What is wisdom? LO28450

From: Vana Prewitt (vana@praxislearning.com)
Date: 05/09/02

Replying to LO28445 --

At's question regarding wisdom caught my eye, in part because I have been
making a thorough study of this question lately. His post focused on
several wise sayings and the nature of these types of sayings. While I
respect the tendency to see wise words as evidence of wisdom, I wonder if
this is sufficient.

Baltes, Stuadinger, Sternberg and others (references below) have
researched wisdom rather extensively. Like At, Baltes & Stuadinger have
focused on wise words rather than wise actions. If a person speaks wisely
and acts foolishly, is that person wise? I think not. Among the research
I've conducted into the phenomenon we call wisdom, I've discovered several
critical elements to the development and/or evidence of wisdom:

 1) reflexivity (Argyris and Schon's reflection in action)
 2) having seriously considered and come to peace with one's own
 3) focused on social wellbeing rather than selfish interests
 4) decision making when no rules exist for how to proceed

The second point is the one that appears to explain the old adage, "older
and wiser." An older person is not necessarily wise, but is more likely
than youth to have considered one's own death. Interestingly enough, Eric
Erikson was the first to hypothesize that wisdom emerged from having
reflected on the meaning of life and death. Age also offers more diverse
life experiences from which to draw in making unique judgements with
social consequences. When making unique judgments with personal
consequences, we call that common sense.

So, to answer At's original question, I would say that wisdom is

"thoughtful judgment or decisions made when no heuristics exist for a
conflict with social consequences" (Prewitt, 2002)

As a caveat, I fully admit that my definition and perspective is cognitive
in nature rather than spiritual. Many have claimed that this angle is
short-sighted. I would agree, but have yet to find a truly integrated
theory, approach, definition that satisfies the need to see wisdom
holistically. Perhaps the model would identify personal characteristics
(preconditions) to the emergence of wisdom that incorporate spiritual
qualities followed by exemplars of wise behavior. It certainly is a
fascinating area of study.

kind regards,

Vana Prewitt


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developmental perspectives. In R. J. Sternberg (Ed.), Wisdom: its
nature, origins, and development. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ Press.

Pascual-Leone, J. (1990). An essay on wisdom: toward organismic
processes that make it possible. In R. J. Sternberg (Ed.), Wisdom: its
nature, origins, and development. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ Press.

Prewitt, V (2002). Wisdom in the workplace. Performance Improvement
Quarterly, 15(1), 64-98.

Robinson, D. N. (1990). Wisdom through the ages. In R. J. Sternberg
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[Host's Note: Hello Vana! Thanks for the references list. ..Rick]


Vana Prewitt <vana@praxislearning.com>

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