of the Apocrypha ascribed to Solomon and containing a meditation on wisdom. The book is thought actually to date from about 1st century bc to the 1st century ad.
wisdom tooth each of the four hindmost molars in humans which usually appear at about the age of twenty; the phrase (in plural) represents Latin dentes sapientiae, as the teeth were said by the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates not to appear until years of discretion were reached.

See also experience is the father of wisdom.

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wisdom

wis·dom / ˈwizdəm/ • n. the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the quality of being wise. ∎  the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of such experience, knowledge, and good judgment: some questioned the wisdom of building the dam so close to an active volcano. ∎  the body of knowledge and principles that develops within a specified society or period: oriental wisdom. PHRASES: in someone's wisdom used ironically to suggest that an action is not well judged: in their wisdom they decided to dispense with him.

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Wisdom

422. Wisdom

See also 216. IDEAS ; 233. KNOWLEDGE ; 240. LEARNING ; 393. THINKING .

adage
a maxim, axiom, proverb, or old saying.
analect
a collection of teachings, as the Analects of Confucius.
gnosis
a superior form of wisdom, as that of the Gnostics, supposed to have been acquired mystically. See also 285. MYSTICISM .
logia
maxims or sayings attributed to a religious leader. See also 79. CHRIST ; 349. RELIGION .
protasis
Rare. a proposition or maxim. See also 127. DRAMA ; 186. GRAMMAR .
sophomania
an excessive respect for ones own wisdom.

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Wisdom

Wisdom (Heb., ḥokhmah, binah, ‘discrimination’). An ethical and religious quality of life as advocated by the Hebrew scriptures. Wisdom is sometimes used in the sense of ‘intelligence’ (e.g. Ecclesiastes 2. 3), but it came to symbolize a particular cultural tradition within Judaism. The wisdom books of the Bible are Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. The Apocrypha includes Ecclesiasticus (Ben Sira) and the Wisdom of Solomon.

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wisdom

wisdom quality of being wise; †knowledge, learning. OE. wīsdōm = OS. wīsdōm, OHG. wīstuom (G. weistum legal sentence, precedent), ON. vísdómr; see WISE2, DOM.

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Wisdom

Wisdom (in Mahāyāna Buddhism): see PERFECTION OF WISDOM LITERATURE; PARĀMITĀ.

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Wisdom

Wisdom: see Wisdom of Solomon.

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wisdom

wisdomjeroboam, Noam, Siloam •brougham •residuum, triduum •continuum • Brabham • album •sachem • Beecham • Mitchum •Adam, macadam, madam, Madame •avizandum, fandom, memorandum, nil desperandum, random, tandem •tarmacadam •shahdom, stardom, tsardom •beldam, seldom •addendum, corrigendum, referendum •heirdom • sheikhdom • Gaeldom •thanedom • saintdom •Edom, freedom, Needham •chiefdom, fiefdom •queendom • heathendom •crippledom • officialdom • Wyndham •Christendom • kingdom • princedom •wisdom • fogeydom • yuppiedom •rodham, Sodom •condom •boredom, whoredom •thraldom • Oldham • popedom •dukedom •Carborundum, corundum •poppadom • pauperdom • martyrdom •reductio ad absurdum • serfdom •earldom

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