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The Scientific Approach of Wisdom


Richard Hawley Trowbridge

Submitted in partial fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of

Doctor of Philosophy with a concentration in Arts & Sciences
and a specialization in Human Development

At the Union Institute & University
Cincinnati, Ohio

October 30, 2005

Core Faculty Advisor: Kevin Sharpe, Ph.D.

Union Institute & University
Cincinnati, Ohio

Copyright © 2005 by Richard Hawley Trowbridge
All Rights Reserved. Requests for permission to use material in this document for any purpose other than personal study should be sent to Richard Trowbridge. Email address: transletix@hotmail.com

While wisdom figures in the oldest surviving literary documents, it has been neglected by philosophy for centuries, and by empirical psychology until quite recently: empirical study began only in the 1970s. Since then, interest in wisdom continues to grow, both for promoting healthy old age and good lives throughout the lifespan, and for its possible contribution to the common good. I have taken advantage of this twenty-fifth anniversary of the first published empirical research on wisdom to present in one place a description and evaluation of all published studies I was able to find. At the same time, the religious and philosophic traditions were reviewed to provide fuller understanding of the concept. Theoretical contributions by psychologists were included. The first research question addressed what the findings of a quarter-century of empiric study show. In reviewing these studies, the question, How is wisdom to be studied? presented itself as a priority to be considered as empiric research proceeds. Three proposals were set forth and confronted with the data: that research will need to engage religious and metaphysical wisdom; that it remains to be determined whether women’s understanding of what is wise differs from men’s; and that studying exemplars is essential. Results showed no indications of a conflict between religious and practical wisdom, even in studies including religious persons. The question is hardly laid to rest, but can perhaps be left to theorists for the present. Little difference in levels of wisdom between women and men, but some indication of differences in their understandings of the term was found. Given the absence of female writers on wisdom until the twentieth century, it seems important for research to resolve this question. The study of exemplars has been recommended by others. It has yet to begin, remaining an urgent, missing piece of the picture.

The Scientific Approach to Wisdom

1. Introduction: Purpose of This Study 1
The contemporary study of wisdom 5
The need for conceptual clarity 6
The current world situation 9
Overview of the dissertation 13

2. Literature Review 15
Introduction 15
A. Four main periods of wisdom literature in the West 16
Prephilosophic 17
Classical 20
Socrates 20
Plato 21
Aristotle 22
Stoic wisdom 27
Christian 29
New Testament 29
Augustine 31
Thomas Aquinas 34
B. Defining wisdom 41
Wisdom as optimal choice 47
Cultural differences 52
Kinds of wisdom 53
Difficulty of distinguishing wisdom 56
Wisdom as a distinct, unique ability 57
Wisdom and the good life 58
Wisdom and the common good 59
C. Personal aspects of wisdom 61
Wisdom as a complex of personal qualities 61
Advanced personality development 64
Integration of personality 65
Particular qualities 67
Good judgment 68
Reflectiveness 68
Insight into significance and meaning 69
Ability to deal with complex problems 70
Virtuous character 71
Openness 71
Relativistic thinking 72
Dialectical thinking, critical thinking 73
Self-knowledge 74
Knowledge of limits, humility 75
Comfort with uncertainty and ambiguity 76
Self-control 76
Broad and deep knowledge and experience 78
Social skills 78
Benevolence, empathy, compassion, generativity 79
Decentering 80
Autonomy 80
Humor 81
Creativity 81
Intuition 81
Serenity 82
Intelligence 82
Other qualities 83
Wisdom as a collective product 84
Cultivating wisdom 85
D. Theoretical psychological models 87
The Berlin Wisdom Paradigm 88
Sternberg’s Balance Theory of Wisdom 95
Ardelt: wisdom as cognitive, reflective, and affective integration 98
Pascual-Leone 99
Kramer’s Organicist model 101
Achenbaum & Orwoll’s Synthetic model 102
Oser, Schenker, & Spychiger: An Action-Oriented Approach 103
Csikszentmihalyi & Rathunde: Evolutionary hermeneutics 104
Erikson’s Epigenetic model 104
Kohut 105
Jung 106
Hall 108
E. Statement of the research questions 108

3. Method 112
A. Statement of the method used 118
B. Integrative reviews 119
C. Philosophic method 121

4. Descriptions of the research studies 135
A. The empirical study of wisdom 135
B. Descriptions of the studies 141
C. Categorizing the research 141
Chronological listing of the published research studies on wisdom 141
The studies categorized according to type 143
The studies listed in all applicable categories 146
Tables presenting a description of the studies 153

5. Results 165
A. What have these 36 studies found out about wisdom? 165
Studies of common opinions of wisdom 166
Summary 175
Berlin wisdom paradigm 176
Summary 186
Ardelt 188
Summary 190
Wink & Helson (1997) and Helson & Srivastava (2002) 190
Summary 192
Others 193
Summary 195
B. Integration of metaphysical and practical wisdom 196
C. Possible differences in gender regarding understanding of wisdom 198
D. Study of exemplars 203

6. Discussion 204
A. What has been learned from the research of wisdom? 204
B. Integration of metaphysical and practical wisdom 235
C. Possible differences in gender regarding understanding of wisdom 244
D. Study of exemplars 247
Summary 252

7. Conclusion 254

References 271
Punctuation, Abbreviations & Symbols

Three unspaced dots indicate ellipses of sources, whether external or internal, e.g., “(Kramer, 2000)” or “(see Chapter 2)”. Thus, the phrase “wisdom is an adaptive form of life judgment (Kramer, 2000) that involves not what but how one thinks” would be elided as “an adaptive form of life judgment...that involves”.
Three spaced dots indicate ellipses of text (e.g., “wisdom. . . involves not what but how one thinks”).
Four spaced dots indicate an ellipsis that continues from one sentence to another.
Italics. Unless it is stated that I have italicized words, all italics in quoted material were italicized in the source.
Square brackets ( [ ] ) within direct quotes indicate words inserted to clarify meaning.
Section references to Greek and Latin texts follows standard usage.
NE = Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
MPI = Max Planck Institute for Human Development

Gender-inclusive language: for the generic use of pronouns with human referents, ‘E’ is sometimes used here for the nominative case (= he, she), and ‘hir’ for the other cases (=, e.g., him, her, his). We are fortunate that in English it is easy to make our language gender inclusive. There is no reason not to do so, and every reason not to postpone doing so. To use E or hir is as simple as to use ‘Ms.’ to refer to any woman (= Miss or Mrs.); and in speaking, the pronunciation is the same as currently used terms. That is, ‘E’ is pronounced almost like the word ‘he’, and ‘hir’ is pronounced exactly like the word ‘her.’ Incidentally, the term ‘hir’ dates back to Chaucer, though he used it as a plural (= their).


For the successful completion of this project, my great gratitude goes to Kevin Sharpe, a model of professionalism, whose support throughout a sometimes wandering process toward a center has been a source of strength. To the rest of the committee, who have been both guides and companions: Joseph W. Meeker, Florence Matusky, Karl Peters, Cheryl Genet, and particularly Russell M. Genet for his assistance in many ways. Florence has helped improve this dissertation through references to works I would not have identified, and has been a model of generosity, not only by giving her time in editing the manuscript. To the Gary Library librarians, particularly Tess Zimmerman, for help locating hard-to-find documents. Without them, the quality of this dissertation would be diminished. Thanks to UI&U for making this form of education possible, enabling me to work through my particular, longstanding quest. To Dean Green, gassho, as a comment of his led to the focus of this dissertation and to resolving the puzzle that had long occupied me. To Alice, my soulmate, with whom I learn much about life and loving. Her companionship and support throughout these past five years has been a presence more beautiful than I have known. To my family who have given me much along the way, those who are here and so many who have transcended this plane, in particular my siblings, Janet, James, and John, my mother, Marie Julia, and grandmother, Josephine Argus Trowbridge. To all the beings who teach me daily: There be things which are little upon the Earth, but they are exceeding wise.

“Solon, Solon, you Greeks are always children,” the Egyptian priest told the visitor who had come a long way to learn ancient wisdom. As I approach my seventh decade, the conviction grows in me that we humans are all children in regard to our level of wisdom, and I retain a perhaps childish optimism that in a very short time, the general level can be raised significantly. Why not? Consider that my home state, New York, was the second in the nation to mandate compulsory education, in 1853—and it was not until my Grandmother’s time, in the 1890s, that the law was enforced. Basic literacy sufficed then, but today higher order cognitive functions are needed. Though we may not have done so well regarding some other key indicators of humanity, there is no reason in principle that we could not. The daunting crises facing the global community are a great spur to the cultivation of wisdom. Perhaps a trump card is the addition of about twenty-five years of healthy lifespan today compared with what people in my Grandma’s time could expect. It is sometimes said that “If science can do something, it will.” If Homo sapiens, the human who is wise, can become wise we will and we must. Particularly for those who have the advantages of both age and comfortable (above subsistence) standard of living, this is a priority.

Tantae molis erat humanam condere gentem

1 Introduction: Purpose of This Study

“It is our hope. . . that we will eventually be able to integrate disparate research literature by exploring how wisdom promotes the collaboration of mind and virtue toward a good life on an individual and societal level.” Kunzmann & Baltes 2003:341

“. . . psychological studies of wisdom are so singularly unpromising.” Kekes 1995:13

Modern science, in this case represented by empirical psychology, became interested in wisdom almost accidentally, just thirty years ago when a young researcher, Vivian Clayton (Clayton 1975, 1976; Clayton & Birren 1980), questioned some of the assertions put forth by Erik Erikson (1959, 1963) in regard to the final stage of life, successful arrival at which, he had claimed, resulted in wisdom. Writing soon after, Holliday & Chandler (1986:vii) comment that it was only the new interest in gerontology “and with it the need to identify potential competency markers in adulthood and old age” that attracted academic interest in wisdom. The study of healthy aging provided the starting point for the major group of researchers on wisdom, and research in this area is still to a large extent connected with the study of healthy aging (e.g., Ardelt 1997, 2003).
Prior to this time, psychologists had almost completely ignored wisdom. G. Stanley Hall (1922) had some thoughtful comments in his book on growing old. Carl Jung (e.g., 1959, 1967, 1968) discussed wisdom in terms of full human development. Erik Erikson (1959, 1963) made wisdom a culmination of his epigenetic theory of psychological stage development, and Heinz Kohut (1985) considered wisdom a culmination of successful psychological development and healthy transformation of original narcissism. Abraham Maslow mentioned wisdom frequently (e.g., 1968:48, 1970:47, Lowry 1973:77, and Maslow 1971:21, where he wrote “. . . growth values, that is, what makes man healthier, wiser, more virtuous, happier, more fulfilled”). He seemed to identify wisdom most closely with authenticity.
None of these gave the concept sustained and systematic treatment, and apart from them wisdom appears to have been quite ignored by psychologists. The reasons for this have been speculated on by Chandler & Holliday (1990:126-7) and Robinson (1990:20-23).
Wisdom lost interest for philosophers also (Robinson, 1990; N. Smith, 1998). Theologians and historians of ancient religions were the only scholars to make large-scale efforts to study wisdom, and they have made valuable contributions to understanding the early literature. Brown (2005:9761), for example, writes that “The subject of wisdom literature in the Bible has flourished in the last decades of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century.”
Once a way to study wisdom with a scientific method had been pointed out, the topic was quickly taken up by psychologists with interests other than aging. One of the first was Robert J. Sternberg of Yale (1985), whose specialty was intelligence, and then Stephen G. Holliday & Michael J. Chandler (1986), the latter seeking ways to promote adult competence and expand excessively technical models of knowing. Slower to progress have been methods of research and conceptualization, and it was only in 1990 (Smith & Baltes) that a theoretical model was advanced. In that model, wisdom was defined as “expertise in the fundamental pragmatics of life,” and operationalized by five criteria (see page 89 of this document). Researchers continue to find it difficult to discover approaches to wisdom that embrace its complexity, as will be seen. Defining wisdom remains a major concern for scholars in all fields with an interest in the concept. Marchand (2003:1) and Ardelt (2004:258) recently referred to the lack of a clear definition. Staudinger (2001a:1060) had written that “Most empirical research on wisdom in psychology has so far focused on further elaboration of the definition of wisdom.” Several articles in Lehrer et al. (1996) discuss a definition from a philosophical view, and in her article “Wisdom Literature: Theoretical Perspectives”, Alexandra R. Brown (2005:9762) gives nine alternative definitions of the Jewish-Christian wisdom literature. A general consensus regarding the identity of wisdom is not an impossibility, but it would probably require the type of work that resulted in the World Health Organization’s (1946) definition of health—which, as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being”, is not totally distinct from wisdom. In fact, Labouvie-Vief (1990:79) compared wisdom with the concept of optimal health; she proposed that it could provide both a model for optimal development, and for understanding why people fail to develop optimally. Brown’s (2005:9762) final alternate definition of wisdom as an “answer to the question ‘What is good for men and women?’” is perhaps broad enough to escape all subcategories and serve at the highest level of abstraction.
A task coordinate with definition is determining the range of human activities in which wisdom can be manifested. Aristotle (Metaphysics I.1, 981b28-9) distinguished practical from theoretical wisdom, the one (phronēsis) concerned with human affairs, and the other (sophia), “concerned with the primary causes and principles.” This differentiation was followed by Augustine and Aquinas, and is still useful. A contemporary model is provided by Kramer (1990), who distinguishes five functions: Solution of problems confronting oneself; Advising others; Management of social institutions; Life review; and Spiritual introspection. Lacking clarity regarding its definition and areas of application, it is unlikely that such a broad activity as wisdom can be efficiently learned, and used as a tool for making choices. Wisdom has a long and lingering history of connoting, in part, a superhuman ideal, and, in part, the word is used as a vague term of approval. It is used in reference to personal and public life, esoteric knowledge, and religious dogma, and what it means in any of these areas is seldom clear. After all, in any definition wisdom is a matter of interpretation, not a physical phenomenon that can be precisely defined.
Conley (2003:784) states that wisdom “may be given speculative or practical emphasis or even special religious value, but it always implies a type of knowing and usually a capacity to judge.” That wisdom is constituted by good judgment has been part of its meaning since its first appearance in written records: “In those days, in those far remote days, in those nights, in those faraway nights, in those years, in those far remote years, at that time the wise one who knew how to speak in elaborate words lived in the Land. Šuruppag gave instructions to his son. . .” So begins the Instructions of Shuruppak (ca 2600 BCE), one of four documents “known from the dawn of literature” (Schøyen 2005).


Human assumptions about our place in the universe have changed throughout the centuries, and the understanding of wisdom has changed accordingly. The general meaning space has not. At the least, the study of wisdom by psychologists since 1980 has made available one more tool for guiding decisions. Wisdom can be distinguished as a valid, unique construct whose content can be described and operationalized. This is an important accomplishment, as Blanchard-Fields & Norris (1995:105) recognize: “wisdom has been legitimized in the science of psychology by operationalizing it into a knowledge system framework, i.e., borrowing from an established scientific approach.” As Moberg (2002:47) points out, “scientific research depends upon measurement and human services require assessments.” Operationalization of wisdom is a step forward, but operationalization adequate to the concept is something else, a problem with which this dissertation is primarily concerned.
Paul B. Baltes (1987:612), one of the major contributors, points out that it was only since the 1960s that lifespan development has been studied empirically. He also expresses optimism that wisdom can be studied empirically, “inasmuch as cognitive psychologists are increasingly studying tasks and reasoning problems that, like the problems to which wisdom is applied, have a high degree of real-life complexity, and whose problem definition and solution involves uncertainty and relativism in judgment” (615).
Staudinger (2001a:1062) writes that future research on wisdom will, at the least, be directed toward identifying the conditions necessary for the development of wisdom; and toward wisdom’s use for finding ways to live well; and toward its use as a metaheuristic, a general strategy or pattern for making optimal choices, particularly in regard to life planning, management, and evaluation.
To propose that wisdom is a basic developmental goal of humans is not absurd, even if, while believing that we have a long history of concern with this ability, we have in fact hardly made a beginning in its cultivation. This is why Kekes’ (one of the few contemporary philosophers to write about wisdom) judgment at the opening of the Introduction is unfair and misguided. He was writing at a time when empirical research into wisdom had been carried on for less than two decades. A Greek critic writing during the first generation of philosophers certainly could have similarly dismissed philosophic inquiry into wisdom.


As indicated in the previous section, if wisdom is to become a construct, model, or goal truly useful for guiding human decisions at this time when traditional guides are faltering and there is uncertainty about any guides, it must be capable of being assessed. Possibly empirical science will need to find ways of doing this that go beyond currently accepted methods; but without measures that are both epistemologically justified, as well as capable of embracing the essential aspects of wisdom, interventions aimed at developing the wisdom of individuals will be severely handicapped.
Research has progressed far enough to make it possible to design a model for those who suspect that neither they nor their fellow citizens will ever be wise, but who are convinced of the value and possibility of making decisions that are wiser than they would otherwise be. To date, research has been used to assess people’s wisdom, to help determine a definition, and to establish its relationship to other psychological constructs. Research to assess or promote the wisdom of public policy, as opposed to the wisdom of persons, has not been attempted. Sternberg is the only researcher who is using the research to help people become wiser, in a recently-begun study (2001a, 2003) with middle-school children.
Wisdom is universally accepted to be of great value, and yet it has been applied to so many different aspects of life, to indicate such a broad range of qualities, that clear perception is obscured. Such vagueness is not simply an obstacle to clear thinking about wisdom—this could be sorted out in a rather straightforward way—but an obstacle to understanding how existence is to be perceived. It becomes tacitly assumed that fundamental qualities of existence are far more nebulous than they actually are (though still nebulous enough). Despite the fact that that studies of average people’s ideas show “that there exists high consensus among adult American and German participants about what is considered to be wise” (Baltes et al., 1995:159), it has not been demonstrated that there is clear understanding of the meaning of wisdom in people’s minds. If a list of brief descriptors are presented to average people, and they are asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 5 how well each describes a wise person, reasonable agreement among responses may result, but this is not the same as providing a clear description of what it means to be wise; nor does it demonstrate that the respondents have a clear understanding of what wisdom is, or that they have ever given wisdom any thought. A clear portrait of the conceptual space of wisdom is lacking from both philosophical and psychological studies, and one of the goals of this study is to bring a better focus here.
The concept of wisdom cannot be fixed with the precision of concepts in the physical sciences, but the landscape can be clearly identified and become familiar. Empirical research has an essential role in this ongoing project. An important step has been taken by researchers, including those of the Max Planck Institute (MPI) group, indicating that wisdom is a psychological construct distinct from intelligence or personality. Staudinger, Maciel, et al. (1998:14) observe that “it seems defensible to pursue wisdom as a construct in its own right, and that it is not easily captured by extant measures.”
The fact that the term “wisdom”, or kindred terms, have been used over thousands of years, to refer to quite different activities (e.g., religious and practical, personal and political), makes it both difficult and necessary to draw the lines as clearly as possible if wisdom, considered as an explicit perspective or a “metaheuristic” (Baltes & Staudinger 2000) is to be of use for improving human existence. This is indicated by Taranto’s (1989:1) comment that in most of the recent psychological and philosophical writing on wisdom at that time, “the general intent. . . is to define wisdom.” Hershey & Farrell (1997) may be mistaken when they write that “psychologists who examine perceptions of wisdom assume that there should exist a universally agreed upon definition of wisdom.” At least I have not come across any explicit statements to this effect. But a universally agreed upon definition of wisdom might not be a bad idea.
Vagueness at the edges of definitional boundaries may not be a weakness, if such a definition makes it possible for people to acquire a clear understanding of wisdom’s central features, and where it applies in their lives. Holliday & Chandler’s (1986) comments on prototypes are worth considering in this regard. The impression I get from studying the history of wisdom, and the current global problematique, is that despite our long history, humans are at an infantile stage of development in regard to wisdom: in a position somewhat similar to when symbolic language was being created by long ago ancestors. It is difficult for anyone to become aware of hir own developmental limitations. What can be done is to propose reasonable ideal standards (as in the U.S. Declaration of Independence). There is nothing novel in the claim that Homo sapiens is an unfinished species and that further mental development is possible. Wisdom will remain a debatable and fluid concept, yet once clarity is attained regarding its functions and constituents, its manifestations will be easier to identify and discuss, and its ontogenesis and development easier to cultivate.


The ability to prioritize, and to have a clear understanding of what is involved in making good choices, is especially important today. Human’s power to control our lives, and to affect all life, has increased by orders of magnitude in the past couple centuries. We need to take seriously our plan for using that power. The following chart gives an indication of what I mean:
World Population Growth
Year Population
1000 BCE 50 million
1 285 million
1000 CE 300 million
1500 480 million
1750 800 million
2000 6,080 million
2050 9,190 million

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division, International Programs Center. Last Revised: 30 Sep 2004 14:18:41 EDT , accessed 3/5/2005. For 2000, and 2050 estimate: U.S. Bureau of the Census, International Data Base. . Data updated 9-30-2004 accessed 3/5/2005. Estimates for years 1-2000 CE were made by the Census Bureau by averaging upper and lower estimates.

A chart of energy use, or of human appropriation of Net Primary Production (NPP), would be even more informative. Net Primary Production is the global amount of solar energy converted by photosynthesis into organic matter. The ability to calculate NPP is new. Reporting in Scientific American (April 2005) on the most recent and most detailed study, Rodger Doyle writes that human use of NPP is estimated between 14-26 percent. Eminent biologist E. O. Wilson (1992:272), whose estimate of the human appropriation of NPP was 20-40 percent, wrote “There is no way that we can draw upon the resources of the planet to such a degree without drastically reducing the state of most other species.” A third indication of human-environment interface, world energy use, shows a roughly seventy-fivefold increase from 1800 to 1990 (McNeill, 2000:15).
Here is where the exercise of wisdom (or good judgment by any name) becomes humanity’s greatest challenge. Empirical study may be a necessary requirement for wisdom to become a goal, perspective, or method that is actually used in people’s public and personal roles. The first quarter-century of empirical research has shown how difficult such study is. Since the Enlightenment, wisdom has been of very little interest to people in the West, particularly to educated people. Yet the need for wisdom has not gone away, and it can be maintained with justification that the need is greater today than ever. Robert J. Sternberg (2003:xviii), 2003 President of the American Psychological Association and one of the major researchers on wisdom, writes that “If there is anything the world needs, it is wisdom. Without it, I exaggerate not at all in saying that very soon, there may be no world. . .”
Following the post-World War II population, economic, and technology booms, the human community has no choice but to take responsibility for the fate of the Earth. If we do not, human power has grown so great that we will affect our future in ways that are as drastic as unplanned, determined by narrow, short term interests. For example, in regard to biodiversity, genetic engineering, and poverty that is life-stunting for hundreds of millions in the midst of enormous wealth. Williams (1991:41), in the New Encyclopedia Britannica, writes of genetic engineering that “This second scientific revolution may prove to be, for good or ill, the most important event in the history of mankind.” Without wisdom, the likelihood increases that it will prove for ill. There is already auspicious irony in the fact that humans have worked out the genetic code of life while simultaneously bringing about the first mass extinction of species in the past sixty-five million years (Thomas et al. 2004).
On the other hand, humans have a unique opportunity at this moment to use the enormous power we have gained for the well-being of all. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan (2003) states that “For the first time in human history, we have the resources, the knowledge and the expertise to eradicate human poverty—and to do it within the lifetime of a child born at the time when the A Millennium Declaration was adopted” (September 2000).
Aleida Assmann (1994:204) writes of the “loss of an integrating perspective” in a postmodern pluralistic world as allowing the return of interest in wisdom. In fact, conflicts arising from irreconcilable ultimate beliefs and values (or their interpretations) are the perfect place for wisdom, even as visionaries struggle without cess or success to discern a “global ethic” (e.g., Hodes & Hays 1995). This is not to deny that eventually a new integrating perspective, a postmodern synthesis, or “universal truth,” may come forth, possibly, as Csikszentmihalyi & Rathunde (1990:32) suggest, “a systematic ecological consciousness in which the consequences of events and actions are understood to be causally related and to have long-term effects for the survival of human life and for the environment that sustains it”—a post-modern return to the “act-consequence” insight (Rudolph 2005) of “those days, those faraway days” when Shuruppak walked the land. A globally concerted approach to and prioritizing of wisdom is highly desirable, if not a sine qua non for energizing the will of the global community to use our resources and knowledge humanely.
The amount of knowledge that has become available in the past couple centuries has changed the human condition fundamentally. The facts of life and death, good and evil, love and indifference have not changed. But these realities are subject to greatly differing interpretations. For example, the difference between believing that only physical forces exist, and believing that this existence is only a preparation for eternal life in heaven or hell. As Meacham (1983:131) points out, “The introduction of new knowledge changes the broader context within which all knowledge is evaluated”.
Not only has the context changed in major ways in the past century, the need for higher-order cognitive, affective, and social skills will arguably bring about a revolution in human thinking processes. There is a great demand for better decision-making, and there are many excellent tools for helping people acquire this skill. David Perkins (1995:13), like many others such as Sternberg, proposes that intelligence is learnable, and he claims “that a revolution in our conceptions of intelligence is underway, that it’s warranted, that we need it, and that we can carry it further.” Wisdom may provide a key filter for better decision-making in the increasingly complex and interdependent world, where options are far more numerous. But what is meant by wisdom needs to be clearly and readily understandable.


Believing that a wisdom perspective must be made available for individual and collective prioritizing, and that empirical psychology provides the best opportunity for making this possible, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the published research, I present in this dissertation a description of all of the studies, at least so far as my diligent search has discovered. There has never even been a thorough review of the literature. Taranto 1989, Kramer 2000, and Marchand 2003 are quite helpful, not by any means systematic and complete. I have described these thirty-seven investigations in detail but as succinctly as possible and, in a separate section, have made some evaluative comments. The scientific study of wisdom is difficult, as the researchers themselves (e.g., Baltes & Kunzmann 2004:297) point out. Assessment of the extent to which approaches used so far to study wisdom have succeeded will be easier for having a presentation in one place and in a standard format of all the research. This dissertation should prove useful to researchers and to anyone interested in the recovery of wisdom.
In addition to the general historic review of the literature that forms Chapter 2 of this dissertation, I have provided brief descriptions of twelve psychological theories of wisdom, or in the case of psychologists such as G. Stanley Hall, C. G. Jung, and Erik Erikson, their thoughts on wisdom as expressed in their writings. In this section also is found a catalog of the personal qualities that psychologists have identified with wisdom. It concludes with a statement of the research question, namely, How is wisdom to be researched? A preliminary question, What has research psychology learned so far about wisdom and the prospects for the development of wisdom? is also a major concern of this dissertation. Chapter 3 sets forth the method I have followed in formulating and answering this question, proposing three tasks as essential: first, the integration of existential (religious and metaphysical) wisdom with the personal and practical aspects studied to date; second, investigation into possible differences in women’s and men’s ways of being wise; and third, the necessity of studying actual wise people. Chapter 4 provides descriptions of the thirty-seven research studies published to May 2005 that I have been able to locate. In Chapter 5 are the results of inquiry regarding the research question, including a summary of the research findings to date on wisdom. Chapter 6 presents an evaluation of particular psychological research and theorizing, along with discussion of the results in relation to the research question. Chapter 7 offers brief concluding thoughts.
The amount of research on wisdom has increased greatly in the past decade. When Orwoll & Perlmutter discussed the empirical research on wisdom in 1990, they could be inclusive by covering three studies. In 2005, there are three dozen to be considered, and their rate of appearance is increasing. Ongoing reviews, and in-depth evaluations such as this one, become all the more important as it becomes more difficult for one person to keep abreast of the material and set it in a larger context.
It is with the utmost respect for and gratitude to the psychological investigators that my investigation into their work and its future prospects is made.

2 Literature Review


“[E]very culture,” writes Kurt Rudolph (2005:9476), “has or has had its ideal of wisdom.” In presenting a background to the area of wisdom covered in this study I will discuss only that of the West, recognizing that the ideas of Plato and Aristotle are still current: as N. Smith, in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (1998) observes, “Given its [wisdom’s] disappearance from our discussions, none of the claims by the early Greeks has been sufficiently well scrutinized by philosophers.” (Not to mention empirical psychologists.)
India, Iran, and China also have extensive and ancient literary wisdom traditions. In Hinduism, the oldest literature are the four Vedas. Veda is translated as “knowledge” or “wisdom.” (Naylor 1998). In Buddhism, wisdom appears to be an understanding of the nature and meaning of existence, with the practical end of helping a person live in accord. Prajna, wisdom, is an important term in Mahayana Buddhism. Takamaro Shigaraki (n.d.), former President of Ryukoku University, writes that “In Mahayana Buddhism, the focus is on prajna (which is a synonym for satori-enlightenment) and also on prajna’s inseparable companion and component, karuna-compassion.” Flesher (1997) writes that prajna “is the supreme wisdom considered by Mahayana Buddhism to be outside human experience and incapable of being conveyed in this-world categories. The key experience of prajna is insight into Emptiness, the true nature of the cosmos.” The name of the supreme deity in Zoroastrianism, Ahura Mazda, is translated “Wise Lord.” Chinese wisdom literature begins with the writings of Confucius, and the Tao Te Ching. “Chinese philosophy is ‘wisdom’ literature,” David Wong (2005) writes, “composed primarily of stories and sayings designed to move the audience to adopt a way of life or to confirm its adoption of that way of life.”
In this review of the literature on wisdom, I discuss the literature from the discipline of psychology that pertains to wisdom, along with the philosophical literature and some relevant theological literature of Christian Europe. First, I present a historical review, from the earliest wisdom literature to Thomas Aquinas, to provide what seems to be an essential context: in the forty-five centuries of writing on wisdom, some of the most eminent thinkers have considered wisdom central to a good life. In this dissertation I am primarily concerned with the psychological research, and it is this concern that leads to the conviction that to be most valuable, psychological study must be enriched by engaging with this heritage. However, I omit discussion of Russian sophiology of Bulgakov and Soloviev; and discussion of the Sumerian, Egyptian, and Greek gods of wisdom.
Following the historical review, the literature is considered in three divisions: Defining wisdom (section B), Personal aspects of wisdom (section C), and Theoretical psychological models (section D). In these, the main concern has been to cover the psychological literature, but I have integrated some contemporary philosophical thought on wisdom, along with relevant material from Greek, Roman, and medieval Christian writers. Particular questions I have kept in mind while reviewing this literature are, What did the author think wisdom is? How did the author believe it was gained? and What is the basis for his or her assertions?

Four main periods of wisdom literature in the West

A temporal categorization of wisdom literature in the West could distinguish four overlapping main periods: prephilosophic (to Socrates); classical (Socrates to, perhaps, Boethius); Christian (New Testament to Nicholas of Cusa); and modern (Pierre Charron to present).


In discussing the earliest period, Rudolph (2005) states that its genre is the gnomic saying, maxims and proverbs. The wisdom texts from this period include, in addition to the fragmentary Instructions of Shuruppak, the Ludlul Bêl Nimeqi or “Sumerian Job”, The Precepts of Ptah-Hotep (the oldest surviving Egyptian wisdom text, ca2200BCE) and the later Instruction of Amenemope from the twenty-second Egyptian dynasty, along with the wisdom books of the Bible, both the Jewish canon (Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes) and the Apocrypha (Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus or Ben Sira). Discovery of the ancient texts of Near Eastern civilizations has led to a profound reinterpretation of the wisdom books of the Bible (see Boadt 1985). This became unavoidable when it was found that, for example, Proverbs 22:17-24:22 “borrows directly from passages in Amenemope.”
This prephilosophic phase (I have adopted this not-ideal term from Boadt, 1985) begins with a practical, secular concern: the wise person is a self-controlled and efficient member of the community. Thus, besides connoting guidance for the conduct of life (“rules for success”), terms for wisdom referred to skill in crafts or arts. Assmann (1994:197) says that “Such behavior demands no outstanding capacities; it defines a standard that can be adopted by everyman.” Good and evil are easily distinguished; good is rewarded and evil punished, in this moral world lacking complexity but containing shrewd evaluation of human nature and its weaknesses.
A hallmark of prephilosophic instruction is that it is set forth unproblematically: “This is wisdom, my son. . .” There is no inquiry into the nature of wisdom, the principles by which wise actions can be distinguished from nonwise. These are assumed to be understood. Reflection, dialectical thinking, and metacognition are currently considered so intrinsic to wisdom, along with the recognition of lifespan, cultural, and historical context, that it is useful to insert here an observation regarding a much later master, St. Thomas Aquinas. In discussing Thomas’s use of Biblical wisdom literature, Lawrence Boadt (1985) writes that “He probably never considered that the original purpose or meaning of an Old Testament text might be far different from his own understanding.” It is in this way that wisdom changes qualitatively as our understanding is transformed (e.g., from considering questions about life to considering questions about conditions of knowing; from reasoning by analogy to following rules of logic). It appears that throughout the “prephilosophic” period of wisdom concern mental vision becomes increasingly acute for seeing according to the wisdom perspective, but not at all for inquiring into the perspective itself. There might be skeptical or disillusioned exposition of the difficulties resulting from the failure to appear of positive results promised in the “act-consequence connection”, but not a deeper questioning of the basis of knowing, which perhaps would have been to alienate oneself from one’s society.
Later, in Egyptian “disputation literature” and in Job, as well as Ecclesiastes, when doubt is expressed regarding the punishment of evil and rewards for goodness that had been taken for granted, the concept of wisdom is still not an intellectual puzzle for systematic inquiry. Such inquiry was to characterize the classical, philosophic period. At the same time, as nature was considered to exemplify the act-consequence rules, analogies with animals and plants are discovered, hinting at the proper conduct of humans, and wisdom is linked with the order of the universe.
As time goes on, there is a general trend to take an increasingly religious perspective, though without ever cutting the bond with wisdom-as-coping-in-daily-life. Following what seems to be an irresistible dynamic, a search for first principles, wisdom is placed in a cosmic context, and becomes harmony with the basic rules of nature, and from this to harmony with a law given by the god(s). Finally, wisdom is identified with the deity, or hypostasized as a deity who may be a partner or ambassador of the Creator, at least in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Israel, Iran, and India. In Egypt, maat, the righteous order of the universe “became basic to the idea of wisdom” (Rudolph 2005), later yielding to faith in Re, the divinity.
In the Old Testament (OT), the books of Job, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs are considered to fit the genre “wisdom literature,” and in the Apocrypha Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon. Wisdom elements are not absent from other parts of the OT: the stories of Solomon and his wisdom are told in 1 Kings. Several of the Psalms (e.g., 1 and 49) are known as “wisdom psalms.” In Exodus, wisdom is used of skillful workers (28:3; 31:3; 36:1-2). Wisdom writing in the OT is marked by the absence of elements from Jewish salvation history, and yet Jewish wisdom is thoroughly religious: “The Lord by wisdom founded the Earth” (Prov. 3:19), and the existence of wisdom in God is always apparent.
Wisdom is hypostasized in Proverbs 8 and elsewhere, becoming Lady Wisdom.
One link between prephilosophic, philosophic, and Christian stages of thought regarding wisdom is indicated by Boadt (1985:587):
The passion for seeing order in the experience of the world’s operations led the wisdom writers to extol the beauty and perfection in the divine order of creation itself. All of reality is planned by God and operates according to the divine plan. The search for wisdom is a search to see and know the divine intention behind the ordered universe. At the same time, the order and harmony of nature reveals the power, intelligence and love of the planner.

In short, wisdom is already moving toward what a later master would describe as divina amata contemplari (Aquinas, Scriptum Super Sententiis IIID35Q2A1qc3co), contemplation of the beloved divine.


Socrates. The busy Greeks apparently were the first to inquire systematically into the nature of wisdom, led by Socrates, with his questions about definitions and search to understand the Delphic oracle’s pronouncement that no-one was wiser than he. Socrates followed a path cut by such legendary figures as the “first philosopher” Thales, by Solon who said “I grow old learning”, and Anaxagoras, who proposed that “All things were alike. Then mind (nous) came and distinguished them.” Baltes (2004:84) believes that Socrates “made three specific contributions to a philosophy of wisdom”: he changed the subject of philosophy from cosmology to the examination of one’s life and of the best life; he initiated a form of questioning that challenged both questioner and the one questioned, and examined the questions themselves; and he made a firm association between wisdom and virtue. Socrates insisted that he possessed no wisdom at all; yet it was the divine flame around which his life circled. In discussing wisdom and eros in Plato’s dialogues, James M. Rhodes (2003) quotes Diotima’s words to Socrates, which Socrates recalls in the Symposium (205d1-2), that eros is “desire of all good things and of being happy.” The likeness to wisdom is not accidental. Rhodes notes that despite Socrates’ professions of ignorance, he did claim, and strongly, to know ta erōtika, erotic matters. In Symposium (177d7-8) Socrates says, “I say that I know (epistasthai) nothing but the things of eros”, and he makes a similar claim in Theages (128b2-4). In fact, eros is described as so central to all the most important aspects of human existence that “It might be fair to call a scientific knowledge of eros wisdom” (Rhodes 2003:4). While Socrates wrote nothing, he became the image of the wise person, and his moral fervor for the “health of the soul” made a lasting impression in the West.

Plato. Plato’s understanding of wisdom and of the philosopher’s métier, as inquiry into and ultimately possession of wisdom, has been extraordinarily influential, in part through its influence on Aristotle, and on Stoic and Christian concepts of wisdom. While the mystical implications of Plato’s devotion to the Good helped lay the foundation for Christian theology and mysticism, Labouvie-Vief (1990:61) observes that, “Following his [Plato’s] lead, for centuries to come, theories of truth and logic focused on rational structures only.” To consider abstractions more valid than particular exemplars may still be very natural for us Westerners. In his attempt to liberate the social sciences from second class epistemological status and augment their effectiveness for social improvement, Bent Flyvbjerg (2001) emphasizes the essentiality of unique actual cases for the development of expert learning, but we are still charmed by Plato’s rational structures.
Wisdom is most notably discussed by Plato in the Apology, Symposium, and Republic (R), most fully in the latter. In Protagoras, Plato had Socrates and Protagoras discuss the five virtues wisdom, temperance, courage, justice, and piety, and demonstrates that the virtues are all the same in that all are knowledge of what is ultimately painful and pleasant. In the Republic, wisdom is knowledge of the absolute Good, a connection being drawn with the divine that makes the idea of mere practical wisdom—wisdom in daily affairs or excellent judgment—seem insignificant. Plato’s is an all-or-nothing perspective: wisdom, which follows from knowledge of the Good, is described as practically impossible of attainment, and yet “if we don’t know it [i.e., the Good], even the fullest possible knowledge of other things is of no benefit to us” (R505a).
The philosopher, who “desires all wisdom” (R475b), goes beyond love for any particular good things, to concern with and, in thought, the ability to see and comprehend, the Good in itself, which “is always the same in all respects” (R484b). He has true knowledge, not opinion, of this Good, and “looks at and studies things that are ordered and always the same, that neither do injustice to one another nor suffer it” (R500bc). The study of this knowledge is for those beyond the age of participating in politics and military service (R498b), after years of physical and mental training.
In the Republic, Socrates says that it is because of their relation to the Good “that just things and the others become useful and beneficial” (R505a). At R508d-509b, just prior to the allegory of the cave, Socrates describes the Good as the cause of knowledge and truth, and that the soul is capable of recognizing this Good. The soul had been seen (R435b-441c) to consist of three parts: a rational, appetitive, and spirited; and wisdom is associated with the rational part, which should rule “since it is really wise and exercises foresight on behalf of the whole soul” (R441e; and see R580d-581b). But to discover the soul’s true nature, we must look “to its philosophy, its love of wisdom” (R611b-e).

Aristotle. Falling midway between Shuruppak and us is Aristotle, whose two-part categorization of wisdom into theoretical and practical is still, in general, valid. To understand Aristotle’s conception of wisdom, it is necessary to begin with his account of human fulfillment. Eudaimonia, being the end or goal (telos) of all actions, is seen to be final or complete (teleion), and self-sufficient. The term eudaimonia has historically been translated as “happiness,” a rendering utterly unsuitable, particularly in our self-concerned age, in which the personal and hedonistic connotations of “happiness” contradict Aristotle’s explicit statement (NE1097b9seq.). It is even more misleading now that awareness of interconnections and social construction of the mind is percolating throughout the hyperindividualist West. More recently, eudaimonia is translated as “flourishing”, which is better. “Well-being” could also be used. In the (probably) 4th century BCE Definitions of Pseudo-Plato, eudaimonia is defined as “success in life: the good composed of all goods; an ability which suffices for living well; perfection in respect of virtue; resources sufficient for a living creature.” It isn’t that “eudaimonia” lacks reference to personal satisfaction, but that “happiness” lacks reference to full human excellence, particularly virtue.
Aristotle considers the extent to which eudaimonia may be attained by one’s efforts in the Nicomachean Ethics (NE1099b9-24), concluding that, at the least, it would be “highly unfitting if attainment of this greatest and noblest thing were left to fate.” To avoid misrepresenting Aristotle, I will leave the term transcribed as eudaimonia here, occasionally resorting to “flourishing.”
There are three other terms important for understanding Aristotle’s concept of wisdom that can be misleading if given their customary translation: aretē, sophia, and phronēsis. In the glossary to his translation of NE, Ostwald describes aretē as the qualities that enable a person “to perform hi[r] own particular function well,” and he translates the term as excellence, or goodness, or virtue, “or a combination of these.” Two kinds of aretai are distinguished by Aristotle: intellectual and moral excellences. The moral are courage, justice, temperance, liberality, gentleness, and so on; the intellectual are intelligence (sunesis) and “intelligence that apprehends fundamental principles” (nous), art or craft (technē), scientific knowledge (epistēmē), sophia, phronēsis.
Sophia is usually translated simply as “wisdom.” Phronesis is translated in various ways. It was translated into Latin as prudentia, and has continued to be translated as prudence in English. Noel (1999:273) mentions translations such as practical reasoning, practical wisdom, discernment, and prudence, and that the term is given different interpretations that emphasize rationality, situational insight, and moral character. R. Smith (1999) uses the term “practical judgment” as more suited to the qualities he wants to emphasize. “Practical knowledge,” Natali (2001:25) writes, “which from now on is almost always called phronesis, or wisdom, has features that make it the opposite of science; in many ways it is more similar to the virtues of character.”
Aristotle (NE1198b24) says that eudaimonia “is considered by some to be aretē, by others to be phronēsis, and by others sophia. . .” Earlier, he stated, “Being a part of virtue as a whole, by its possession and its exercise sophia renders a person eudaimōn” (NE1144a5-6). “Ethical virtue is a disposition that cooperates with the correct principle (meta tou orthou logou). Phronēsis is the correct principle in matters of conduct” (NE1144b27-28). That is, it is the knowledge of this principle.
In Book VI of the Nichomachean Ethics (1139a-1141b), Aristotle distinguishes five ways in which “the soul achieves truth in affirming or denying: artisanry, knowledge, practical wisdom, wisdom, intelligence (technē, epistēmē, phronēsis, sophia, nous). In their translations of the Nicomachean Ethics, epistēmē is translated as “science” by Ostwald, and “Scientific Knowledge” by Rackham. It is concerned with facts that cannot be other than they are (as opposed to the results of deliberation). Artisanry, technē, “is a rational quality, concerned with making, according to true reason.” Intelligence apprehends fundamental principles, and sophia, theoretical wisdom, includes both intelligence and scientific knowledge. “The wise person must know the fundamental principles (archē) and that which follows from them. Thus, sophia is intelligence and knowledge. It is knowledge in its consummation, as it were, the knowledge of things that are valued most highly” (NE1141a17-20).
Aristotle did not specify sophia as “wisdom” and phronēsis as something else. Contemplating first principles is sophia: “it is generally assumed that what is called wisdom (sophia) is concerned with the primary causes and principles.” (Metaphysics I.1, 981b28-9). To discern the best choice, the best course of action, is phronēsis. Furthermore, it is the person with phronesis (ho phronimos) who determines what specific action a moral excellence calls for in a specific situation: “Moral virtue then is a settled disposition of the mind regarding choices, consisting essentially in the observance of the mean relative to us, determined by a rational principle as the person of practical wisdom would determine it” (NE1106b36-1107a1). Phronesis is concerned with deliberating, with decisions regarding human affairs; the person of practical wisdom is one “who can arrive by calculation at the best humanly attainable good” (tou aristou anthrōpōi tōn praktōn, NE1141b13-14). Slightly adapted, this might serve as a generic (though still incomplete) definition of wisdom, carrying forward Brown’s (2005:9762) ninth definition of wisdom as an “answer to the question ‘What is good for men and women?’” quoted on page 3 of this text): Wisdom is the knowledge and use of good means to the best possible ends, a “best possible choice” model of wisdom.
Phronēsis cannot be entirely left out of the discussion of wisdom, as sophia (theoretical wisdom), which considers the first principles of being and not human affairs, is considered by Aristotle as obviously superior, “as humans are not the best thing in the cosmos” (NE1141a21-22), and yet sophia is uninvolved with human good (said to be “useless” achrēsta, NE1141b8). Contemporary empiric inquiry has generally ignored the sophaic/metaphysical face of wisdom, quite understandably, focusing on the phronetic aspect, or simply wisdom as psychological maturity. The impossibility of continuing to do so, in principle and in practice, will be argued as one of the research questions of this dissertation.
For Aristotle, sophia, being a purely contemplative activity, is the most perfect form of knowledge. The sophos must know the first principles and what follows from them. Thus, sophia is a combination of nous and epistēmē. Phronēsis is distinguished from technē, the other of the five qualities “by which the mind achieves truth in affirmation or denial” (NE1139b15), in that technē is concerned with making, phronēsis with actions.
To specify eudaimonia for humans, Aristotle suggests we seek out the function of humans. He identifies it as that which is unique to and shared by all people: “the active exercise of the soul in conformity with rational principle” (psuchēs energeia kata logon ē mē aneu logon, NE1098a7-9); and defines human good as “the active exercise of the soul in conformity with excellence [or virtue: kat’ aretēn] and, if there are many excellences, conformity with the best and most perfect”, in a complete lifetime (en biōi teleiōi, NE1098a18-19).
Aristotle has strayed here: there is no reason to assume a single human good, or that our function must be that which is unique to and universal among humans (Cuomo 1998:66-69). There may be an ultimate goal of eudaimonia, flourishing, or health as the World Health Organization defines it, which can attain a broad consensus, but the details remain to be filled in. There are some things humans have learned since Aristotle’s time (such as the basic equality of humans, evolutionary and psychological development, and a more precise understanding of interrelatedness). We can start from the point of general agreement and revise from there—perhaps, along with MacIntyre (1984:chap. 5) at the point of accepting that life does have a telos or goal—and elaborate a vision of “human-nature-as-it-could-be-if-it-realized-its-telos”. While, in a Darwinian understanding in which species are constantly adapting, the telos has become survival rather than a fixed, static, intrinsic end, as Aristotle’s telos appears to be, this need not alter radically the Aristotelian idea of telos (in NE I) as fulfillment of the particular function of a species, object, or activity. If that function cannot be thought of as a static accomplishment, it can be thought of as a dynamic state of healthy, or optimal, response to the environment. The individual organism’s survival is not, at least for humans, the ultimate standard.
Eudaimonia requires certain external goods according to Aristotle (NE1099a31-32), and as a practical matter one can agree, while not accepting his list, and while recognizing that no single standard can be set for such externals as financial resources, physical health, comeliness, or social standing. Standards are a matter of interpretation: if necessary, it is possible to hold that a person can be flourishing if his or her “only achievement may consist in enduring hi[r] sufferings in the right way—an honorable way”, as Viktor Frankl (1984:49) has eloquently expressed.

Stoic wisdom. The Stoics were interested in wisdom, but they took a dogmatic rather than an inquisitive or analytic approach. Writing of Stoic ethics, Diogenes Laertius (VII.115-120) notes that they consider the wise person will be passionless, austere, earnest, uninvolved with business affairs but involved in affairs of state, religiously pious, and will marry and raise a family. They hold that only the wise person “is free and bad men are slaves, freedom being power of independent action, whereas slavery is privation of the same.” They did not problematicize wisdom; they felt quite confident to make assertions about it. Donini (1999:722-3) speculates that their reason for putting forth a perfect, ideal model was a felt need to portray a “paradigm of excellence which could not be improved upon: if it could, it would cease to function as a criterion.”
The Stoics felt there were no degrees of virtue: a person is either perfectly virtuous or not virtuous at all. Donini (1999:717) cites Stobaeus (II.99.3-106.20; cf. also II.65.7) for this doctrine, writing that “it follows logically that for all the Stoics from Zeno onwards humanity should be divided into just two moral categories, the virtuous (or ‘wise men’) and the corrupt (or ‘fools’, ‘madmen’).” Today we believe that as wisdom considers matters of deliberation, judgment, and values, it, like intelligence, exists on a scale of more or less. Note that wisdom has usually been defined as an ultimate ideal, and therefore it is reasonable that people and decisions will approach this perfect standard to a greater or lesser degree. N. Smith (1998:754) writes that “the development of fallibilism in epistemology has not served to liberate wisdom from its early association with infallibility, which was guaranteed to make wisdom seem an impossible achievement for human beings.”
It is not necessary to require that wisdom be rerum divinarum et humanarum scientia (“knowledge of things human and divine”, the Stoic definition, e.g. Seneca Epistulae Morales LXXXIX.5), that the wise person be “one who knows all, even difficult matters, with certitude and through their cause” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, I.2.43, cited in Collins 1962:132). In this regard the efforts of empirical psychologists to measure “wisdom-related knowledge” is certainly a more promising approach. A model of a wise person as mature, intelligent and thoughtful, caring and engaged, could be drawn up by positive psychology, and be a far more realistic and attainable ideal than that of the Stoics, while still being recognizable as wise. And yet, at this moment of a new interest in wisdom, it is worth recalling that “there was a time, in ancient Greece, when philosophy. . . . was, precisely, a life wholly dedicated to the pursuit of wisdom” (Gilson, 1951:2).


New Testament. Wisdom in Christianity continues the various elements from the Jewish tradition. In addition to the mention of “wisdom” (sophia) and “wise” (sophos) seventy times in the New Testament, it is the form of many of the sayings of Jesus, and the exhortations (paraeneses) and admonitions, that link Jesus with the wisdom tradition. Such statements as Luke (Lk)11:11, speaking of paternal care, or Lk 16:13, regarding social realities, are found by von Lips (2003:510) to be a link with traditional wisdom literature. Paraeneses that go beyond strict obedience to the Law (e.g., Lk 6:27, Matthew (Mt) 19:1-12) are another such connection.
In addition, there are comparisons of Jesus with wisdom, as in Mt 12:42: the queen of the south “came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and lo, one greater than Solomon is here.” In Mt 11:25 Jesus thanks God that “you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent, and you have revealed them to the simple.” He goes on to invite “all who are weary and burdened,” reminiscent of the section of Ecclesiasticus 24:19-22 in praise of wisdom. When he teaches in the synagogue listeners are amazed and ask “Whence came such wisdom and powers in him?” (Mt 13:54, Mark (Mk) 6:2). In Mt 23:34 and Lk 11:49 “it is indicated that Jesus is the ‘wisdom of God’” (Murphy, 2003:790). In Lk 21:12-15, Jesus foretells that his followers will be persecuted and brought to trial, yet they are not to worry: “For I will give you words and wisdom against which none of them will be able to stand or rebut.” Jesus may also be likened to the figure of wisdom in the Old Testament (Proverbs 1) in that, like wisdom, he is near, invites others to approach but is rejected, and thereupon disappears.
Murphy (2003:791) writes that “The prologue to the Fourth Gospel presents so many contacts with OT wisdom that one can hardly doubt that the Evangelist was rethinking much of the traditional sapiential heritage in presenting Jesus as the Logos, or Word.”
Outside the gospels, the epistle of James has much of the style of traditional wisdom literature, although there are also eschatological elements. Wisdom is spoken of positively in this letter; recipients are advised regarding proper behavior and, if they lack wisdom (1:5), they are to ask it of God. This is a return to an ethical wisdom, quite different from the direction taken by Paul and by the church thereafter. James mentions a wisdom that is “earthly, sensual, devilish,” while “the wisdom from above is in the first place chaste, and also peaceful, mild, docile, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, without dissimulation” (3:15-17).
Wisdom is mentioned four times in Acts, twice with a conventional connotation of level-headedness, and twice in reference to Moses: it is mentioned that he “was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (7:22). The Apocalypse also mentions wisdom four times, twice neutrally in prayers of praise, and twice with mysterious hints: 13:18, in regard to the beast whose number is six hundred sixty-six, and 17:9, explaining the beast on which the great harlot sits.
Paul’s references to wisdom were influential regarding the course wisdom was to take in the West, as his uncompromising reservation of wisdom for God and Jesus was adopted by Augustine. The first three chapters of 1 Corinthians (1Cor) account for twenty-six of the seventy uses of sophia or sophos in the New Testament, and there Paul expresses very clearly that “Jesus is the power of God and the wisdom of God,” and that “God has turned to foolishness the wisdom of this world” (1Cor 1:19-25). His use of the term “wisdom” in the rest of the letter, and its single use in 2 Corinthians confirms this understanding. The appearances of “wisdom” and “wise” in Romans, and in the deuteropauline Ephesians and Colossians, confirm the sense of wisdom given in 1 Corinthians; without that reference, however, the use of the terms would be nearly conventional. At 2:3 in Colossians, Paul writes that “in the mystery of God, Christ, are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (gnōsis).
Conley (1963:7,16) mentions an important difference between Greco-Roman wisdom and that of Christianity, that the Hellenic philosopher assumed that the individual’s task was to bring about hir own perfection, whereas the Christian, developing the Jewish tradition, looked to the descent of wisdom from God. There is an affective element to wisdom: the love of the soul for the Creator who created that soul in love.

Augustine. Wisdom was a central theme in Augustine’s thought, being extensively considered in several of his works. However, the meaning wisdom took was radically different in Augustine from what it had been to the philosophers. This change can be seen quite clearly in the Enchiridion, which begins by quoting Paul’s pugnacious rejection of the wisdom of this world (1Cor 1:20) and asserting that “reverence is wisdom for humans” (hominis autem sapientia pietas est; see also De Trinitate XII.15.22). Augustine’s conception, which can trace its ancestry to Platonic thought, was to become a lucid and cogent vision whose influence rivals that of any other writer on wisdom in the West. Rice (1958:13) notes that Augustine’s understanding of wisdom “dominated the Middle Ages until the Aristotelian revival of the late twelfth century.” Defining wisdom has been a difficult task for modern thinkers. Not so for Augustine. With elegant simplicity, he connected wisdom with truth, and truth with God, specifically with Jesus. Good judgment regarding secular affairs no longer is part of wisdom, but of scientia, knowledge.
For Augustine, “it is the task of wisdom to guide us to happiness as our final end” (Gilson 1960:116). The theoretical aspect of wisdom is of interest to him only insofar as it has a practical end, for humans. Thus, Augustine shares with Aristotle a eudaimonistic perspective. He draws a distinction between the external and the inner person (De Trinitate XII), with the external, sensory aspect being shared with the animals, and the inner person being the truly human. Actually, the human is a trinity in that our lower nature is that which we share with the beasts, while the inner person consists of the rational mind, concerned with cognition of temporal things, and that part of the mind concerned with the intellectual cognition of eternal things (alia sit intellectualis cognitio aeternarum rerum, alia rationalis temporalium, De Trinitate XII.15.25). That which is the essential human, the image of God, is the mind, or the inner person, and pure contemplation without involvement in action is the perfect expression of a human being, even though in this world we can only attain an imperfect knowledge of truth.
“To be happy is nothing else than not to be in want; this is to be a wise person” (beatum esse nihil est aliud quam non egere, hoc est esse sapientem, De Beata Vita 4.33). Wisdom is the soul’s scales, by which “the soul keeps its equlibrium so that it neither runs over into too much nor remains short of its fulness” (De Beata Vita 4.34). Happiness can only be had by one who has God, as God alone is permanent and not subject to the changes of fortune (De Beata Vita 2.11).
It is in this regard that Augustine differs from the common ancient definition of wisdom as rerum humanarum divinarumque scientia (knowledge of things both human and divine—“as defined by the ancient philosophers”, according to Cicero, Tusc. Disp. 4.26.57; De off. 2, 2, 5), distinguishing the hitherto conjoined sapientia and scientia, wisdom and science (or knowledge), proposing “that intellectual knowledge of eternal things pertains to wisdom, and rational knowledge of temporal things to science” (ad sapientiam pertineat aeternarum rerum cognitio intellectualis; ad scientiam vero, temporalium rerum cognitio rationalis, De Trinitate XII.15.25). Superior reason will be concerned with wisdom, with the divine rather than with sensible things. In this wisdom, the human recognizes that E is called to take a subordinate place in the universal scheme, hir choices made through reference to the Ultimate. Scientia, knowledge, when subordinated to wisdom, has an important place: it aids both in acquiring and in applying wisdom (De Trinitate XII.14.21). Both are needed. “If wisdom is sacrificed,” Gilson (1960:122) notes, “man’s dignity is surrendered, because his dignity consists in making the best use of his higher part. If science is sacrificed, dangerous and useless injury is done to wisdom itself.” The critical moral distinction between them is that wisdom cannot be used for evil ends, while science is very prone to the uses of avarice or pride. Yet this severance of sapientia and scientia, which H. I. Marrou found to be original in Augustine (see Conley 1963:17) seems to have had fateful consequences for the western world.
In De Doctrina Christiana (II.7.9-11), Augustine describes seven steps to wisdom:
Fear of the Lord, mindful of our mortality.
Piety, softening our pride to accept divine scripture.
Knowledge (scientia), that is the knowledge sought by the earnest student of scripture, who learns there to love God with hir whole heart and soul, and hir neighbor as hirself.
Courage, in which one hungers and thirsts for justice.
Counsel of compassion, in which one cleanses the soul, exercising hirself in love of neighbor until the point of love for one’s enemy is reached.
Purification of that eye by which God is seen (ipsum oculum purgat, quo videri Deus potest, quantum potest ab iis qui huic saeculo moriuntur quantum possunt). This saintly person is of so single and purified heart that no desire to please others or avoid any of their troubles will turn hir path from truth. Such a one ascends to
Wisdom, which he counts as the seventh and final step. (Initium enim sapientiae timor Domini. Ab illo enim usque ad ipsam per hos gradus tenditur et venitur.)

Thomas Aquinas. For Aquinas, “one who considers absolutely the highest cause of the whole universe, namely God, is called wise in the highest degree. Hence wisdom is said to be the knowledge of divine things. . . . Hence sacred doctrine is called wisdom in the highest degree.” This is stated at the beginning of the Summa Theologiae (Summa Ia-Iae, Q1A6co). As for Augustine, wisdom is of central importance in Thomas’ thought.
Aquinas judiciously does not separate wisdom and science, sapientia and scientia, as had Augustine: since wisdom demonstrates conclusions from principles, as do the sciences, it is a kind of science (sapientia est quaedam scientia). But it is something more, as it judges the other sciences, both their conclusions and their first principles (Summa Iª-IIae, Q57A2ad1).
In the Summa, there are 15 Questions concerned with either sapientia or prudentia. In Ia-IIae, Q57A2c, sapientia is said to “consider the highest causes.” Scientia considers lesser causes. Aquinas takes a third intellectual virtue from Aristotle’s five: understanding (intellectus, corresponding to Aristotle’s nous), and he considers wisdom to encompass both these others, as had Aristotle (Ia-IIae, Q57A2ad2).
As Aristotle distinguished phronēsis and sophia, Aquinas distinguishes prudentia (phronesis—as Cicero had originally translated the Greek term, De Officiis I.43) from sapientia, and for both there is an overlap between the two. The difference is stated clearly in Summa IIª-IIae, Q47A2ad1:
It is evident that prudence is wisdom in human affairs, it is not, however, simply wisdom, as it is not simply concerned with the highest cause, being concerned with the good for humans; and Homo is not the best of those things that are. And for that reason it is expressly stated that prudence is wisdom for a man, not however wisdom simply.

This has a loud echo from Aristotle, and Thomas’ prudentia corresponds closely to Aristotle’s phronesis, although with some difference (for example as being related to the gift of the Holy Spirit “counsel”; and Thomas’ observation that all the precepts of the Decalogue pertain to prudence). And Aquinas cites a large number of philosophers and theologians, as well as Scripture (he used a Latin text) in his discussion of this trait. In the Summa IIa-IIae, Qes47-49, the many quotes from the Philosopher regarding prudentia all refer to Aristotle’s phronēsis. Wisdom, science and intellectual knowledge (sapientia, scientia and intellectus corresponding to Aristotle’s sophia, epistēmē, and nous) all concern those things that are necessarily so; prudentia (i.e. phronēsis) concerns contingencies. And in other sections of the Summa, prudence is “right reason about things to be done” (prudentiam, quae est recta ratio agibilium, Summa Iª-IIae, Q57A4co); it is distinguished from art (i.e., technē) in that the latter concerns things that are made, the former things that are done.
Sapientia is a theological virtue. Among the four cardinal virtues (justice, temperance, courage, and prudence), prudence is foremost (prudentia est simpliciter principalior omnibus Summa Iª-IIae, Q61A2ad1). Prudence, “not only has the essential elements (rationem) of virtue that the other intellectual virtues possess, it also has the essential elements of virtue of the moral virtues, among which it is numbered” (Summa IIª-IIae, Q47A4co). It is clear, Thomas concludes a little further on, that “prudence is a special virtue distinct from all other virtues.” The good counsel which prudence provides “is perfected and aided to the greatest extent according as it is directed and moved by the Holy Spirit—and thus the Holy Spirit’s gift of counsel corresponds to prudence, as helping and perfecting it” (Summa IIª-IIae, Q52A2co). Thus prudentia indeed holds an exceptionally high place for Aquinas, even if lacking the sublimity of sapientia.
Prudentia’s role is to provide right reason to action. In doing this, it takes counsel, makes a judgment and directs one’s action. It is concerned not only with individual good, but with the common good of the public (prudentia non solum se habet ad bonum privatum unius hominis, sed etiam ad bonum commune multitudinis, Summa IIª-IIae, Q47A10co), personal, domestic, and political prudence belonging to different “species” of the concept. Though there are different forms of prudence, prudence plainly considered “correctly takes counsel, judges, and commands for the good end of one’s whole life” (ad bonum finem totius vitae recte consiliatur, iudicat et praecipit, Summa IIª-IIae, Q47A13co). There are eight “quasi-integral” parts of prudence: Memory, Understanding or Intelligence, Docility, Shrewdness, Reason, Foresight, Circumspection, and Caution. As prudence considers means, however, it can be directed towards improper ends (Summa IIª-IIae, Q55).
There is a path that leads from perception of the sensory world to the divine world, which can be traversed part of the way by reason. Beyond this, divine revelation has made it possible to proceed further, through faith. Yet faith is not immediate knowledge, not connaturalis, of the same nature as that which it believes. This final passage, final as far as is possible in this world, can only be made through a gift of the Holy Spirit. These three means correspond to the three forms of wisdom discerned by Thomas.
Metaphysics, which Aquinas “fully agreed. . . was the most perfect form of wisdom naturally acquirable by man” (Gilson, 1951:25), requires the demonstration of the existence of immaterial being. This is postulated to contain concepts as well as the existence of immaterial beings such as God. Thomas demonstrates the existence of such beings through the consideration of motion, and the ultimate dependence of motion on an immaterial cause. Following Aristotle, he requires all knowledge to be based in the senses; proceeding from this evidence, the mind is considered capable of advancing to the perception of non-sensible things (In Boet. De Trinitate, Q5A1c). Metaphysical wisdom is concerned with the principles such as identity, cause, and contradiction—with the principle of contradiction, that a thing cannot both be and not be, being the supreme principle, without which there could be no true or false, and in Anaxagoras’ words, “All things alike.” Conley (1963:37) says that the important point regarding Thomas’ metaphysical wisdom is that its subject is being-as-being (ens inquantum ens), providing him with his basis for demonstrating the existence of God; and its contemplation of the highest causes. Conley (1963:38) provides a number of places in which Thomas states that the act of wisdom is contemplation of divine things, including Summa IIa-IIae Q180A4c: Contemplatio divinae veritatis est finis totius humanae vitae, “Contemplation of the divine truth is the end of all human life.” Recognition of the final cause, God, brings the possibility of a criterion for ordering all things in the light of the highest cause; thus Thomas uses Aristotle’s phrase sapientis est ordinare—to provide order is the office of the wise person. Contemplation of this Ultimate, God, necessarily entails a love for this final end (Summa IIa-IIae Q180A7ad1), the divina amata contemplari identified as the act of wisdom in Scriptum Super Sententiis III D35Q2A1sol3. Yet, as a rational act expressed in conceptualization, metaphysical wisdom is barred from experiencing being, from knowing the infinite.
This limitation is overcome through divine revelation, revealed truth which one is given the grace to believe, through faith. Such belief requires an act of assent from the will. Conley quotes Thomas as stating that faith is made attractive for a person through the promise of eternal life (De Ver., Q14A1c: Movemur ad credendum dictis, inquantum nobis repromittitur, si crediderimus, praemium aeternae vitae. . .). In this second form of wisdom, faith remains to be completed through reason (as “a science with non-evident principles”) and through love. As the rational mind seeks to understand that to which it had given assent through faith (in Anselm’s phrase, fides quaerens intellectum, faith seeking understanding), theology is born. In fact, in In Librum Boethii de Trinitate Quaestiones, Thomas writes that the purpose of faith is to lead us to find understanding of that which we believe (fides est in nobis, ut perveniamus ad intelligendum quae credimus, Q2A2,7m). Without this effort, mere assent would provide little comprehension. Revelation serves merely as the point of departure for rational investigation, although the principles themselves retain their importance, in a resultant integration of principle and conclusion (Scriptum Super Sententiis III D35Q1A2sol2). Theology also organizes the articles of faith, beginning with the question of God-in-Hirself, and as Source of our happiness. In its efforts, theology “uses all the other sciences as handmaids” (utitur in obsequium sui omnibus aliis scientiis quasi vassallis, Scriptum Super Sententiis I, Prol, Q1A1sol); and, of course, what is revealed can never be contradicted by truths which science discovers.
While it is a science, theology is wisdom as well, which means that its investigations are centered in God, the first principle. It differs from metaphysics in that it begins at this point, while metaphysics ends there (Conley, 1963:79, who quotes Bonaventure’s Breviloquium, Pars I, c1). It begins with revelation and considers highest causes, whereas metaphysics begins with the natural world to attain to highest causes. Theology’s end is contemplation in heaven of Truth. On Earth, this contemplation takes revealed truth, supplemented with rational working out of the implications, as its object. While contemplating God, the supreme good, and enjoying the blessedness of this experience, the theologian is also concerned to make hir possession of that blessedness permanent; thus, theology is a sanctifying practice (cf. Scriptum Super Sententiis I, Prol, Q1A3sol1). Yet theology, while knowing from within as metaphysics cannot, is still limited by having started with revelation, with acceptance of authority. It does not know immediately.
Immediate knowledge is the gift of the Holy Spirit. Drawing on the Church’s tradition that had its foundation in Isaiah 11:2 (“And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom and of understanding. . .”), Thomas distinguishes wisdom as divine gift in that “it belongs to the wisdom that is an intellectual virtue to pronounce right judgment about Divine things after reason has made its inquiry, but it belongs to wisdom as a gift of the Holy Ghost to judge aright about them on account of connaturality with them” (Summa IIª-IIae Q45A2co). This “connaturality” or oneness is brought about by love (caritas), which has a unitive power; and, therefore, the gift of wisdom is made possible by love, although its essence is in the intellect. Connaturality comes first, and is the cause of love.
Thomas later includes that wisdom as a divine gift also judges aright regarding things other than Divine, according to divine rule. It is practical, capable of guiding us in action, as well as speculative (theoretical). The person, being united with divine realities, is able to judge in their light, in a way as that light.
Wisdom as divine gift is also distinguished from faith by “a certain godlike contemplation and in a certain measure clear, of articles which faith holds obscurely according to a human manner” (Procedit enim sapientiae donum ad quamdam deiformem contemplationem, et quodammodo explicitam, articulorum quos fides sub quodam modo involuto tenet secundum humanum modum, Scriptum Super Sententiis, III D35Q2A1qc1ad1; III D35Q2A1qc3co is also important for explaining the gift of wisdom and its act). Conley (1963:123) points out that with this, the wise person’s office of bringing order (sapientis est ordinare) is brought to its ultimate.
All the gifts of the Spirit complete the theological virtues, such as faith and charity. Wisdom does so through providing faith with immediate experience and by providing love with clarity regarding its object. Love, in turn, is essential for wisdom to attain its knowledge: talem notitiam perfecte non habent qui amori ipsius non accenduntur, “those who are not set on fire by the love of God do not have such knowledge perfectly” (Scriptum Super Sententiis I, D15Q4A2, 4m). Faith has provided the foundation.
And still, “God remains essentially unknown” (Conley 1963:140).


It being the case that defining wisdom has been a major difficulty (page 3 herein), in this section I discuss definitions that have been proposed, as a necessary context for the main focus of this study. The definition of wisdom as an “answer to the question ‘What is good for men and women?’” Brown (2005:9762), as rich as it is, does not settle the question. Of any particular answer we must inquire, “Is there something that is better?” Paul B. Baltes (2004:71) writes that “it may be possible to say on a metalevel of analysis that wisdom deals with utmost excellence and the welfare of mankind without specifying what this excellence entails at a microlevel of mind and character.”
Robert J. Sternberg’s research into wisdom spans two decades and includes a 1985 study of implicit theories (i. e., the notions people have in their minds) of wisdom, and his (1990, 1998) development of two explicit theories. Following common practice—despite his extensive research—he (2001a:227) refers to, and accepts, a dictionary definition of wisdom as the “Power of judging rightly and following the soundest course of action, based on knowledge, experience, understanding, etc.” That an experienced empirical researcher and major theorist of intelligence, creativity, and wisdom feels comfortable accepting a dictionary definition of wisdom may be a clue to development of the construct as a practically useful “metaheuristic”. Baltes (2004: 215) states that any psychological label of wisdom should “entail the core of the concept of wisdom as it is contained in everyday beliefs about wisdom”, and that these everyday beliefs are similar to dictionary definitions. At the same time Baltes (2004:186) recommends that “the definitional frame [of wisdom] should be as similar to the humanist and philosophical view on wisdom as possible.”
Kekes (1995:13-14) recommended starting with a dictionary definition, which, he points out, catalogs intuitive understandings of the term, and proceeding from there to analyze it more carefully, always concerned to note when descriptions stray from generally understood ideas, and to provide sound reasons for any such departure.
Baltes & Staudinger (1996:748) write that “There are no absolute criteria that define wisdom. Rather, wisdom is recognized and attributed to by consensus among a number of people.” This concurs with Aleida Assmann’s (1994:190) understanding, and she writes, “If we have to provide a definition for wisdom, we may call it validated action, behavior, or attitude.”
Taking a “broadly defined Eriksonian theoretical framework” Takahashi & Overton (2002:270) understand wisdom “developmentally as a relatively late-emerging form of cognitive/affective understanding that grows dialectically from earlier analytic and synthetic skills and integrates these into a broader fabric of reflectivity.” Having started her research by questioning Erikson’s model, Clayton (1982:316) defines wisdom “as the ability that enables the individual to grasp human nature, which operates on the principles of contradiction, paradox, and change.” Erikson himself (1997:61) defined wisdom as “informed and detached concern with life itself in the face of death itself.” It is ironic that Erikson should have been the trigger for starting the research program into wisdom, as his definition differs quite a bit from classical and dictionary definitions.
Even if a definition can be agreed on, individuals will understand wisdom differently. Takahashi & Bordia (2000:2) refer to the fact that in Sternberg’s 1985 study, professors in art, physics, and philosophy see a positive relationship between creativity and wisdom; business professors, on the other hand, view the relationship as antithetical. Of course, wisdom is not a common topic of discussion and thus reaching consensus regarding its meaning has very little to base itself on.
Understandings that differ do not necessarily present a problem, in fact for a concept such as wisdom, there is an advantage in having many different perspectives. Because of the broad range of associations the term conveys (and in recognition of the lack of wisdom with which we begin), it will be best to work from a metalevel clarification, or a definition at a high level of abstraction and generality, that welcomes different understandings of wisdom so long as explicit justification for them is provided. This approach is similar to that in regard to the concept of development as advocated by Amartya Sen in Development As Freedom (1999:33-4), or to the process of determining the common good through the “reiteration of deliberation”, as described by Gutmann & Thompson (1997). Different conceptualizations, all contributing points of view that are well to consider, will enrich the conversation. This is particularly the case today when a global community has begun to form, and we have become conscious of the millennia-long silencing of the majority of humanity. The livelier the debate in regard to wisdom, the better it will be for encouraging the widest spread of interest in its cultivation.
Anyway, there seems to be no other way to discuss wisdom than by a dialectic process of maximum public participation. Richard Garrett (1996:225) writes that all attempts to justify claims about wisdom “must sooner or later make various assumptions about metaphysics, about values (both moral and prudential) and about epistemology (especially about what it is to have a justified belief)”, and consensus regarding such assumptions is unlikely any time soon.
Hans Michael Baumgartner (Oelmüller 1989:342-3), gives a number of descriptions of wisdom, indicating its relation to understanding significance of existence. It is “perhaps self knowledge of human beings in their ultimate condition (Endlichkeit)” and an “expertise in the theoretic and practical assessment of human things”, an “insight into the possibilities and limits”. He notes the etymological connection between sapientia, wisdom, and sapor, taste, suggesting that wisdom is also the “right taste” of things as they are, and their right and responsible use. In making this point, Aquinas (Scriptum Super Sententiis, IIID35Q2A1qc3arg1) drew the conclusion that wisdom is seated in the affect rather than in the intellect: Videtur quod sapientia non sit in intellectu, sed in affectu magis—though in part it is a cognitive intellectual virtue.
McKee & Barber (1999:163) claim that the provision of an a priori definition of wisdom for empirical research has been neglected. They contrast empirical with a priori definitions, and propose their own a priori definition of wisdom as “seeing through illusion”, which is similar to many definitions proposed in earlier times, such as that of Hugh of St. Victor (d. 1142): sapientia est comprehensio rerum prout sunt, “wisdom is the comprehenson of things just as they are” (Didascalicon VI:xiv). McKee & Barber show how the findings or models of five empiric researchers (or research teams) can be explained as ways of seeing through illusion. Their approach is careful and convincing; however, their definition is so general that it can be used to explain many behaviors that are not wisdom, such as critical thinking, decision-making, and conflict resolution. Justice could be defined as seeing through illusion. The air is thin when you are at the level of generality attained by interpreting empathy and balancing conflicting priorities as forms of seeing through illusion (McKee & Barber 1999:160-162). Hugh’s definition could also apply to the concept of truth.
Providing a single definition of wisdom to cover the entire range of wisdom’s manifestations and forms is a feat requiring the theorist to rise to heights of generality that approach the void, and leave a lot that escapes. (Robert Nozick, 1989:270, writes “I do not know of any one integrated structure that illuminatingly includes all the pieces of wisdom.”) The abovementioned general definition of wisdom proposed in this study, wisdom as knowledge and use of good means to the best possible ends, is of the same comprehensive sort as McKee & Barber’s (1989), attempting to be a bit more specific than theirs. As far as specific helpfulness goes, counsel to “see through illusion” is of limited use, but it does provide orientation. As to identifying the essence of wisdom, it points to an important feature overlooked in models that approach wisdom from the perspective of personal characteristics. “Seeing through illusion” complements models such as Achenbaum and Orwoll’s (1991) “synthetic model of wisdom.”
The psychologist who has contributed most to the study of wisdom is Paul B. Baltes. He writes (2004:17), “I submit that seven properties are generally, if not universally, accepted as inherent in any definition of wisdom. These properties constitute a first foundation of a conceptual definition of wisdom.” Reformatting his list, and omitting for now (to be disputed later) his final property, that wisdom is “easily recognized when manifest,” Baltes’ description of the key properties of wisdom is that wisdom addresses important and difficult questions and strategies about the conduct and meaning of life. It embodies a truly superior level of judgment and knowledge—knowledge with extraordinary scope, depth, and balance, including especially knowledge about the limits of knowledge. And, wise individuals have achieved a synergy of mind and character, particularly caring, benevolence and compassion.
Sternberg (2003) presents an instructive history of varied theories of intelligence, and notes that “Most of the intelligence tests that have been used. . . are based more on the opinions of their creators. . . than on formal theories” (p. 5). After more than a century, the debate on intelligence is still going on, a cautionary example for wisdom theorists. Wisdom is at least as complex a concept as intelligence, and resolution as to its nature can be expected to remain pending for the foreseeable future. Wisdom does have the benefit of over a century of empirical research on intelligence to learn from. Conceptualizations and measures of intelligence have become much more sophisticated over time.
The current juncture is without doubt an opportunity to take stock of the concept and “put it to work” (to paraphrase Cicero on philosophy, Tusc. Disp. V.iv.10) to help humans use the greatly enhanced power that has very recently become available; and to avert the cataclysmic disasters that have very recently become real possibilities. The term “wisdom” can be considered a placeholder for “optimal choice”, and also for “profound insight into the meanings of events and existence in general.” Following Kekes’ (1995:13-14) suggestion to begin with the dictionary definition, a consultation of the Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., finds, as primary definition of wisdom, “Capacity of judging rightly in matters relating to life and conduct; soundness of judgement in the choice of means and ends; sometimes, less strictly, sound sense, esp. in practical affairs: opp. to folly.” This is helpful, but not very. “Soundness of judgement” and “judging rightly” require more specification. Here is where it will be useful to reconsider the heritage of statements on wisdom in light of present needs, taking advantage of the tools that psychologists have used so well, demonstrating that wisdom can indeed be scientifically studied. After all, wisdom is the master skill, or character trait. It includes intelligence, compassion and empathy, and, in Plato’s view (the validity of which can be tested), the basic virtues—and the ability to employ them optimally. These other qualities can be present without wisdom, but the converse is not likely to hold.

Wisdom as optimal choice

Wisdom is often said to aim at the best possible life, the best possible belief, choice, or action. Natali (2001:50) writes that for Aristotle “it is absurd to say that one acts badly on the basis of wisdom, as it, qua wisdom, can have only good ends (Topics 137a8-20; Eudemian Ethics 1246b 4-6 and 33-35).” Blanchard-Fields & Norris (1995:104) refer to the wise person’s awareness of the need for the “best solution available” and hir ability to find it.
There is justification for declaring that the optimal choice, in all those things that constitute or lead to a good life, in the fullest context, taking all circumstances into account, can be given the label “wise.” Garrett (1996) may be cited as typical, holding that “Wisdom is that understanding which is essential to living the best life”, and Pasupathi & Baltes (2000) say that wisdom is “often viewed as the ideal of human achievement.” MacIntyre (1999:5-6, 92) describes phronesis as “the capacity for practical rationality,” and “The conclusion of sound and effective practical reasoning is. . . that action which it is best for this particular agent to do in these particular circumstances.” Kohl (2001:87) writes that “the goal of a wise person is not to focus upon what is merely a good life, but to focus upon what is the best of possible actual lives.” Such considerations lead to a definition of wisdom as “knowledge and use of good means to the best possible ends,” a “best possible choice” model. Kekes’ (1983:278) “means to good ends” can probably be improved in this way, and Francis Hutcheson’s (2004:57; originally published 1725) “Wisdom denotes the pursuing of the best Ends by the best Means” (italics added) is too restrictive.
Without diverting the argument along a different path, it is worth mentioning that James 3:15 in the New Testament, and Jeremiah 4:22 in the Old Testament state that wisdom can be used for evil ends.
Wisdom is historically associated with a special insight into the meaning of existence, expressed in modern terms by John Kekes (1983), when he calls it an interpretive knowledge, knowing the significance of facts. While acquiring knowledge of means is relatively simple, knowing good ends is difficult, says Kekes, and entails understanding the significance the descriptively known facts have for living a good life. Such understanding is a commonly held view of wisdom. Lehrer and Smith (1996:6), in another philosophic approach, for example, write that “The wise person understands the worth of things. . .” Ardelt’s (2000a:777-778) conception of wisdom as insight into “the meaning and purpose of life”, results in knowledge that affects one’s basic perspective, and “cannot remain theoretical, abstract, and detached but is necessarily applied, concrete, and involved”. In drawing the distinction between intellectual and wisdom-related knowledge, she maintains that “Wisdom-related knowledge is social; it refers to an involved or empathic understanding. . . of intrapersonal matters. . . as well as interpersonal matters of everyday life”.
In discussing phronesis, practical wisdom, Blaine Fowers (2003:418) points out that “Significance always emerges in relation to our aims and therefore clarity about what is good and noble is the source of our moral vision.” Such interpretation is similar to the transition to the more advanced positions of development discovered by Perry (1970:210): “the transition from the conception of knowledge as a quantitative accretion of discrete rightnesses . . . to the conception of knowledge as the qualitative assessment of contextual observations and relationships.” Jonathan Jacobs (1989) distinguishes between primary (human) nature and second (socially determined values) nature, which is similar to Kekes’ (1995:200-1) description:
On classical theories of the virtues, such as Aristotle’s, a morally well-ordered second nature is a manner of realizing an end intrinsic to man’s primary nature. The latter is constituted of a complex group of capacities and powers. The former is an ordering or disposing of them in specific ways. . . . There are constraints determined by the primary or essential nature, and there are normative criteria of operation of the powers also grounded in the primary nature. The second nature is an exercise of it, well or ill ordered to its intrinsic ends.

He adds, “living a morally sound life involves making right judgments. It involves having the right sort of second nature based upon a true conception of our primary nature” (205).
Reflectiveness and judgment are the two traits most often identified with wisdom, according to Blanshard (1967). Reflectiveness indicates a tendency to think before acting or deciding, considering a decision’s grounds and consequences. Judgment is insight into goals, ends, or priorities. One of the contemporary philosophers who has written about wisdom, Garrett (1996), states “Ordinarily, when people speak of wisdom, their interest is in living a better life”. Like Kekes (1983) and Kohl (2001), Andrew P. Norman (1996) attempts to establish the case that sound judgment is wisdom, emphasizing that they are the same, rather than wisdom being something that manifests in sound judgment.
To the extent that the ability to choose is important to humans, wisdom is important. The moment consciousness of choice dawns, the existence of wisdom begins to be sensed. With recognition of options, the search for a best option (whether in fact there is such a thing or not) begins. That search can be defined as the search for wisdom. Such a view has been held since the prephilosophic period, and Socrates encouraged the pursuit of the best life as the province of wisdom. The possibility of choices is related to humans’ ability to represent phenomena symbolically, and to memory, and to imagining the future. Labouvie-Vief (1990:53) says that wisdom is “an age-old project” that “began with the birth of reflective intelligence and the search for a way of life that would be governed by rational reflection rather than the mere living out of tradition.” (For “tradition” I would substitute “habit”.) The word “wisdom” exists as an eternal witness of the hope that humans can make thoughtful, caring, and intelligent choices for the well-being of all whom they affect.
Deane-Drummond (1999:51) points out that “Wisdom acts like a guide, rather than a fixed predetermined goal to be achieved.” Marquard (Oelmüller (1989:313) says “Wisdom is obviously some kind of life-orienting knowledge.” This is so despite the fact that throughout much of its history, since Augustine at least, wisdom, sapientia, has been considered opposed to knowledge, scientia. Rice (1958:180) notes that into the Renaissance period, this “invidious distinction. . . . had been made by everyone who had discussed either wisdom or knowledge.” Based on a reading of past psychological literature (in addition to John Kekes’ 1983 article on wisdom), Bluck and Glück (2004:545) consider wisdom to be “an adaptive form of life judgment...that involves not what but how one thinks. . . . a combination of experiential knowledge, cognition, affect, and action” that serves as a resource for difficult situations “and is often directed toward the goals of living a good life or striving for the common good.”
While in regard to choice, judgment, and decision making, wisdom can be considered as the ability to find an optimal solution, the special requirement to place an issue in a holistic perspective gives crucial direction to the sort of solution that can be considered optimal. For example, cost-benefit cannot be the sole standard. Yet for many decisions to be wise, cost-benefit analyses must be included—including consideration of the importance that cost-benefit considerations carry with people in contemporary society, and finding effective ways to help them value other priorities. Perhaps a wise person will be able to help others find “in their ‘little’ interests the ‘big’ interests that reveal higher states of order and longer range goals for the individuals, for the culture, and eventually for the entire planetary ecosystem” (Csikszentmihalyi & Rathunde 1990:46).
The whole project of which wisdom is the key element seems to come down to the questions “How should we direct our efforts and use our powers? What should our priorities be?” Here is where the philosophic clarification of the concept is helpful: Aristotle (NE 1141b9-14) says
Practical wisdom is concerned with human affairs and with matters about which deliberation is possible. As we have said, the most characteristic function of a man of practical wisdom is to deliberate well. . . [and] that man is good at deliberating who, by reasoning, can aim at and hit the best thing attainable to man by action.

Complex questions can quickly become too difficult for a single person to preside over the knowledge and skills necessary for a wise decision. This raises the possibility that an understanding of distributed cognition might be useful for understanding wisdom. In Halverson’s (2004:97) words, “The social and situational distribution of leadership practice suggests how we might consider phronesis as more than the possession of a particular individual.” The MPI group (Staudinger & Baltes, 1996) has begun to investigate this empirically. Their seven characteristics and five criteria of wisdom, and Sternberg’s Balance Theory, described further on, seem as well-suited for understanding the wisdom of such complex group decisions as for understanding personal decisions, recognizing that, as Halverson (2004:97) points out, “There is an essential difference, however, between political and personal phronesis.”

Cultural differences

“[E]very culture has its ideal of wisdom, whether in a verbal or literary tradition” (Kurt Rudolph, 2003:478).The MPI group also maintains the universality of a core of wisdom, for example in Staudinger & Pasupathi (2003:242), where they write “the core of what we consider to be wisdom should evince relevance across cultural and historical times. What may vary across cultures are the concrete instances that call for wisdom”. Sternberg (2002b), in a speech to the Positive Psychology Network, maintained that there is “a certain universal core” to the idea of wisdom, in the areas of morality and interpersonal relationships.
Takahashi & Bordia (2000:2) discuss some of the studies of literary sources that have attempted to distinguish different understandings of wisdom in different cultures, observing that the Western concept is heavily weighted toward cognitive abilities. Eastern conceptualizations “emphasize an integration of multiple aspects of human consciousness (e.g., cognitive, affect, etc.)” Jason et al. (2001:586) refer to the overemphasis of cognition in the West and suggest wisdom as a domain that might help restore the balance. Tshiamalenga Ntumba (Oelmüller 1989:322-3) states that African concepts of wisdom do not maintain the human-divine dualism so often found in Western concepts. In their historical survey of wisdom in the Western and Eastern traditions, Clayton & Birren (1980:111) found that
Overall, it seems that all traditions described wisdom as being a type of knowledge involving a quest to understand the meaning and purpose of life; all traditions perceived that this type of knowledge was reflected in behavior; all saw that a period of tutelage was necessary to acquire wisdom. There was agreement that time was a necessary component for acquisition of wisdom. Both life experience and the direct experiencing of life were considered important elements. The Eastern and Western traditions did not agree on what human abilities were needed or essential for obtaining wisdom or what type of educational procedures would be most effective to instill the individual with this particular type of knowledge.

Staudinger & Baltes (1996) make the point that the wisdom related criteria of the Berlin wisdom paradigm are formulated on a “metaplane” that allows them to go beyond particular social standards to provide “context-spanning guidance for thought, judgment, and action.”
The current interest in wisdom is different from any such revival in the past in that it is occurring at the moment of complete worldwide communication, when methods of scientific scholarship have become established. A history of wisdom, as it has appeared to humans to date, worldwide, is a most important preliminary to entering this new phase. There is no such history, even for the wisdom tradition in the West.
Wisdom may share significant universal similarity (Baltes 2004): Chinese apparently emphasize affect and benevolence more, Europeans cognition (Takahashi & Bordia 2000; Yang 2001), but the elements appear to be the same. Research has not progressed far enough to give a definitive picture of the universal nature of wisdom, or identify the level of generality at which it can be defined with global consensus.

Kinds of wisdom

In discoursing on the aim of wisdom, it is important to understand what type of wisdom we mean, to avoid the situations referred to by Taranto (1989:10) “with a theorist espousing wisdom of one kind, while ignoring other types.” Most psychologist writers point out the multiform nature of wisdom, and Deirdre A. Kramer (1990) distinguishes five functions:
Solution of problems confronting self
Advising others
Management of social institutions
Life review
Spiritual introspection
These functions encompass the divisions of theoretical and practical wisdom that Aristotle identified (although “spiritual introspection” is being stretched if it is to cover Aristotle’s “understanding of first principles and that which follows from them”), and the nature of wisdom as discussed by Plato. Any account of wisdom needs to recognize all of these five interrelated but distinct functions (Holliday & Chandler, 1986:viii). Distinguishing different functions of wisdom has received little attention from psychologists but appears a possibly rich area for research. The relationship each of these has to each other, and their distinctness, probably needs to be studied. Particularly the wise management of social institutions seems to require abilities distinct from the other four.
Holliday & Chandler (1986:viii) informally distinguish three senses in which wisdom is understood: the first corresponds to phronesis, the second is abstract and philosophical, and the third is spiritual. Theirs is a fair categorization (similar to Aquinas’s), but their post-script notes that street-level understanding “insists on the simultaneity of all of wisdom’s meanings.” For anyone hopeful of making wisdom a goal, or ability, or behavior that can be cultivated, this presents a problem. Holliday & Chandler (1986:ix) themselves were hoping “to render the concept of wisdom amenable to the kinds of empirical enquiries that might heighten its usefulness as a descriptor of adult competence”. The three forms of wisdom that Rudolph (2005:9747) finds are similar: an ability to cope with life, a rational system, and personification or attribute of God.
Pascual-Leone (1990:247-249) also considers wisdom to have three aspects, but his classification is different: wisdom-as-will within vital reason (i.e., reason in an Aristotelian sense); wisdom as valid existential counseling; and ability for empathic experiencing of the Other or of nature. Csikszentmihalyi & Rathunde (1990:28) write that the term has indicated three different dimensions of meaning: cognitive process, a virtue (a social value), and a good (personal value). They state that “There is widespread agreement among past thinkers that the concept has three major dimensions of meaning.”
Three salient themes: integration (of various personal aspects, different conflicting interests, dimensions of time); emphasis on practical manifestation; and as positively valued, an optimal guide, were found in a review of the literature by Yang (2001:662-3). Sommer (Oelmüller 1989:214), distinguishes three meanings for the word wise: 1) sayings, maxims, 2) certain actions, in a broad sense, and 3) a person.
In their discussion of different kinds of wisdom that have been identified, Wink & Helson (1997) draw an Aristotelian distinction between two broad categories: social or practical knowledge, and metaphysical or transcendent. They include in the latter interest in self-understanding, the quest for meaning, and freedom of the self.
Kekes’ (1983) statement that wisdom is an interpretive knowledge, knowing the significance of facts, is a starting place that allows the integration of the existential and practical forms of wisdom. His definition of wisdom as “knowledge of means to good ends” embraces one of the two aspects of wisdom distinguished by Aristotle (NE 1139a24-end of Book VI): phronesis, practical wisdom, whose description by Aristotle was given in Chapter 2A. Kekes’ definition also includes aretē, which is a combination of virtue and excellence. To review, “Aretē ensures the rightness of the end we aim at, and practical wisdom makes us use the right means” (NE 1144a8-9). Aristotle’s other aspect of wisdom, sophia, is theoretical wisdom, “the science of the things that are valued most highly.” Being knowledge of first principles, wisdom is not concerned with those things from which come human flourishing (ex hōn estai eudaimōn anthropos).

Difficulty of distinguishing wisdom

Concerning some complex decisions, it may take so long for their wisdom or folly to become apparent that the issue is irrelevant by the time a verdict can be declared. It is also possible that diametrically opposed choices can both be claimed to be wise under any definition of wisdom. This is no hindrance to the use of wisdom as a metaheuristic for guiding decisions toward the common good. Quite the contrary: it is in regard to highly complex and vexed concerns that wisdom is most needed, if for no other reason than that we may always bethink us that we may be mistaken. This awareness of human fallibility has often been advanced as one of the generally agreed on signs of wisdom.
It may be that there is a level of goodness above which all choices may be considered wise, the “satisficing” described by Gigerenzer & Todd (1999). There is a certain amount of imagination, creativity, and memory required in order to conceive that a better choice could be made. (This is an important part of Kekes’ 1995 conception of moral wisdom.) Of course, humans are able to rationalize their behavior to an extraordinary extent, for example convincing ourselves that hateful harming of certain categories of people, is wise and good. But to claim that this is wisdom would be eccentric, as wisdom is highly associated with openness to experience and benevolence (Kramer, 2000). Regarding the constraints on their options by which people desiring to make the best possible choice are bound, the “good means” referred to on page 47, these seem to be identical with moral considerations regarding intent, principally intending to cause unnecessary harm. It is easy to see how making an optimal choice could ultimately require a fundamental understanding of the purpose of existence, or the fundamental nature of reality, or of something ultimate about the universe. This can include a clear understanding that there is no ultimate purpose to existence other than that determined by humans, with all stances towards the Absolute being tempered by an understanding of the limits to knowledge. And if the general authoritative opinion comes to be that knowledge regarding existential purpose is not possible or is nonexistent, this has implications with which a definition of wisdom must reckon.

Wisdom as a distinct, unique ability

The establishment of wisdom as a construct distinct from the many that are similar (e.g., sound judgement, critical thinking, decision-making, maturity, intelligence, creativity, and self-actualization) is critical, and despite assurances that wisdom appears as a unique construct (e.g., Sternberg, 1985), the case still needs to be made. Halpern (2001) expresses doubts concerning the use of the term “wisdom” in pedagogy for this reason. Staudinger, Lopez, & Baltes (1997:1211) have provided the most thorough test of different correlates of wisdom—at least wisdom according to their models. After assessing the intelligence, personality, and personality-intelligence interface characteristics of 125 adults with 33 measures, in addition to having participants respond to three of their wisdom tasks, the researchers concluded that “even after entering all 33 predictors into the prediction equation, 49% of its variance [scores on their test for wisdom] was not accounted for. . . . Thus, wisdom-related performance, as we have construed it, seems to possess enough uniqueness to recommend itself as a construct in its own right.” In reviewing the findings from their study, Holliday & Chandler (1986:68) also came to the conclusion “that wisdom is a distinct, non-redundant competency term.” But even Staudinger, Lopez, & Baltes (1997:1211) note that “there is no general agreement on the definition and measurement of wisdom.”

Wisdom and the good life

Though gaining wisdom is a difficult process, Csikszentmihalyi & Rathunde (1990:36-41, 49) note that the pursuit of wisdom is intrinsically enjoyable and joyous, and quote Montaigne’s opinion (“Of the Education of Children”) that “The most manifest sign of wisdom is continual cheerfulness.”
Since the prephilosophic period when wisdom was considered a guide for success, it has been identified as both intrinsically fulfilling and as instrumental for living a good life. Baltes and Kunzmann (2004:292) write of the theory of the Berlin group as concerned “with knowledge and beliefs about a good life, excellence in mind and virtue, fundamental issues concerning the meaning and conduct of life, and ways of achieving a perfect balance between the personal and common good.”
A wise person knows how to construct a pattern which, given the human situation, is likely to lead to a good life, Kekes (1995) writes. For Sharon Ryan (1996), another philosopher, a person is wise if and only if E is a free agent who knows how to live well and does so, as a result of hir knowledge about how to live well. She maintains that this proposition is the correct answer to the question, “What is wisdom?” Thus, living well is what wisdom is all about. This is a fairly consensus view, and has support from the philosophic accounts by Ptah-hotep and in the Tanakh, or Old Testament, early dialogues of Plato as well as from Aristotle, Garrett (1996), Nozick (1990) and Norman (1996), with Norman (1996:255) stipulating that it “involves an understanding of how one (in the generic sense) can live well, not just how one (in the singular sense) can live well”.
Aristotle (NE 1101a14-16) holds that a good life “is active in conformity with complete [virtue] and is sufficiently equipped with external goods, not for some chance period but throughout a complete life.” These external goods include a level of prosperity, freedom, education, status, health, physical appearance. In Book VI of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle lists “the excellences requisite to phronesis”. These are, that practically wise people must be well brought-up; they require exposure to, and consideration of, examples of well-lived lives; the friendship of good people; temperance (sophrosune); intelligence (nous); experience; understanding (sunesis); consideration or decency; and virtue of character. Finally, practical wisdom concerns not only the individual’s own good but the good of the community.

Wisdom and the common good

The two leading figures in the recently begun scientific study of wisdom, Paul B. Baltes (and colleagues: the MPI group) and Robert J. Sternberg, consider a common good, or the common good, to be the goal of wisdom, and both have indicated the need for wisdom in resolving global problems (Baltes & Freund, 2003:251; Baltes & Staudinger, 2000:126; Kunzmann & Baltes 2003a:1106 Sternberg, 1998:355, 359; Sternberg, 2002a; Sternberg, 2003:xviii). Neither has described what they mean by common good. Common good is a vague term that can refer to a dyad, or to the well-being of all creatures. It can be used to indicate no more than something that works for all concerned, or to a deeply philosophical understanding of human good, human goods, or the Good-in-itself. To discuss using wisdom to resolve global problems to produce a common good, it is impossible not to be drawn into the long debate that moral and political philosophers have conducted regarding the common good. Creatures who have labeled themselves scientifically as Homo sapiens, the human who is wise (Linnaeus, 1758), can hardly avoid some such deliberation at some point.
The question of a common good is particularly disputed at present, with charges that in liberal societies, organized under the assumption that they are composed of autonomous individuals pursuing their separate desires, there can be no such thing. (Dupré 1993:701, for example, writes of “the liberal idea of rights, dispensing with any definition of the common good. . .”). Wisdom and the common good are an ideal match: though it can describe amour propre (for which eudaimonia has been faulted), a more complete description shows that wisdom resists narrow interests, and considers the well-being of the whole. Aristotle (NE 1142a9-10) already made the connection in the Nicomachean Ethics that “one’s own welfare requires household management and a political system”, as humans are social beings (zoon politikon). “He is convinced that individual well-being depends on communal well-being,” Jeannot (1989:20) observes. Natali (2001:21) believes Aristotle is referring not to human good in general, but to that of “one’s kinsfolk or fellow citizens.”
Even the limits of communal inclusion may change in time, say in the number of years between Aristotle and us. Considering humans’ rapidly and fundamentally changing understanding of their world, it may be that everything considered best at one time will not be considered best at all times. In Aristotle’s world, women’s options were relatively limited, and slavery unquestioned.
Both Sternberg and the Berlin group talk about “common good,” but wisdom has a long tradition of being one with “the Good” plain and simple, as the discussion of Plato indicates. In the Meno 77b-78b, Socrates argues that all people desire the good, or what they believe to be good for themselves (and see Apology 25d).

C. Personal aspects of wisdom

In this section I will describe personality characteristics associated with wisdom. First I will present descriptions of wisdom as a complex of behaviors, and then, in brief, individual person characteristics associated with wise people.

Wisdom as a complex of personal qualities

Wink & Helson (1997:11) voice a common opinion when they write that “Wisdom is a complex, multifaceted construct that is difficult to study empirically.” Clayton & Birren (1980:112) pointed out that their historical overview “highlighted the multidimensional nature of wisdom.” As discussed further on, Sternberg (1998, 2001a, 2003, 2004c) believes wisdom involves a balancing of intrapersonal, interpersonal, and extrapersonal interests, and a desire to attain a common good. The studies done by the MPI group (e.g., Staudinger, Lopez, & Baltes, 1997), in which participants were assessed with the NEO-Personality Inventory (NEO-PI) to identify their basic personality dimensions at the same time they were assessed for wisdom, have provided some empirical evidence for the personality characteristics accompanying wisdom. Achenbaum & Orwoll (1991) presented a model of a wise personality, and Achenbaum (1997:8) describes this model of wisdom which
defines a wise person as one who is able to evince all of the following nine qualities along three basic dimensions: self development, empathy, and self-transcendence in the affective dimension; self-knowledge, understanding, and knowledge of limits in the cognitive dimension; and integrity, maturity in relationships, and commitment in the conational dimension.

An unpublished dissertation is discussed at length by Kramer (2000)—Lyster (1996)—in which 178 people were given complex and difficult situations to discuss (borrowing tasks used by the MPI group) in order to gauge their wisdom level. The results led Lyster (1996:159, quoted in Kramer, 2000:93) to suggest that wise people might have the ability “to see through this complexity to the underlying existential issue at hand”, which is in line with Kekes’ idea that wisdom involves the ability to discern the significance of the universally assumed basic realities. Lyster made a qualitative analysis of the responses given by the ten highest scorers, and found that they considered wisdom to be characterized by good listening skills, tact, silent power, and an ability to preserve the relationship. Rather than proffer advice, they preferred the role of responsive listener. Kramer (2000:95) notes the similarity with results of the MPI group, that wisdom is “an integration of cognitive, affective, and behavioral dimensions to produce a rare but adaptive form of judgment that is conducive to exceptional insight and judgment about important life issues and situations.” Kramer herself (2000:84) notes that insight is one of the cognitive abilities identified by research into wise individuals, involving breadth and depth of understanding to find the more universal meanings in events.
Holliday & Chandler’s (1986:viii) research “yielded a multifactorial portrait requiring the simultaneous presence of the full complement of attributes which together define the historical wisdom traditions.” Theyfound significant overlap between the concepts wise, intelligent, and perceptive, while “in general, dimensions defined by highly prototypical items demonstrated somewhat less overlap than did dimensions composed of moderately and slightly prototypical items” (p. 68). Precisely the fact that wisdom is holistic, and draws on so many cognitive, reflective, affective, and social abilities, seems to guarantee that it will share many characteristics with other psychological constructs, as the authors point out (p. 82). Overcoming narrow, technique-oriented concepts of knowledge, wisdom, to them, is especially associated with emancipatory knowledge. Comparable is McKee & Barber’s (1999) definition of wisdom as “seeing through illusion.”
In their study of implicit notions of wisdom, Holliday and Chandler (1986:62-68) found that the behaviors most prototypical of wisdom could be grouped under the headings exceptional understanding, and judgment and communication skills, with general competencies (such as curious, thoughtful, well-read, intelligent) of “moderately high prototypicality ratings.” The first two of these headings showed relatively less overlap with others, and general competencies overlapped particularly with the categories of intelligent and perceptive. They observe that “The notion that superior understanding, social adeptness, exceptional decision-making, and proper behaviour somehow congeal to produce something which we take to be prototypically wise has persisted in Western thought for at least 5,000 years” (p. 78). The authors mention that the five factors they found associated with wisdom are similar to those found by other experiments (pp. 82-86). For Webster (2003:14-15), “A review of the literature” suggests that five dimensions (experience, emotional regulation, reminiscence and reflectiveness, openness, and humor) are characteristic of a “prototypically wise individual”.
Monika Ardelt’s (2000, 2004) 3-dimensional model of wisdom is based on the research of Clayton & Birren (1980). She also mentions Kramer 1990 on one occasion, and on another “explicit wisdom theories from the Eastern wisdom traditions”). Ardelt (2003:277) defines wisdom as a personality characteristic, “an integration of cognitive, reflective, and affective dimensions”.
The cognitive aspect includes a desire to know the truth and attain a deeper understanding of life, and includes knowledge and acceptance of the inherent limits of knowledge and of life’s uncertainties. Self-reflection is necessary for this deeper understanding; overcoming subjectivity and projections are frequently mentioned. Self-reflection develops “the ability to look at phenomena and events from different perspectives” (Ardelt 2004:275). The affective component consists in compassion and loving.
Openness to experience, generativity, creativity, and a mental style of comparing and evaluating information are characteristics that predict higher levels of wisdom-related knowledge, according to Baltes & Kunzmann (2003:132). They also have found that having “wisdom-enhancing” mentors, experience in a field that is concerned with difficult life problems, and exposure to such situations (whether at an individual or societal level) increase wisdom-related knowledge. People relatively high in wisdom-related knowledge “show a preference for values that consider the welfare of others and report engaging themselves in the interest of others, including strategies of negotiation in conflict resolution” (Baltes & Kunzmann, 2003:133).
Günther Bien (Oelmüller 1989:326-7) identifies three factors in the traditions of wisdom: a passion for understanding, exemplary character, and benevolence. Orwoll & Perlmutter (1990:174) considered the personality theories of Erikson, Kohut, and Jung, and
located two markers of wisdom that may be useful stakes on which to tie empirical investigations. Wisdom, we found, requires remarkable negotiation of the personality domain, evident in unusual self-development and self-transcendence. Both of these attainments are inherently contingent on concomitant cognitive maturation.

Advanced personality development

Advanced development of personality is often assumed to accompany wisdom. This is often referred to as postformal thought, cognitive development beyond the highest stage that Piaget considered, formal operations, and is similar to the higher positions of moral development that W. G. Perry found, which he described as a “commitment in relativism,” meaning acceptance of one’s “responsibility for choice and affirmation” (1970:153). Clayton (1982:318) writes that “While thinking logically will earn an individual higher scores on an intelligence test and place him at a higher Piagetian stage of development, this type of mental operation would appear to be inadequate in providing the individual with an understanding of human nature.” Clayton (1982:317) notes that tasks used by Piaget to assess cognitive development, and tasks of intelligence tests in general, are nonsocial and impersonal; the behavior exhibited in wisdom is social, whether involving interpersonal or intrapersonal issues. Flyvbjerg (2001) works out the implications of this real-world, unique-situations phronetic reality for the social sciences.

Integration of personality

Stating that “The most frequently mentioned aspect of wisdom is integration”, Yang (2001:662-3) presents probably the fullest array of aspects that wisdom is said to integrate: intrapersonal, interpersonal, and extrapersonal systems; affective, cognitive, and conative processes; technical, practical, and emancipatory knowledge; knowledge and doubt; past, present, and future; conflicting interests. This is much in line with Sternberg’s (1998) Balance Theory of wisdom. The organicist model of wisdom presented by Kramer (1990:280) is built on integration, which is “the central tenet” of organicism. Wisdom enables a person to manage the many tasks of life successfully
In Erikson’s (1963) model of the psychosocial stages of life, the eighth and final task is to achieve ego integrity, the acceptance of one’s own life, however it turned out, to attain a “detached concern with life itself, in the face of death itself.” Erikson, Erikson, & Kivnick (1986:37) offer this as the definition of wisdom.
Blanchard-Fields & Norris (1995) suggest that the process of integration of emotions and cognition concurs with Werner’s (1957) model of development through differentiation followed by integration. In this case, the integration of emotions and cognition occurs through conscious effort. Orwoll & Perlmutter (1990) maintain that the integration of emotional and conflictual experience is part of maturity. Kramer (1990) says that acceptance and integration of all aspects of personality allows greater acceptance of and empathy with others. Labouvie-Vief (1990) discusses the integration of mythos and logos. She titles her article, “Wisdom as Integrated Thought,” and describes the process of integrating logos, abstract, thinker-independent, mechanical and nonemotional knowledge into a more fundamental mythos, holistic, attached, nonrational and emotion-rich way of knowing. The study of common opinions of wisdom by Clayton & Birren (1980:118) found that their respondents considered wisdom “an attribute representing the integration of general cognitive, affective, and reflective qualities.”
Pasupathi & Baltes (2000:250) note that research shows that people viewed as wise have been found to have “integrated oppositions and transcended their own personal agendas.” Baltes & Staudinger (2000:127) describe wisdom as a metaheuristic for orchestrating mind and virtue toward excellence; in this regard, it is necessary to integrate “cognitive, motivational, social, interpersonal, and spiritual” characteristics. Kunzmann and Baltes (2003:341) write that “it is the orchestration of the intellectual, emotional, and social underpinnings of life problems as well as the consideration of space and time dimensions over the entire life span that sets wisdom apart from other human capacities.” Sowarka (1989:89) mentions Edelstein & Noam (1982) who “relate wisdom to the further development of partial systems of the self, which attains a final unity in balancing affectivity and cognition.... Wisdom plays a role in the process of maintaining the self-system in balance.”
Heinz Kohut (1985:122) defines wisdom as an “attitude. . . formed through the integration of the cognitive function with humor, acceptance of transience, and a firmly cathected system of values”.
See also Baltes & Staudinger (1993); Holliday & Chandler (1986), who view wisdom as a balance of technical, practical, and emancipatory knowledge interests; Meacham (1990) for wisdom as a synthesis of knowledge and doubt; Pascual-Leone (1990); Dittmann-Kohli & Baltes (1990); Ardelt (2004a).

Particular qualities

Following are a number of abilities or characteristics associated with wisdom, with some of the sources for this association. This section could easily be expanded to book length. Although I have attempted to be inclusive in identifying the personality characteristics associated with wisdom, it may be best considered as suggestive. References are by no means exhaustive. Twenty-two qualities are listed and discussed:
Good judgment Reflectiveness
Insight into significance and meaning Ability to deal with complex problems
Virtuous character Openness
Relativistic thinking Dialectical thinking, critical thinking
Self-knowledge Knowledge of limits, humility
Comfort with uncertainty & ambiguity Self-control
Broad & deep knowledge and experience Social skills
Benevolence, empathy, compassion, generativity Decentering
Autonomy Humor
Creativity Intuition
Serenity Intelligence

Good judgment. Good judgment is perhaps the essential trait of a wise person; it is generally the first definition of wisdom given by dictionaries (e.g., Oxford English Dictionary, 1989). As mentioned, Conley (2003:784) says that wisdom “may be given speculative or practical emphasis or even special religious value, but it always implies a type of knowing and usually a capacity to judge.” Three of Kramer’s (1990) five functions of wisdom may be considered under this heading, as well as the foundation for the Berlin group’s model of wisdom as “expertise in the fundamental pragmatics of life.”

Reflectiveness. Closely related to good judgment, reflectiveness is one of Ardelt’s three dimensions of wisdom, and she considers it “the crucial component among the three because it encourages the development” of the other two (2003:279). See also Kitchener & Brenner (1990) for the Reflective Judgment Scale. Intuitively, it seems that the ability to think over a problem, to concentrate on it for a lengthy period if necessary, to draw on large amounts of information and integrate it in various ways, is central to the wisdom process.
Metacognition is the ability to reflect on our own thought and learning processes. “Metacognitive knowledge,” John A. Flavell (1979:907) writes, “consists primarily of knowledge or beliefs about what factors or variables act and interact in what ways to affect the course and outcome of cognitive enterprises.” Metacognition has been mentioned as integral to wisdom by wisdom researchers. “The wise person. . . . excels in what is often called metacognition” Sternberg (1990a:152) writes. It is interesting that Flavell (1979:910), who introduced the concept, wrote that our knowledge about it might “someday be parlayed into a method of teaching children (and adults) to make wise and thoughtful life decisions”. Hanna & Ottens (1995:212) suggest that “an intrinsic aspect of wisdom” is the metacognitive ability to survey an array of belief systems or patterns. The key is the ability to “emancipate oneself from meaning systems as mental habitats or environments so as to see them from a fresh and at the same time overarching perspective.” Sternberg (2001a:233) likens wisdom to the metacognitive skills required for identifying and solving problems; however, wisdom has the goal of achieving a common good.
Maxwell (2004) says that wisdom “can be regarded as a meta-capacity, one which enables us to marshal our other more specific skills and capacities so that, in general, we can utilize them so as to realize what is of value, in diverse, specific contexts.”

Insight into significance and meaning, values and priorities, esthetics. This has been mentioned in connection with John Kekes’ (1983:279) description of wisdom as interpretive knowledge of the basic assumptions about reality that are shared by all sane people, with the aim of understanding their significance for a good life. Naturally, wisdom’s connection with interpreting experience and finding meaning, indicates the link between phronesis, sophia, and spirituality. Horn & Masunaga (2000:245) write “wisdom involves deep insight into the meaning and purpose of life.” Nozick (1989:267) says that “Wisdom is an understanding of what is important, where this understanding informs a (wise) person’s thought and action”, and in the next paragraph writes, in italics, “Wisdom is what you need to understand in order to live well and cope with the central problems and avoid the dangers in the predicament(s) human beings find themselves in.” In the Conclusion to her survey of the research to that date, Kramer (2000:99), observes that “Wisdom appears to stem from a capacity to reflect on and grapple with difficult existential life issues.” She refers to insight as one of the three kinds of cognitive processes that have been identified with wisdom (p. 84).
Csikszentmihalyi & Rathunde (1990:31) write that both ancient and modern concepts of wisdom emphasize “that the specific knowledge of the world we have at any given time is only a pale reflection of reality.” In a similar vein, Labouvie-Vief (1990:78) writes that “Wisdom consists, so to say, in one’s ability to see through and beyond individual uniqueness and specialization into those structures that relate us in our common humanity.”
Kekes’ (1983) description of breadth corresponds to the MPI group’s (Baltes & Smith 1990) criterion of relativism for measuring wisdom. Depth, on the other hand, is achieved with the understanding that no human life can be good unless a person understands the significance of the basic assumptions that all mature mentally healthy people make, e.g., that “I am mortal”, that “Other beings exist”, and lives in conformity with the implications. This is not an aspect easy to operationalize by psychologist investigators into wisdom.

Ability to deal with difficult and complex life problems. Baltes (2004:17) has identified the realm of “important and difficult questions and strategies about the meaning and conduct of life” as one of the universal aspects of wisdom. This characteristic is indicated by both the knowledge of first principles and by the ability to deliberate and “aim at and hit the best thing attainable to man by action” Aristotle (NE 1141b14) that are discussed by Plato and Aristotle. This ability to deal with difficult and ill-defined problems as a function of wisdom is discussed also by Arlin (1990), and Kitchener & Brenner (1990).

Virtuous character. Aristotle discusses the connection between virtue and phronesis in Nicomachean Ethics VI.xii-xiii, and says that it is not possible to be phronimos, practically wise, without being good. Sternberg (2001a:237) maintains that wisdom is related to the highest stages of Kohlberg’s (1969) model of moral development. Baltes’ (2004) general work on wisdom and psychology is titled Wisdom as Orchestration of Mind and Virtue, and the article by Baltes & Staudinger (2000), describing the theoretical and empirical work of the MPI group, is titled “Wisdom: A metaheuristic (pragmatic) to orchestrate mind and virtue toward excellence.”

Openness. “Openness to experience is the most frequent predictor of wisdom”, Kramer (2000:83) writes. The same was found, she notes, by Tracy Lyster in her research (p. 91). Staudinger, Lopez, & Baltes (1997) tested a heterogeneous group of people with an extensive array of intelligence and personality measures, comparing results on these with scores on their tasks assessing wisdom-related knowledge, and they found Openness to experience (from the NEO-PI) to be the single factor most highly correlated with wisdom scores. This was confirmed in another experiment (Staudinger et al., 1998), which found only a person’s training and experience in a particular profession to correlate higher with wisdom-related scores.
Openness includes commitment to continuing development, Shedlock (1998:30) observes. Respect for individual differences and diversity is a major element of the higher levels of human development for many theorists of adult development, as Labouvie-Vief (1990:71) points out. Kekes (1995:106-112) writes of moral imagination, the ability to enlarge our range of possibilities; and that this requires being able to make the possibilities we become aware of truly possible, which becomes difficult as habits are formed. It also, he says, has the role of avoiding narrow-mindedness, fantasy, and self-deception.
In their study of people who have dedicated their lives to a moral commitment, Colby & Damon (1992:8) found that “personal integrity often requires one to keep an open mind and a receptive outlook: This is a fundamental part of the personal commitment to truth that constitutes character.”
See also Ardelt (2000a:780-1); Clayton & Birren (1980); Arlin (1990); Taranto (1989); Wink & Helson (1997).

Relativistic thinking. The recognition that people hold different values, that different cultures and different historical periods prioritize different values, and that individuals themselves hold different values at different times of life, is one of the five criteria of wisdom for the MPI researchers. The “second tier thinking” of Claire Graves (Wilber 2000:ch.4) describes this very well.
Arlin (1990:239) writes that “Postformal reasoning is best characterized as reasoning that is metasystematic, reflective, and dialectic. Structurally, the logic of postformal reasoning is a relativistic type of logic.” The “interindividual self” described by Souvaine, Lahey, & Kegan (1990:250-7) is another example. A person who has attained this stage of moral development does not feel threatened by opposing views or need to protect hirself from feelings of culpability; E is able to view situations more dispassionately without withdrawing emotionally.

Dialectical thinking, critical thinking. Dialectical thinking, often associated with wisdom, is defined by Merriam and Caffarella (1999:151) as “the acceptance of the inherent contradictions and alternative truths; and that context, including the acceptance of cultural differences, is critical in determining what thinking patterns in adulthood really mean.”
The most complete discussion of the literature of dialectical thinking in relation to wisdom appears to be in Sternberg (1998:350). He describes dialectical thinking in terms of truth evolving in a process of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, and he makes the point that the dialectical process can indicate an evolution through time or a confrontation between contemporaneously held opinions. He concludes that “Wisdom is probably best developed through role modeling and through the incorporation of dialectical thinking into one’s processing of problems” (p. 353).
Takahashi & Overton (2002:269) describe the synthetic mode of wisdom as concerning the mind’s dialectic nature, and they define dialectic “as any system or structure that moves toward states of increased integration.” The dialectical perspective appears to be considered by Clayton & Birren (1980) as that in which a person is able to consider different contradictory but equally acceptable options, and acknowledge the unresolvability of the most difficult questions. They write that “Our models of aging could conceivably be altered if, in fact, achievement of a dialectical perspective characterized the type of knowledge held by an individual who has been developing wisdom” (p. 125). That dialectical thinking is requisite for wisdom is maintained also by Ardelt (2000a:778).
The courage to question all authority is mentioned. Pascual-Leone (1990:248) writes that “The apprentice of wisdom should not be a ‘believer’ but should challenge from within (using the mentor’s own methods and teaching) the mentor’s teachings or deeds.”
See also Kramer (1990), Birren & Fisher (1990), Labouvie-Vief (1990), and Sternberg (1998). Sternberg (2001a:233) notes the relation between wisdom and analytic thinking, stipulating, however, that the former is concerned with real-life problems and not the well-defined and theoretical problems emphasized in academic settings. He writes that practical thinking is closer to wisdom than is analytical or creative thinking, but as in creativity, while wise thinking must be practical, the reverse is not the case.
Advanced and liberative mental ability as constitutive of wisdom is also emphasized by Hanna & Ottens (1995), who maintain the centrality to wisdom of dialectic thought and metacognitive ability to examine meaning and belief systems. Dialectical thought is also a feature of several conceptualizations of wisdom, such as Kramer (1990), and Ardelt (2000a:774, 778).

Self-knowledge. This is a goal associated with wisdom since Socrates. Kekes (1995:211) writes that the aim of self-knowledge “is not to overcome the effects of permanent adversities [i.e., contingency, conflict, and evil] on our character and conception of a good life, but to help us live as well as possible given the limits and possibilities they present.” Csikszentmihalyi & Rathunde (1990:38-41) write of the self-transcendence that follows from the ability of self-reflection. Ability to see oneself sub specie aeternitatis, in the perspective of “God”; to recognize one’s context and limits, but also one’s crucial role.
Erikson’s (1959, 1997) final stage of development, integrity vs. despair, whose successful achievement, he holds, results in wisdom, is related to self-knowledge. Kramer’s (1990) wisdom functions of life planning and life review are also dependent on self-knowledge. W. Andrew Achenbaum (2004:301) nicely says that “The wise, gazing at the universe on several planes, seek insights within themselves about how their true self evolves.” Ardelt (2000a) also stresses self-knowledge.

Knowledge of limits, humility. This is, in part, self-knowledge, but includes knowing that there are limits to human knowledge. Meacham (1990:181) “concluded that the essence of wisdom is to hold the attitude that knowledge is fallible and to strive for a balance between knowing and doubting.” Taranto (1989:9) makes the point that wisdom is not the recognition of the gap between what one knows and does not know in particular cases, but the recognition that there will always be much more unknown than what one knows. After reviewing various contributions to an understanding of wisdom, she writes that “It is my conclusion that wisdom involves a recognition of and response to human limitation” (p.15). Recognition and management of uncertainty, of the fundamental limits to human knowledge, is one of the five criteria for assessing wisdom in the Berlin Wisdom Paradigm (Baltes & Staudinger 2000:125-6). Ardelt (2000a:782) also emphasizes the “acceptance of the limits of knowledge for human beings”, as do many writers on wisdom. The “willingness and exceptional ability” to make sound judgments while recognizing the uncertainty of knowledge forms the higher levels of the Reflective Judgment model of Kitchener & Brenner (1990).
The humility of wisdom is expressed by Socrates in the Apology 21b: “I am only too conscious that I have no claim to wisdom, great or small”; and Confucius is quoted as saying that “To know that you know what you know, and that you do not know what you do not know, that is true wisdom.”

Comfort with uncertainty and ambiguity. The wise person, Sternberg (1990:155) points out, is both comfortable with ambiguity and sees it as a basic reality. In proposing that the development of wisdom requires an integration of emotion and cognition, Blanchard-Fields & Norris (1995:108) write that with this integration “there is an increased tolerance for uncertainty and a deepening in the search for meaning and purpose in life. Awareness of the paradoxical and contradictory nature of reality facilitates transcendence needed to embrace the uncertainty.” This characteristic is related with dialectical thinking. For Kramer (2000:84), “awareness of the relativistic, uncertain, and paradoxical nature of human problems” is one of the three cognitive processes historically associated with wisdom. The other two are practical and social intelligence, and insight. She says there may be others.

Self-control. The wise person has developed control of desires and emotions and, more generally, possesses the ability to direct attention. He or she has an extensive repertoire of areas in which to direct attention. This self-control is part of the virtues of the wise person discussed by Plato and Aristotle. The contrast between seeking to control the external world and the internal one is made by Ardelt (2000a:776-7): liberation from being controlled by fears, impulses, passions, and desires, and so being able “to accept reality as it is” is a goal of wisdom. As Kunzmann & Baltes (2003a:1114) point out, “According to philosophical conceptions, wisdom involves affective modulation and, at the same time, reflectivity and an understanding of complexity”. They predict that the development of wisdom will be found to correlate with the ability to control one’s emotional feelings and responses.
Blanchard-Fields & Norris (1995:106) write that affect is a critical part of wisdom, in helping to identify and overcome subjective biases: “In other words,” they write, “emotional regulation in the face of uncertainty is seen as central to wisdom.” (See also Ardelt (1997), Clayton & Birren (1980), Holliday & Chandler (1986), Orwoll & Perlmutter (1990), Blanchard-Fields et al. (1987), Kramer (1990), and Labouvie-Vief (1990.) Sternberg (2001a:234) also mentions emotional intelligence, as well as intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligences, as related to wisdom. Temperance was a characteristic of a wise person for Erikson, along with deliberateness and freedom from impulsivity (Hoare, 2002:196).
Neo-Piagetian Pascual-Leone (1990:262) identifies control of the will and control and direction of the mind as developmental tasks necessary for attaining wisdom. “Wisdom deals with vital reason,” Pascual-Leone (2000:247) writes, “that is, insightful practical rationality about one’s life. . . and living in all its aspects” including a person’s possibilities.
Takahashi & Overton (2002), Webster (2003), and Kunzmann & Baltes (2003) all mention emotional regulation in connection with wisdom.

Broad and deep knowledge and experience. Wiggins (1980:146-7) writes that the maximum practical wisdom is evidenced by a person “who brings to bear upon a situation the greatest number of genuinely pertinent concerns and genuinely relevant considerations commensurate with the importance of the deliberative context.” Broad factual and procedural knowledge are the first two criteria for the MPI group’s (Baltes & Smith 1990) assessment of wisdom. Kramer (2000:85), too, emphasizes the “exceptional breadth and depth of knowledge about the conditions of life and human affairs” that is characteristic of wisdom. For Ardelt (2004:271), “the goal of wisdom or interpretative knowledge is to comprehend the deeper meaning of descriptively known facts”. Kekes (1983), whose description of the knowledge of a wise person focuses on the breadth and depth necessary to interpret the basic realities of existence, uses the term “breadth” in the sense of understanding that different contexts call for different responses (which corresponds with the Berlin group’s criteria of lifespan contextualism and value relativism). Depth for Kekes is the perception of the fundamental similarities for all humans in regard to the basic realities. Webster (2003:14), following a review of the literature, suggests “that it is not accumulated general experience per se that leads to wisdom, but in contrast, experiences that are difficult, morally challenging, and require (or perhaps enable) some degree of profundity.”

Social skills. Staudinger & Pasupathi (2003:245) write that research indicates that wisdom-related performance in their model is not affected by a person’s level of social intelligence beyond a basic level, but their colleagues Kunzmann & Baltes (2003a) also found that the conflict management style favored by people higher in wisdom-related knowledge seeks a cooperative resolution. For Sternberg (2001a:234), the difference between social intelligence and wisdom is that the former can be used for self-serving ends, whereas wisdom cannot. Van Lancker (2000:222) point out “that speech formulas convey a type of subtle, in-the-moment wisdom. They serve to implicitly indicate how a person feels about something, how the speaker wants the content of the conversation to be evaluated, where the talk is to be directed.”

Benevolence, empathy, compassion, generativity, related to the common good. One of the “two key indicators of personality-based wisdom” identified by Orwoll & Perlmutter (1990) results from the advanced personality development involved in the growth of wisdom: self-transcendence, in which the individual moves from self-centeredness to inclusion of all beings in one’s social radius. Sternberg (2001a:237) maintains that wisdom “involves caring for others as well as oneself”. He (2003a:397) writes that developing wisdom involves making a decision “to make a genuine effort to understand other people’s points of view and incorporate them into one’s thinking.” This includes understanding that different people view experience in different ways, with different values and opinions, and is related to “second-tier thinking” (Wilber 2000). Of course, Erikson’s portrait of successful psychological development, leading to wisdom, includes the ability to form intimate relationships, and it also includes generativity. Sternberg’s (1998) Balance Model of wisdom has identified a common good as the goal of wisdom, and the MPI group also associate the common good with wisdom. Baltes & Staudinger (2000:126), for example, write that wisdom “includes an explicit concern with the topic of virtue and the common good.”

Decentering. To become wise is to recognize and accept all aspects of oneself, and to go beyond projecting unwelcome parts of ourselves onto others, Kramer (1990:296) writes, noting the importance of seeing others as they are and separating one’s own needs from those of others. Ardelt (2000a:780) writes that “The process of self-reflection ultimately results in a reduction of self-centeredness and in a more correct perception of reality.” The process of going beyond personal, ego-centered focus to identification with the unus mundus is mentioned by Jung (1977:533) as the ultimate goal of psychological development: “[P]sychic wholeness will never be attained empirically, as consciousness is too narrow and too one-sided to comprehend the full inventory of the psyche.” It is questionable whether humans can, in principle, be wise, ever know ourselves, or understand common good, until we have an accurate and thorough understanding of the ways in which the individual is embedded in hir context, and this understanding is reflected in our institutions. In discussing Achenbaum & Orwoll’s (1991) study, Atchley (1993:482) notes that as their intrapersonal, interpersonal, and transpersonal levels of wisdom all depend on the ability to view oneself from outside one’s personal perspective, the transpersonal level “is the key to wisdom.”

Autonomy. As Kekes (1983:277) proposes, “Wisdom is a character-trait intimately connected with self-direction.” The ultimate expression of this was the Stoics’ assertion that only the wise person is free; all others are slaves. The liberation from projections and defenses that Ardelt (2000a:776-7) describes as a necessary part of wisdom, allows a person to accept reality as it is. Autonomous freedom results from judgments and acts of will that override “Natural/instinctual feeling [that] are indicators of the strength of. . . developmentally more basic values”, writes Pascual-Leone (1990:261).

Humor. To Jeffrey Webster (2003:15), humor is an aspect of wisdom. He refers to Taranto (1989) as also recognizing humor as part of wisdom, and cites Erikson as quoted by his biographer: “I can’t imagine a wise old person who can’t laugh.” The philosopher Odo Marquard, in Oelmüller 1989:314, also raises the question whether “wisdom is possible without humor,” and suggests that, particularly in the case of conflicting values, a humorous laugh opens borders, and a deriding laugh closes them. Kohut (1985:122) has remarked on the connection of wisdom with humor, particularly in regard to life’s crises, including a gentle irony about one’s own wisdom. Frankl (1984:55), too, writes about the importance of a sense of humor in “mastering the art of living”, even in a concentration camp.

Creativity. Helson & Srivastava (2002) noted the similarities and the differences between wisdom and creativity. Sternberg (2001a:234 and in several other places) has noted that wisdom requires creativity (the reverse is not true), and while creative thought often defies custom, wisdom tends towards preservation and integration. Sternberg (2001c) says that wisdom is a synthesis of intelligence and creativity, requiring both.

Intuition. This ability is not as frequently mentioned, although it seems to be a natural characteristic of a wise person. Taranto (1989:17) points out the connection of intuition with wisdom, and she mentions that Piaget claimed that intuition precedes logic. Trevor Curnow’s recent work (1999) on ethical intuitionism discusses the sources of this perspective in writings on wisdom, both religious and philosophic.

Serenity. This trait is not often mentioned either, but seems implied by several of the earlier traits mentioned. Erikson’s description of wisdom as accepting the inevitability of one’s life, as “detached concern with life itself, in the face of death itself” (Erikson, Erikson, & Kivnick, 1986:37), provides an image of this serenity. Clayton (1982:315) observed this quality in elderly people who possessed wisdom, that they “did not begrudge loss of those people or things over which they could exert no control”. Taranto (1989:18) notes that serenity is related with recognition of the limits of knowledge. Kramer (2000:93) quotes Tracy Lyster’s finding that serenity was identified by all groups she polled regarding their concepts of wisdom. Montaigne’s statement from “Of the Education of Children” that “The most manifest sign of wisdom is continual cheerfulness” has already been mentioned (above, p. 58). Montaigne’s essay continues, “Her state is like that of things in the regions above the moon, always clear and serene.” (“La plus expresse marque de la sagesse, c'est une esjouissance constante: son estat est comme des choses au dessus de la lune, tousjours serein.”)

Intelligence. Staudinger, Lopez, & Baltes (1997:1202) propose that creativity, social intelligence, and cognitive styles “may be the closest to the construct of wisdom.”
Horn & Masunaga (2000) discuss the nine primary mental abilities identified in research on intelligence and the relation between these and wisdom. Pasupathi & Staudinger (2001:403) point out that research indicates that, in regard to the relationship between intelligence and wisdom, “given a minimum level of intellectual functioning, this relationship is not important.” In fact, an unpublished study discussed in Staudinger (1999:648) found a nonsignificant relationship between a measure of post-formal reasoning and wisdom-related performance. (In the Relativism and Dialectic scales of the Social Paradigm Belief Inventory there was a relationship of r = .10.) Sternberg (1985) found wisdom to be more closely related to intelligence than to creativity, but wisdom is related to both. In his article introducing the Balance Theory of wisdom, Sternberg (1998, and 2003:157-159) discusses the differences between wisdom and several related concepts, such as intelligence, creativity, social intelligence, emotional intelligence, and interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence.

Other qualities. There are other qualities that could be added to the list. Reminiscent of Aristotle’s statement Sapientis est ordinare, “It is the nature of the wise man to order things,” Marquard (Oelmüller 1989:314) proposes that the wise person moderates excesses of order and of disorder, through observing things hitherto unnoticed, and by simplifying that which is becoming overly complex. Achenbaum (2004) mentions love and forgiveness. Taranto (1989:14) had earlier written that “Frankly, I am surprised that such words as ‘compassion,’ ‘mercy,’ and even ‘forgiveness’ are not commonly included attributes of the wise person”. And of course, the wise person’s sense of priorities: Saepe est etiam sub palliolo sordido sapientia, “Often wisdom is even found in a shabby cloak” (Cicero, Tusc. Disp. III.xxiii.56).
Jason, et al. (2001) suggest mystic experiences and spirituality as concepts related to wisdom. This is a possibly fruitful place to look for at least one of the functions of wisdom. The study of spirituality, at least, has generated a large amount of research in the past twenty years (see, for example, Hall & Edwards, 2002; Hodge, 2001; Mitroff & Denton, 1999). Much of the work on spirituality, it should be noted, has been done in regard to its connection with health and wellness (e.g., Fetzer Institute, National Institute on Aging Working Group, 1999). Viktor Frankl (1985:55-58) describes an insight into wisdom that occurred to him while marching to his work detail in a concentration camp:
I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth—that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.

Kramer (1990) lists “spiritual introspection” as one of the five functions of wisdom, but this is not the same as wisdom as religious dogma. Achenbaum & Orwoll (1991) mention spiritual commitment as part of wisdom. Wink & Helson (1997:6) included “spiritual depth” in their criteria for assessing transcendent wisdom. Levitt (1999) interviewed thirteen Tibetan Buddhist monks to learn their views of wisdom. Jason, Reichler et al. (2001) identified two items of their assessment tool (calling for Likert-type responses) for wisdom to indicate a spiritual dimension. Helson & Srivastava (2002:1439) found that a career in psychotherapy or spiritual activity “added significantly to the prediction of wisdom.” Baltes (2004:10), doubts whether “a data-driven psychologist [can] be sufficiently informed about and committed to the spiritual and humanist qualities of wisdom”. It is quite likely that to raise or resolve the issue of wisdom’s connection with existential-religious concerns, it is necessary to seek beyond empirical psychology. This is where transdisciplinarity becomes very important.

Wisdom as a collective product

Introducing their study of wisdom as a possible product of “interactive minds”, Staudinger & Baltes (1996:749) mention that not all consultation will result in a better decision than individual thought. They mention the cognitive overload that can result in impairing decision-making ability, the fanning of emotions, and the “social loafing” that the presence of several people permits: “One of the most central and also long-standing distinctions is the one between studies on the effect of social interaction on group performance and studies of the effect of social interaction on subsequent individual performance.”
Ardelt (2004:260) writes “I propose that the term ‘wisdom’ should be reserved for the wisdom of people”, and much of the empirical research has concerned itself with people’s wisdom. Recall that the empirical study began from an interest in the positive aspects of aging. (Ardelt’s research has been entirely with the elderly.) She is not alone in this proposal: Hansjürgen Staudinger, a biochemist (Oelmüller 1989:340) states that “wisdom can only be encountered in wise people,” and Schnädelbach, a philosopher, in the same volume emphasizes his belief that “one cannot leave out the personal connection from wisdom” (p. 346). Halverson (2004:97), though, writes that “The social and situational distribution of leadership practice suggests how we might consider phronesis as more than the possession of a particular individual.” Baltes & Staudinger (2000:127) had written, “In our conception, wisdom is fundamentally a cultural and collective product in which individuals participate. Individuals are only some of the carriers and outcomes of wisdom.”

Cultivating wisdom

Incredible as it may seem, and despite Maslow’s (1971:9) and Orwoll & Perlmutter’s (1990) urging, there has been no study of wisdom to date that has attempted to study people actually considered wise. There was a network television program in the US from 1952 to 1965, called by different titles, including Wisdom and Conversations with Elder Wise Men, which featured interviews with people such as David Ben Gurion, Bertrand Russell, Eleanor Roosevelt, Nadia Boulanger, Eamon De Valera, Robert Frost and Margaret Mead. (Two books were produced from these interviews, Wisdom: Conversations with the Elder Wise Men of Our Day, and Wisdom For Our Time). Tony Schwartz (1995) published a book of conversations with a dozen people in a “search for wisdom” across America. As valuable as these presentations are, they do not yield the sort of systematic, empiric insight that is desirable. Baltes, Staudinger, et al. (1995) did assess people nominated as wise with the wisdom tasks of the Berlin wisdom paradigm of the MPI group, but there has been no scientific effort made to learn from people considered to be wise. Erikson’s studies of Luther (1958) and Gandhi (1969) come to mind, although Luther would not be considered wise by most people.
If we are serious about helping humans grow wiser, it is essential to demystify the concept. The MPI group’s designation of wisdom as an expertise seems an excellent approach. Though it does not appear to have been mentioned by members of the MPI group, they are no doubt more aware than most of us that every expertise must be learned through explicit efforts in the particular area.[1] This is essential for wisdom also: picking it up as a side-effect of other endeavors is certainly not the optimal way to become wise. And yet training in wisdom, or even “wisdom-related knowledge” (Clayton & Birren 1980:128) is nowhere offered, though Sternberg (2001a) has made a start and Baltes & Staudinger (2000:131-2) make suggestions. The very idea seems pretentious and sophistic. If wisdom is, at least in part, an expertise, and if wisdom is important for humans, it seems obvious that it needs to be taught, studied and practiced like any other expertise. For this, wisdom needs to shed, at least in part, its mysterium. This is not a recommendation for the commodification of wisdom, but for finding an approach to it that fits human capacities. Not by positivistic standards either, but by finding a way to integrate all human faculties for use as an empirically justifiable method. In Chapter 3, on the method followed in this study, I make a beginning to such an approach. The importance of becoming wiser, and the arguable necessity of admitting that metaphysical or divine wisdom enters very quickly into any discussion of wisdom, and cannot be excluded, makes such a method important. Nor is there any imperative to be wise, other than a hypothetical imperative (Kant, 1964:82): If a person wants to become wiser or make wiser decisions, then there are guidelines to help hir, or them.
A minimal definiteness is necessary to fix the realm of wisdom. It is essential to note what has been said of wisdom throughout history, not because the statements have final authority, but to orient ourselves, understand the paths that have been tried. Evelyn Underhill (1974) observes in regard to religious mystics that, once given an insight into the nature of existence, instead of reimmersing themselves in the stream of everyday affairs, they accept the askesis necessary to reform themselves, and their habitual perception of the world, according to this insight. Such can also be practiced in regard to wisdom.

D. Theoretical psychological models

In the Preface to his edited collection of articles on wisdom that has become a standard text, Robert J. Sternberg (1990) writes that fields of knowledge progress through four phases from initial interest to the obsolescence of a generally accepted paradigm. The study of wisdom, he believed, was in the second phase of early development, when theories abound. If this was true in 1990, it is still true fifteen years later, as research has certainly not moved to the third, mature stage in which one or a small number of paradigms dominate the field. In this section, before proceeding to the research, I will describe the major theoretical models of wisdom proposed by psychologists. The success of Sternberg’s (1990) collection of articles, Wisdom is apparent from the fact that such a large proportion of the theories made their appearance in this book.
Baltes & Staudinger (2000:124) and Pasupathi & Staudinger (2001:402) make the same division of three theoretical (“explicit”) approaches to wisdom taken by psychologists. There is an Eriksonian model of advanced personality development, or personal characteristics (Erikson, 1959; Erikson, Erikson, & Kivnick, 1986), a neo-Piagetian model of post-formal cognitive operations (e.g., Pascual-Leone, 1990, 2000; Alexander & Langer, 1990; Labouvie-Vief, 1990); and the Baltes group’s (MPI) own expertise-based model. The latter is the only one that has received empirical study.
The survey of psychological research into wisdom by Kramer (2000) distinguishes just two approaches: cognitive expertise regarding human affairs and integrated, highly developed personal maturity. Sternberg (2003) reviews the research to date and describes a number of approaches: that of the MPI group; post-formal thinking; Csikszentmihalyi & Rathunde’s evolutionary approach; and approaches emphasizing various kinds of balance.

The Berlin Wisdom Paradigm

The Max Planck Institute (MPI) group includes over half a dozen researchers who have provided the bulk of the research studies, at least until recently, and the most fully elaborated theory of wisdom. Paul B. Baltes (1993:586), of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, writes that while the early research was concerned with common opinions about wisdom, “My colleagues and I, however, were especially fascinated by the challenge of developing an empirical paradigm that would permit the objective quantification of wisdom-related performance”. In an earlier article, Dittmann-Kohli & Baltes (1990:54) also announced their program as “the study of wisdom as a form of advanced cognitive functioning.” As Pasupathi & Staudinger (2001:402) write, the focus of the Berlin wisdom paradigm is with wise judgment rather than with wise action.
The MPI group’s theory of wisdom was introduced by Smith, Dixon, & Baltes (1989). They write “Our overall objective is to develop a research analogue that will open a way toward the empirical investigation of the content and organization of wisdom-related knowledge systems and judgmental processes. The present chapter outlines an initial step toward meeting this objective.” This paper lists five characteristics of wisdom, the first two differing from the five criteria that were soon to be put forth. By 1990 (Smith & Baltes) the five criteria had evolved into the form, more or less, that they have retained. The first two, broad factual knowledge and broad procedural knowledge, are a part of any area of expertise and are derived from theories of expert performance (as is their think-aloud procedure for assessing the level of wisdom a person demonstrates). The other three, understanding of life contexts, of differences that are held regarding values, goals and priorities, and of the extent to which knowledge is uncertain, are specific to wisdom in the fundamental pragmatics of life. They are “derived on a priori considerations from life-span theory... and from studies of adult cognitive development” (Smith & Baltes 1990:501; see also Staudinger, Smith, & Baltes 1992:272). These metacriteria are expected to develop subsequent to the basic criteria. Pasupathi, Staudinger, & Baltes (2001:351-2) state that these three “are grounded in the ancient wisdom literature, neo-Piagetian research on postformal thought, and propositions of life span psychology.”
Procedural knowledge includes strategies for finding information and making decisions, and monitoring emotional reactions. Regarding this last criterion, “effective strategies for dealing with uncertainty” Pasupathi, Staudinger, & Baltes (2001:352) are necessary: simply recognizing uncertainty is inadequate for wisdom. Smith & Baltes (1990:494-5) add a “summative criterion”: “exceptional insight into human development and life matters, exceptionally good judgment, advice, and commentary about difficult life problems.” This does sum up the criteria very well, but by 1992 it had been dropped, perhaps because it was irrelevant for rating responses.
Starting “from an everyday conception” of wisdom (Baltes & Smith 1990:95), the goal from the beginning of their published work was “to formulate an integrative psychological theory of wisdom and to examine its validity and usefulness on several levels of analysis” (p. 88). They describe their presentation of this theory in 1990 as “something akin to a prototheory”, as their work on wisdom was very new at that time.
Expressing dissatisfaction with the traditional view of intelligence as invariant, Dittmann-Kohli & Baltes (1990) describe wisdom as an example of higher order intellectual functioning that is closer to Cattell’s (1971) and Horn’s (1982) construct of crystallized intelligence than to those researchers’ construct of fluid intelligence. The latter, depending mainly on speed of processing, was considered the key indicator of intelligence. As there is fairly conclusive evidence that fluid intelligence declines from about a person’s mid-twenties, human intelligence was likewise considered to enter a long decline beginning at this time. On the other hand, the study of crystallized intelligence, which may remain the same or even increase to the age of eighty, was neglected.
In their approach to intelligence, Smith, Dixon, & Baltes (1989:308) associated crystallized intelligence with the “pragmatics of intelligence”, meaning by this term to indicate the more complex aspects of mental functioning: when studied at all, crystallized intelligence had been studied in “relatively simple verbal reasoning tasks and abilities” (Dittmann-Kohli & Baltes, 1990:58).
Baltes’ interest was with complex, important practical life concerns rather than with such simple, abstract tasks yielding a single answer. To learn about these, a researcher would have to study the heuristics, repertoire of problem-solving strategies, and the reflective ability a person is able to call on when confronting difficult and important real life issues. These skills are developed through experience, and with this focus, a multidirectional picture of intelligence emerges in which some abilities decline with advancing age, some develop further, and concentration on activities requiring particular skills results in continuing development of expertise in that area. Wisdom is seen as highly developed pragmatic: intelligence in regard to the difficult questions of life.
Such a model is useful for conceptualizing mental development in adulthood, a phenomenon that had hardly been considered prior to the 1950s. For example, according to Piaget’s model, attainment of the highest level of cognitive development occurs in adolescence. The rest of life shows only stasis and eventual decline. In 1990:63, Dittmann-Kohli & Baltes could write that “Relatively little work has been done, however, to identify the typical cognitive processes and the tasks to which intelligence can be applied at later stages of life or in problem-solving contexts outside of school life.” No wonder that wisdom, which is more complex and indeterminable than intelligence, took such a long time to appear in psychological research!
Wisdom is one of the areas where it seems there may be possibilities for continued development in old age. Following Cattell and Horn (for whom see Dittmann-Kohli & Baltes (1990), and Sternberg (2003:19-20), geropsychologist Paul B. Baltes (1993) considers intelligence to have two general factors: cognitive mechanics or physical factors, involving such things as speed and accuracy of processing sensory input; and cognitive pragmatics, a person’s knowledge. Beyond describing the pragmatics, Baltes is interested in the limits of human performance, “maximum performance potential” (Baltes 1993:583).
In the MPI group’s Berlin wisdom paradigm, wisdom is viewed “as a cognitive expertise. . . . Of course, wisdom could also be studied from a philosophical, moral, or religious domain. Our focus is on wisdom-related knowledge in the domain of fundamental life pragmatics” (Smith, Dixon, & Baltes 1989:311). This has remained the MPI group’s focus, though with some revision, to the present. Baltes & Kunzmann (2004:294) write that “Our preference was for defining a priori the meaning structure of wisdom as a body of expert knowledge about the meaning and conduct of life.” The field of this expertise is the “fundamental pragmatics of life”: understanding human nature in general, and the difficult questions concerning the conduct and the meaning of life.
Conceptualization of wisdom in terms of these five criteria, and assessing it in regard to the responses people give to different questions regarding difficult matters of life planning, life management, and life review (over five hundred people have been tested to date), stresses the cognitive element of wisdom, or “wisdom-related performance” as they refer to their results. It does not include considerations of character, and this element has been added, at least in later theoretical work (e.g., Baltes 2004, Baltes & Staudinger 2000).
Because wisdom is concerned with basic, difficult life issues, Baltes & Staudinger (2000:127), in writing of wisdom as “a metaheuristic (pragmatic) to orchestrate mind and virtue toward excellence”, state that in order to develop wisdom, it is necessary to integrate “cognitive, motivational, social, interpersonal, and spiritual” characteristics. They add that “we now think that it may be important to make more explicit the motivational-emotional orientation associated with the use of wisdom.” In one of the most recent statements from the MPI group, Baltes & Kunzmann (2004:295) write of the need for interaction among “Specific cognitive, emotional, motivational, and social factors” for the development of wisdom.
Staudinger et al. (1998:2) mention “the combination of insight and virtue which characterizes wisdom” which was a further move away from the emphasis on cognition to a more balanced model. Pasupathi & Staudinger (2001:402) state that expert knowledge and judgment about life includes understanding of various life contexts, and that “Wise knowledge and judgement also acknowledges variation in values, but retains a small set of universal standards oriented towards benefiting oneself and others.”
Baltes & Staudinger (2000:127, 132) emphasize that “In our conception, wisdom is fundamentally a cultural and collective product in which individuals participate”, and “individuals by themselves are only ‘weak’ carriers of wisdom.” They note a recent revision of their conceptualization, that wisdom includes skill regarding processes of selection, optimization, and compensation, which are “the key elements leading to developmental advance” in adulthood. Wisdom might in part be, they state, a heuristic to help promote “human excellence in the conduct of life (Baltes & Staudinger 2000:131), by identifying strategies and goals, formed with recognition of life’s unknowns, for synergized individual and communal well-being. This can be applied to most human concerns, including existential ones, and is highly efficient—a “fast and frugal” heuristic, to borrow the phrase from Gigerenzer, Todd, & the ABC Research Group 1999. Baltes & Staudinger (2000:132) write of the possibility of the wisdom heuristic as being “acquired systematically.”
Baltes (2004:17, see also Baltes & Staudinger 2000) lists seven properties of wisdom that he believes are “generally, if not universally, accepted as inherent in any definition of wisdom”: Wisdom addresses important and difficult questions and strategies about the conduct and meaning of life. Wisdom represents a truly superior level of knowledge, judgment, and advice, knowledge with extraordinary scope, depth, and balance, particularly knowledge about the limits of knowledge and the uncertainties of the world. It involves a perfect synergy of mind and character, that is, an orchestration of knowledge and virtues, used for the well-being of oneself and of others. Although difficult to achieve and to specify, wisdom is easily recognized when manifested.
Wisdom is related to certain personality-intelligence factors, particularly openness to experience, creativity, and a reflective style of thinking. Pasupathi & Staudinger (2001:404) note the similarity between descriptions of the characteristics of people who continue to develop morally and the quality of openness to experience.
The statement in Pasupathi, Staudinger, & Baltes (2001:359) that “We believe research on wisdom-related knowledge and judgment has a special conceptual resonance with theory-of-mind research” is interesting. As both rely on a person’s understanding of individual psychological functioning and of intersubjectivity, research in each of these areas may provide useful insights for the other.
In the early writings of the MPI group, with wisdom conceptualized in terms of expert knowledge about “the fundamental pragmatics of life,” that is, about important and difficult questions concerning the meaning and conduct of life, this knowledge is without any direction. A person has factual and procedural knowledge, is aware of the limits of knowledge and the way standards vary in different contexts, and makes judgments accordingly. The absence of any normative standard was not remarked, but is significant. In Baltes & Staudinger (2000), for the first time, I believe, members of the MPI group began to speak of wisdom as having the aim of achieving a result that is good, or for the common good.

Sternberg’s Balance Theory of Wisdom

In 1990, Sternberg presented his first explicit-theoretical account of wisdom, incorporating the results of his studies on implicit theories of wisdom. He describes wisdom in terms of six background variables that serve to mark it off from intelligence and creativity: knowledge, processes, primary intellectual style, personality, motivation, and environmental context (p. 142). This model borrowed from implicit theories and explicit theories of wisdom. (Since the publication of his original research, the MPI researchers had proposed their theoretical model.) The wise person probes inside knowledge and is high in metacognitive ability, understanding hir own limits, presuppositions, strengths and weaknesses, and the limits of what can be known. He or she resists thinking in automatized ways and is aware of others’ doing so. The primary intellectual style of a wise person (in terms of Sternberg’s model of intelligence) is judicial; that is, he or she seeks to understand reasons for and significance of behavior. E is comfortable with ambiguity, engaged in an unending dialectic with the world. Hir motivation is to understand more deeply, particularly the structure, assumptions and meaning of phenomena.
The Balance Theory (introduced in 1998) incorporates the earlier theory, considering the six components of wisdom identified in it to be “antecedent sources of developmental and individual differences” (Sternberg, 1998:350, and see 1990:152). These components are knowledge (including awareness of its presuppositions and limits), processes (strategies), a judicial thinking style, personality (including tolerance of ambiguity), motivation (particularly to understand), and environmental context (i.e., the effects different contexts have on choices).
Sternberg’s Balance Theory (presented most fully in 1998, 2001a, 2003), in its most recent formulation (2004c:287) states that “wisdom is the application of intelligence, creativity, and knowledge to the common good by balancing intrapersonal (one’s own), interpersonal (others’), and extrapersonal (institutional or other larger) interests over the long and short terms, through the mediation of values, so as to adapt to, shape, and select environments.” It is the goal that seems to dictate the three balances: intrapersonal, interpersonal and extrapersonal interests, long and short term, response to the environment.
Sternberg’s (1998:353) earlier formulations had stressed tacit knowledge as the core of the theory: wisdom was “defined as the application of tacit knowledge as mediated by values toward the goal of achieving a common good . . .” It is “only a refined subset of the tacit knowledge involved in practical intelligence” (p. 353). Intrapersonal interests include long- and short-term, and competing desires (rather than integrating, say, cognitive, affective, and reflective concerns). Extrapersonal interests are those aspects of one’s context not captured by intrapersonal or interpersonal interests, “such as one’s city or country or environment or even God” (p. 354). The second area of balancing, that of adapting to or reshaping existing environments or selecting new ones, receives less attention from him than the first.
Tacit knowledge, also a key aspect of practical intelligence, is procedural knowledge that is relevant to goal attainment, and it is typically acquired through one’s own experience without direct help from others. It is entirely context dependent “so that the tacit knowledge that would apply in one context would not necessarily apply in another context” (p. 351). Wisdom too is procedural knowledge, relevant to goal attainment, and typically acquired through one’s own experience without direct help from others (p. 353).
The Balance Theory conceptualizes wisdom as arising in a person-context interaction, and thus requiring a balance between these interests. Wise solutions are likely to be unique to the person-context dynamic.
Sternberg’s (1998) Balance Theory is an active model of wisdom: wisdom as procedural knowledge (knowing how) that is “relevant to the attainment of particular goals people value”, goals that are meant “to achieve a common good for all relevant stakeholders” (p. 353). “Its output is typically in the form of advice, usually to another person, but sometimes for oneself” (p. 355). In this model, the key feature is the goal of achieving a common good. In distinguishing wisdom from similar constructs, Sternberg writes, “Perhaps the most salient difference among constructs is that wisdom is applied toward the achievement of ends that are perceived as yielding a common good” (p. 360), distinguishing it from cognitive, emotional, or interpersonal intelligence, and from creativity.

Ardelt: wisdom as cognitive, reflective, and affective integration

“Based on earlier research by Clayton and Birren [1980], I propose a relatively parsimonious model of wisdom, as an integration of cognitive, reflective, and affective personality characteristics” (Ardelt 2004:274). Her own research led her to conclude that the presence of all these characteristics is not only necessary but also sufficient for a person to be wise (p. 278). The cognitive component refers to the desire “to know the truth” (p. 275) and comprehend the “significance and deeper meaning of phenomena and events” (p. 278), including the limits of human knowledge. The reflective dimension indicates clear-sighted perception of reality, a decentering from self and ability to consider events from different perspectives, and is prerequisite to the cognitive component. The ability to perceive life as it is, rather than through one’s fears and projections, impulses and desires, is essential for wisdom, and thus self-reflection, self-knowledge, and openness to experience are requisite. Self-reflection also helps a person realize, in humility, the limits of human knowledge. With the transcendence of projections and self-centeredness, empathy and compassion increase. These are the heart of the affective component of wisdom. “As a result, wise people are more concerned about collective and universal issues than about their individual well-being”. This implies serenity and contentment “because it enables one to accept the possibilities and limitations of life, including physical decline and death” (Ardelt 2000a:782). In research published in 1997, she investigated the correlation of wisdom and life satisfaction in old age. Old age is necessary, though not sufficient, for the acquisition of wisdom, as it takes time to transcend subjectivity and projections. Ardelt specializes in the study of wisdom and aging and dying well.
Ardelt (2000a) makes a thorough distinction between intellectual and wisdom-related knowledge, pointing out that while intellectual knowledge will help an older person stay involved in worldly affairs, it is more important for hir to take stock of past experience, find the meaning of hir life, pass this wisdom along, and learn to approach death with acceptance. In a person’s earlier years, “the immediate tasks of childhood and adulthood require the acquisition of intellectual knowledge”, but in later years, it becomes more advantageous to develop wisdom (p. 785).
The goal of wisdom-related knowledge is deeper understanding of existence, a search for proper ends. Such knowledge “cannot remain theoretical, abstract, and detached but is necessarily applied, concrete, and involved” (p. 777). This knowledge “is timeless and independent of scientific advancements or political and historical fluctuations because it provides universal answers to universal questions that concern the basic predicaments of the human condition” (p. 779).
That Ardelt (2004:260) believes “the term ‘wisdom’ should be reserved for the wisdom of people” has been mentioned.


For Pascual-Leone (1990:245), who considers wisdom “as the ultimate possible achievement of a normal person’s growth”, it is the integration of the totality of a person’s being, when it “reaches sufficient breadth and cohesiveness”, that allows wisdom to appear. This comes about through the conflicts of alternative self schemes and forms/modes of processing—if the person’s orientation is a “will-to-be”, rather than a fearful, neurotic, or perhaps low energy, will-not-to-be. Pascual-Leone also believes that a “true self”, larger than the physical, ego self, orchestrates this integration and is able to coordinate all the ego self’s conflicts. A conflict between conscious recognition of “what must be done” (p. 250), and relatively simpler, more biological motives must be resolved in favor of the former, if development toward wisdom is to occur. The efforts of will necessary for this are most fundamentally expressions of the will-to-be, or drive to actualize the true self. The true self begins to come forth when, through youthful assertion of willful choices, one encounters enough conflicts that a higher “ultraself control center” appears (p. 264) to coordinate them. Pascual-Leone writes (p. 265) that “The ancient Greeks called this higher and more integrative mode of processing reason”, while he refers to it as “vital reason.”
The acts of will involved foster the growth of openness and empathic decentering from ego concerns. This decentering was a feature of Kohlberg’s (1981:chap. 1) stages of moral development from the personal concern of preconventional, to the group concern of conventional, to the principled level of postconventional morality. It was an important part of Erikson’s (1963) epigenetic model of psychosocial development (Stage 7 is “Generativity vs. Self-absorption”), and is a part of Ardelt’s model of wisdom as well.
“There is no authentic life—no life conducive to wisdom—unless the person lives by true convictions, using the will to control unwanted impulses or desires induced by circumstances”, Pascual-Leone (1990:247) writes. Emotions play a large part in the development of wisdom in this model. Pascual-Leone’s vocabulary is a bit challenging here (p. 267). Humans have a “scheme directory”, the “organismic soul”, which consists of three “subrepertoires” in which are the feelings of the self, and preconscious and conscious evaluations of reactions to experience. The terms “psyche” or “feelings system” might be rough synonyms for “organismic soul”, and the subrepertoires are different aspects of emotional experience. The first of the subrepertoires is a sense of communion with the Other; the second, which “corresponds to what the classics called the passions of the self and its feelings”, is the home of good and bad instinctual feelings, and consciously chosen values. The third subrepertoire is the coordination of the first two, the ethical self or ethos, which is the site of moral feelings, ethical evaluations, motives and possible acts, and experiential feelings such as aesthetic judgments.
When a person’s agency-will acts in dissonance with these, a sense of conflict results, which can be resolved by new mental executive (and metaexecutive) schemes and possibilities. Wisdom is “the state when agency and communion have become perfectly coordinated into a single totality (dialectically integrated) and jointly determine in a harmonious way every performance” (p. 269). At this point the ultraself organization has developed fully, and true self and persona are well coordinated.

Kramer’s Organicist model

This model was presented in an article in 1990, and starts from the distinction by Stephen Pepper (1966) of six world hypotheses, philosophical articulations of beliefs regarding the basic nature of existence. Or rather, the four “relatively adequate” hypotheses: formism or Platonic idealism; mechanism, often called materialism; contextualism or pragmatism; and organicism. (Animism and mysticism, more diffuse, are the others.) The central tenet of organicism is integration, resulting from a dialectical process of resolving contradictions. The dynamic and holistic perspective sees psychological development as inseparable from its context. Through cognitive and affective development throughout the lifespan, a person develops skills conducive to wisdom.
This type of approach allows an understanding of wisdom in a person’s life that is inclusive of practical (both personal and public) and theoretical (metaphysical) functions. Kramer (1990) distinguishes five functions of wisdom (Solution of problems confronting oneself; Advising others; Management of social institutions; Life review; and Spiritual introspection) and says there may be more. Far from believing that a person might be wise in one area and unwise in others, she holds that they are highly interdependent and that development in all of them is possibly necessary for development of wisdom in any function.
Affective and cognitive processes interact in relativistic and dialectical thinking to enable a person to interpret and direct hir experience, allowing hir to decenter from excessive self-concern while maintaining a strong ego. Relativistic and dialectical thinking are the two cognitive processes most relevant for wisdom. These are concerned with the contradictions of existence. The former “involves the awareness of the subjective, arbitrary nature of knowledge,” (Kramer 1990:289) and dialectical thinking, which develops subsequent to relativistic thinking, knowledge evolves, becoming increasingly integrated through the process of conflicts and their resolutions.

Achenbaum & Orwoll’s Synthetic model

Achenbaum & Orwoll’s (1991) synthetic model of wisdom presents wisdom in the form of a three-by-three grid (affect, cognition, conation; intra-, inter-, and transpersonal), thus with nine characteristics (self-development, self-knowledge, integrity in the intrapersonal column; empathy, understanding, maturity in relationships in interpersonal; and self-transcendence, recognition of limits of knowledge and understanding, and philosophical/spiritual commitments). This model was worked out through an analysis of the Biblical book of Job. Achenbaum (1997:8) explains that while a wise person possesses all of these qualities, individual and historic uniqueness mean that each person has a unique path toward wisdom.

Oser, Schenker, & Spychiger: An Action-Oriented Approach

Maintaining that research on wisdom has followed three approaches: wisdom as wise persons, as expertise, and as wise actions, these researchers present their own wisdom as wise actions approach. In this model, “wisdom is in the act itself and is treated always as situated wisdom” (Oser et al.1999:156). They distinguish wise from successsful acts through seven criteria, of which they believe five must be present in any example:
1. It goes beyond ordinary logic.
2. Moral integrity, or “unobtrusiveness”.
3. Selflessness: no advantage for the chooser results.
4. Overcoming polite social restraints.
5. Reestablishes power relations in favor of the weaker: the “Robin Hood Effect”.
6. Involves a risk for the actor.
7. Non-acceptance of suffering while respecting authenticity.
Situations calling for wisdom occur “when the situation under consideration seems hopeless and not solvable through applying logical-rational criteria” (p. 161).
They consider that “Wisdom is a rare situated occurrence” (p. 169), in which the action qualifying as wise is a unique response to a unique situation. In contradiction to Ardelt’s (2004) position—the term wisdom should be reserved for people; and also to the MPI group’s model (Baltes & Smith, 1990)—that wisdom is expert-level knowledge, the authors state, “we do think that the wise act is the only real valid sign of wisdom” (Oser et al., 1990:170).

Csikszentmihalyi & Rathunde: Evolutionary hermeneutics

Assuming that behavioral norms and ideals maintained for centuries survived because of their success in promoting cultural survival, Csikszentmihalyi & Rathunde (1990:27) describe evolutionary hermeneutics, which they use to help determine the adaptive value of wisdom, as involving research into the adaptive significance of enduring themes as they have existed and changed over time.

Erikson’s Epigenetic model

Clayton & Birren (1980:121) observe that Erikson’s is the only model of lifespan development (at least at that time) in which wisdom is an integral part. They point out, however, that the model is limited in its concern, to social-emotional development. Wisdom was never discussed at length by Erikson—he did not give it many words—and his conception certainly does not cover the full range of wisdom’s functions. Wisdom as “informed and detached concern with life itself in the face of death itself” was Erikson’s (1997:61) definition.
In discussing Erikson and wisdom, Orwoll & Perlmutter (1990:161) make the point that “Wisdom develops not only in old age but incrementally throughout life by actuation of growth rather than foreclosure in response to numerous age-associated challenges.” Clayton & Birren (1980) had made the same point: that each of the characteristic virtues of each stage were present in some form in every stage. And yet wisdom is always mentioned in connection with old age by Erikson. In The Life Cycle Completed, Erikson (1997:59) points out that every progressive psychosocial advance “is grounded in all the previous ones”, and as a person advances each new basic virtue developed “gives new connotations to all the ‘lower’ and already developed stages as well as to the higher and still developing ones.” He also held that the maturation signaled by wisdom was universal across cultures and socioeconomic classes.
Carol Hoare’s (2002:185) study of Erikson’s unpublished papers documents that “In his later years, Erikson overturned his lifelong belief that integrity and wisdom are products of the last stage of life.” She includes the specific day and circumstance when this occurred, as it struck him that “wisdom can and, in fact, must be situated earlier than the last stage of life if humanity is to survive its destructive tendencies” (p. 195). Wisdom is thereafter seen as behavior that is fitting to the requirements of each stage of adult life: “For later young adulthood and in the middle years, wisdom is defined by generating, loving, and caring for children, by creating products and ideas, and by adhering to honored principles and convictions” (p. 186). In his emphasis on caring and nurturing, Erikson moved from strictly psychological work to ethics.
Hoare (2002:197) writes that “Erikson’s version is unique in that its full constellation includes the functional attributes of behaving in accord with nature’s blueprint of biological competencies, at least for the intimate period of adulthood, of showing one’s mettle as a person of conviction and care, and of manifesting good reasoning and able judgment.”


Wisdom is defined by Heinz Kohut (1985:122) “as a stable attitude of the personality toward life and the world, an attitude which is formed through the integration of the cognitive function with humor, acceptance of transience, and a firmly cathected system of values”. I did not find a statement of the basis for this definition. The development of wisdom is related to the transformations of narcissism effected by the ego in healthy development, and its possibility rests on the ability to transform narcissism for the ego’s “highest aims”. Yet wisdom for Kohut goes beyond standard developmental attainments and is an autonomous achievement of the human personality.
Kohut mentions other similar attainments: creativity, empathy, contemplation of mortality, and humor in the face of existential crises. Development of the last two depends mainly on the formation of a strong value system. Wisdom involves the integration of the last three, and similar to Erikson’s view, Kohut (1985:239) maintains that it involves maximal decentering and acceptance of mortality while remaining cognitively and affectively involved with life. Humor, empathy, creativity, and wisdom are criteria for assessing personality growth and development.
There was an everyday rough acceptance of wisdom as a positive reality orientation for Kohut, at least as expressed in a 1962 letter to the Committee on Teacher Development of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis (Kohut, 1978, vol.2:855). Here wisdom indicates knowledge of one’s strengths and weaknesses, ability to contemplate them “with tolerance and composure”. In 1978 (vol.1:458), Kohut put forth another definition of wisdom as overcoming narcissism to accept physical and mental limits with “an amalgamation of the higher processes of cognition.”


Jung’s theory of wisdom is set forth in various works, rather than in a single place. His ideas have resonance with many of the views of wisdom previously discussed. In pointing out the correspondence made by medieval alchemists between salt and wisdom, sal sapientiae, for example, Jung (1977:242) cites references from the New Testament, which leads to the observation that “flexibility of mind is needed” for wisdom. He writes of the necessary integration of thought and feeling for wisdom, and the necessary recognition of the shadow side of the personality. Thus, while the masculine pole of personality is certain of the results of its intellect, this male “would be better advised to shroud the brilliance of his mind in the profoundest doubt” (1977:248).
In Aion (1959:22), Jung mentions the archetype of the Wise Old Man, for a male, and the Chthonic Mother for a female, in regard to the completion of the self. The first stage in this process is recognition of the shadow aspect of the personality, and then of the anima or animus—the male aspect for a woman, and female aspect of the self for a man. “The missing fourth element that would make the triad a quaternity is, in a man, the archetype of the Wise Old Man. . . and in a woman the Chthonic Mother.”
Concerning these archetypes, Jung (1968:183) says
Since for years I have been observing and investigating the products of the unconscious in the widest sense of the word, namely dreams, fantasies, visions, and delusions of the insane, I have not been able to avoid recognizing certain regularities, that is, types. There are types of situations and types of figures that repeat themselves frequently and have a corresponding meaning. I therefore employ the term “motif” to designate these repetitions. Thus there are not only typical dreams but typical motifs in the dreams. These may, as we have said, be situations or figures. Among the latter there are human figures that can be arranged under a series of archetypes, the chief of them being, according to my suggestion, the shadow, the wise old man, the child (including the child hero), the mother (“primordial Mother” and “Earth Mother”) as a supraordinate personality (“daemonic” because supraordinate), and her counterpart the maiden, and lastly the anima in man and the animus in woman.

If Jung’s ideas on archetypes is correct, the idea of God may be inexpungible from human motivations. Jung also discussed Sophia, the female figure of wisdom, in several places.


G. Stanley Hall was a pioneer child psychologist, the first person granted a Ph.D. in Psychology in the United States, and first president of the American Psychological Association. A brief biography (Psi Cafe 2005) states that “He can easily be called the founder of organized psychology as a science and profession, the father of the child study movement, and as a national leader of educational reform.”
Shortly before he died, Hall (1922) wrote a book on aging that contained his thoughts on wisdom. This was not a theory of wisdom, in fact he said very little about wisdom per se, but Hall speaks with unblinking frankness of the weaknesses of age while putting forth an inspiring vision of possibilities for the old. He felt that “nature is trying to bring into the world a new and higher and more complete humanity” (p. 427), through those who had arrived at old age in good mental condition, and recommended that people consciously prepare for old age with enthusiasm, overcoming its limitations through greater efficiency. Noting that people in his time were living longer, and had unprecedented leisure at the end of life, he wrote that “The trouble with mankind in general is that it has not yet grown up. Its faults, which we see on every hand, and the blunders that make so large a part of history are those of immaturity” (p. 387). The ability of humans to arrive at old age in large numbers he calls “a slow, late, precarious, but precious acquisition of the race, perhaps not only its latest but also its highest product. Its modern representatives are pioneers. . .” (p. 407).

Statement of the research question

As I carried out the research I became aware that to date there is no thorough presentation of the research that has been done. It surprises me that there has been no such review. Taranto (1989) was quite good as well as insightful at the time. Kramer (2000) is most instructive for the descriptions of others’ work as well as her own theorizing. Marchand (2003) provides a useful overview. But none of these authors presents a systematic and inclusive description of the research.
It seemed to me that it would be a service to all who are interested in this most important breakthrough—empirical science’s finding a way to study wisdom and its ontogeny—to gather together all the published research, and on this silver anniversary of its first appearance, to provide a summary of what has been learned. In the course of carrying out this historical investigation, the question of how best to study wisdom imposed itself as a problem which would be dangerous to ignore or try to circumvent. This question has not received much attention from psychologist researchers, yet as Paul B. Baltes (2004:10) writes, the quantitative methods of “data-driven” psychologists may fail completely to grasp wisdom. Baltes is more cautious than most researchers, and so there is something courageous in his efforts over the past two decades to operationalize and measure wisdom. He is aware that the soil he plows may prove to be barren.
In his “Book in preparation,” available on the internet, Baltes (2004:10-11) proposes that the recent psychological studies indicate that
a new stage of scholarship on wisdom has been reached. In this new stage, wisdom will have been lifted from the hands of philosophers, religious scholars, and humanists to a new plane of collaboration and transdisciplinary discourse. . . .
To this end, I hope that behavioral scientists will bear with me as I introduce them to the impressive and wide-ranging scholarship of wisdom in philosophy and the humanities. In the same spirit, I hope that philosophers and humanists will be ready to move beyond the opening chapters and engage themselves with the main objective of this book, the understanding of the structure and function of wisdom from a psychological point of view.

I have been motivated by the same desire in this dissertation, hoping to carry Baltes’ efforts a bit further through a) presenting a study of the results of research to date, and b) by raising three specific suggestions regarding the future inquiry into wisdom, suggestions that can be organized under the general question, How is wisdom to be studied?
This general question is far beyond my ability to answer, but it will be useful to proceed stepwise into the larger problem. The mere idea of studying wisdom empirically, and in a transdisciplinary way, is an important breakthrough. Wisdom has been so long neglected, humanity’s knowledge base and perspectives have changed greatly since it was last seriously taken up. There is much to be gained by revisiting this ancient virtue with modern tools. Perhaps “If there is anything the world needs, it is wisdom” (Sternberg, 2003:xviii), or in more traditional phraseology, wisdom may still be “more precious than all riches” (Proverbs 4.15)—yet so little has been assayed in its exploration over the past three hundred years, that it is as if the riches are scattered on ground abandoned long ago. A strong case can be made that each of the three suggestions made here are of utmost importance in an adequate presentation of wisdom, its nature and development:
1. Awareness of the profound historical connection between wisdom and religion led to an assumption that an explicit integration of metaphysical/religious and practical wisdom is an inescapable necessity for an adequate understanding of wisdom. The assumption needed to confront the data.
2. The more I went over the research, the more I began to consider the possibility of gender differences regarding the concept of wisdom, that it might mean something different to women than it does to men.
3. The question arose, whether the study of wise persons is a necessity for understanding wisdom and for developing a model of wisdom useful for helping people and the choices they make become wiser.
I have limited the scope of the dissertation to these parts of the more general question. In addition, it is my hope that the response contained herein to the question that was my starting point: What has been learned from the research into wisdom of the past twenty-five years? will also make a contribution.

3 Method

Trahe me, post te curremus

In the Preface to Wisdom: Its Nature, Origins, and Development (1990), the book that introduced the revived interest in wisdom to the nonspecialist community (“intended for advanced undergraduates, graduate students, and professionals. . .”), the editor, Robert J. Sternberg wrote that “Wisdom is about as elusive as psychological constructs get.” His opinion at that time was that wisdom study was in the second, “early developmental stage”, of the four stages that fields of knowledge traverse, preceding ascendance of a single dominating model, which is followed by the surfacing of problems with the model.
Following Sternberg’s description, wisdom studies are still in their second phase, and this applies not only to the empirical research but to the forty-five hundred year history of written speculations and assertions about wisdom. Recall the statement previously cited, by N. Smith in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (1998:754): “Given its [wisdom’s] disappearance from our discussions, none of the claims by the early Greeks has been sufficiently well scrutinized by philosophers.” The case can be made that in regard to wisdom, humans are in the same position as we were regarding language before developing a vocabulary of symbolic references and clear grammatical structures. That is, humans are only beginning to know wisdom.
There are at least three crucial problems regarding wisdom on which work has hardly begun: its problematicization (adequately questioning its nature); devising methods for its study; and explicit, focused attention to its cultivation. Even the need for moral seriousness and careful thought regarding priorities is little acknowledged, and humans in general, with lives “poor, nasty, brutish and short”, not to mention ignorant and usually unaware that we are ignorant, have not often been in a position to decide priorities in conditions of informed autonomy.
Regarding the first crucial problem, Chapter 2 has provided an indication of the current status, for example the focus by contemporary psychologists on a definition. If it is acceptable that, roughly speaking, wisdom concerns the “utmost excellence and the welfare” (Baltes 2004:71, quoted above, p. 41) of humanity, what is needed are ways to manage differences of opinion concerning the matter. This includes undoing assumptions that the final answer has been found, for example pietas sapientia (a view which had a near-monopoly on the debate in Europe for a thousand years); or that “something is meaningful if and only if it is verifiable empirically” (Phillips, 1987:39, on logical positivism’s verifiability principle).
In regard to the third crucial problem, it is likely that there are many practices that facilitate growth of wisdom, but there are none that specifically aim at this and that are informed by scientific research. Without an answer for critical problem number two, how could there be? It is this second problem that has exercised me in this dissertation.
The new generation of inquirers into wisdom emphasize the importance of an interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary approach. An exclusively empiric approach is too narrow. Chandler & Holliday (1990:127) raise the possibility that the entire wisdom research project could go astray unless there is “some fundamental overhaul in what we are prepared to regard as possible knowledge forms.” It seemed essential to me to find a method of studying wisdom that is not scientistic and yet is rigorous enough to satisfy contemporary humanity’s need for epistemological justification. “Scientism” is meant to signify the claim
not only that science can provide mankind with an all-embracing philosophy of life and the solution to all problems, but that the techniques used in the physical sciences can be used to solve any problem. Accordingly, those disciplines that do not use the same research techniques as the physical sciences are not really scientific (Bannister, 1988).

My conviction is that exact, quantitative methods can in principle do no more than give a rough and general assessment of wisdom. But I would be delighted to be proven wrong; and possibly quantitative methods will be valuable for accomplishing certain parts of the wisdom project (that is, making Homo sapiens the human-who-is-wise in fact as well as in taxonomic designation), such as facilitating the development of wisdom in groups as well as in individuals, and bringing increased clarity to discussions of wisdom. Modern science to date has been so little capable of productively addressing questions of interpretation, significance, or meanings of existence, that little confidence is warranted in its ability, as it is currently conceived, to illuminate wisdom. The dean of wisdom studies in psychology, Paul B. Baltes (2004:10), asks, “Can a data-driven psychologist be sufficiently informed about and committed to the spiritual and humanist qualities of wisdom?” and says that it is quite possible that the methods such a scientist uses may fail entirely to grasp and describe wisdom.
The championing of wisdom by well-established empirical psychologists seems necessary for its being taken seriously by those “educated sections” of our community, whose convictions determine “the mentality of an epoch” (Whitehead 1925:ix). Power and influence, not merely “truth”, is a determining factor for the Zeitgeist. The problem is that this section of the community is likely to be skeptical of the validity of any fundamentally overhauled knowledge forms.
Well-established empirical psychologists have potentially great influence for recalling wisdom to its place as human priority; but I too fear their methodologies may fail to comprehend wisdom. Collaboration between empiric researchers and other psychologists, philosophers, religious scholars and cultural anthropologists could provide a fruitful way to proceed. If any topic is transdisciplinary, wisdom is. Baltes (2004:153) observes that “The figure of wisdom is invoked in general efforts to redirect the stream of work in almost any field, ranging from the natural sciences over the life sciences to the social sciences and the humanities.” He maintains that “wisdom is an interdisciplinary construction” and considers it desirable that different disciplines contribute to the scientific study of wisdom. This is the perspective I have brought to this study. Nobel Prize-winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann proposed that “We need a corpus of people who consider that it is important to take a serious and professional crude look at the whole system” (quoted in Friedman, 2000). Wisdom can hardly do more, or strive to do less.
Baltes (2004:169) suggests that “To chart the structure and function of a given phenomenon, such as wisdom, takes a more concerted effort drawing from scholarship and knowledge accumulated in various disciplines.” Earlier he had called such an approach “one important conclusion for the completion of the wisdom project” (p. 132). In connection with the study of lifespan development, Baltes (1987:622) wrote of the desirability of transdisciplinary “integration of knowledge, as opposed to the separatist differentiation of disciplinary knowledge bases.”
And so it seems to me. Empiric researchers have a key role to play in increasing people’s wisdom, but they cannot be expected to be responsible for the application of their findings in society, nor can one field of study comprehend the full implications wisdom has for humanity. And scientific research needs to maintain an objective distance.
The future of wisdom studies is probably transdisciplinary rather than interdisciplinary. Transdisciplinarity, an integration into a single presentation drawing on various disciplines, in the spirit of Gell-Mann as quoted above, is distinct from interdisciplinarity, drawing together different approaches, which nonetheless remain distinct. The former term is used by Baltes, Glück and Kunzmann (2002:329) who write that “one can argue that wisdom is becoming a center of transdisciplinary discourse” and give thirteen citations. Baltes & Kunzmann 2004:290-1 note the recent interest in wisdom and write, “We have joined this transdisciplinary opening of the concept of wisdom.”
In his Philosophy of Moral Development (1981:xxxi), the psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg wrote that “Before fruitful empirical psychological work on moral development can be undertaken, there must be a moral philosophic clarification and justification of the terms moral and development. . . .” There needs to be a continual exchange between philosophy and psychology for optimal accuracy of understanding and use of findings for advancing human development. As wisdom in practice is not confined to any one academic discipline, such transdisciplinarity is absolutely essential.
Perhaps it can even be set down as a primary directive for an adequate scientific study of wisdom that it be transdisciplinary. As shown in the previous section, wisdom is by all accounts multidimensional, and operative over a wide range of human interests; and if wisdom is to be a criterion and guide for decisions regarding personal and public affairs, there is no way to do so without drawing on several areas, including the humanities, that at present “die Mode streng geteilt” (Schiller, 1785). In pointing out its wide variety of content, and that wisdom is “a value term” and not an objective reality, Assmann (1994:196) states that “The striking disparity in the material accounts for the fact that there are as yet no general studies of wisdom available. . . . Only a cross-disciplinary collaboration can open up the possibility of a more integral, cross-cultural perspective.” In his edition of articles by different researchers, Sternberg (1990:x) states his belief that the book will be useful for philosophers as well as psychologists, and points out that while the contributors are all psychologists, they are from several different areas of specialization within psychology. I have examined the psychological literature, but mine is not research coming from the discipline of psychology; it is transdisciplinary following a philosophic method.
While an interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary approach has been recommended, implementation has yet to begin. Very few of the research psychologists studied here draw on the philosophical literature beyond brief references. More often even these are absent—a satisfactory state for a field of knowledge in its “second stage” of development. But it is questionable whether studies of wisdom will ever reach the third stage (without fundamentally distorting the concept) until the field of wisdom studies is truly interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary.
Very little philosophical use of the psychologists’ work, as far as I have been able to discover, has been made, Assmann (1994) being the only philosopher I have found to do so.
Brown’s statement (2005:9761) that “The subject of wisdom literature in the Bible has flourished in the last decades of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century” has been mentioned here, and study of wisdom literature in the ancient Near East in general has also made great strides. Psychologists’ integration of this material into their work is superficial, at best. My sense is that while open to philosophic approaches and psychological insights, their interest in wisdom is historical and exegetical rather than with finding ways to further development. Russian sophiology may be an exception (Valliere, 2000).
Fortunately the researchers recognize (I do not believe there are any exceptions) how hard wisdom is to grasp. Methods adequate for beginning an epistemically justified study of this most elusive psychological construct have been applied, but whether they will get very far without broadening their approach, or even fundamentally overhauling it, remains to be seen.
The game is far too important to discourage these efforts at engagement. Sternberg’s (2003:xviii) impassioned statement, “Without it, I exaggerate not at all in saying that very soon, there may be no world. . .”, expresses the situation. On the other hand, wisdom is just as important for each of us individually in our little worlds, and we manage to do without it.

A. Statement of the methods used

In addition to providing a useful tool for psychological researchers, my intent is to make empirical psychology’s contribution to the study of wisdom more accessible to those in other disciplines. I have drawn on a larger range of sources than have been consulted by any other single study I am aware of, to provide information of use in a transdisciplinary approach to wisdom. This intent has determined the method followed, which can be described as philosophic, incorporating an integrative review of the psychological research.

B. Integrative Reviews

Integrative reviews have been frequently used in health and in nursing research, for example, Cannella & Scoloveno (2003), Covington (2000), Silva & Sorrell (1991), Winstead-Fry & Kijek (1999). Cooper (1982:292) writes that “The goal of an integrative review is to summarize the accumulated state of knowledge concerning the relation(s) of interest and to highlight important issues that research has left unresolved.” Ganong (1987:1) states that a good integrative review “is an invaluable aid to researchers, teachers, and students,” and that the standards are high: they must be accurate, thorough, objective, include considerations of the studies’ theories, as well as results, methods, and variables.
The steps I followed in this integrative review of the published research on wisdom parallel those of Silva & Sorrell (1991:5-9). In order to understand what research psychology has accomplished regarding wisdom, I decided to include all the published peer-reviewed empirical studies of wisdom. I am aware of only two studies not in English, and one of these, Maercker, Böhmig, & Staudinger (1998) equals Baltes, Staudinger, Maercker & Smith (1995) with the addition of three subjects. Even this straightforward criterion for inclusion is not entirely simple: Staudinger (1989) is a dissertation. However, it was published and is cited, and Staudinger has become a leader in the empiric study of wisdom. There were less weighty reasons for not including it than for including it. Orwoll & Perlmutter (1990) presents a different problem: it too is published and often cited, but it is not a research report. The studies it does discuss are an unpublished one, and Orwoll’s dissertation. The standard here became its use by the community of wisdom researchers. Holliday & Chandler’s (1986) research was published as a monograph. The studies included after 1990 are all from peer-reviewed journals.
An extensive search of the literature was undertaken. The databases Academic Search Premier queried for the keyword “wisdom”, full text articles, from peer-reviewed journals. This broad query resulted in over 1400 responses in Academic Search Premier. These were followed to the early 1980s. I have also gone through the full list of responses to the SAGE Social Sciences request for full text articles in peer-reviewed journals by keyword “wisdom”. A further search of the data base Article First on 10/11/2004 resulted in 203 full text articles in peer-reviewed journals with the keyword “wisdom” being found, the list of which was gleaned for those germane to this study. In addition, I made queries for “phronesis” (“AND NOT Journal Title”) and “common good”, in Academic Search Premier and SAGE Social Sciences database, following up these leads. The database Electronic Collections Online (ECO) was queried for keywords “wisdom” and “wise”, and the results followed up. The International Journal of Aging and Human Development, one of the main sources for research on wisdom, was searched manually from 1982 to the present.
However, the most productive sources for finding the material relevant to this study were references in the studies themselves and in other articles on wisdom (“the ancestry approach”, Cannella & Scoloveno, 2003:325), and I have tried to be exhaustive in following up these references, and when necessary, to prioritize those articles that appeared to be most important.
The database of dissertations was also searched. There are many dissertations of interest for wisdom produced in the past twenty years. With a few exceptions (Bzdak (2001), Shedlock (1998), Takahashi (2000), and Clayton’s (1976) groundbreaking dissertation) I was not able to access them as I would have liked, and even at that, Bzdak’s and Takahashi’s studies did not find a way into my own dissertation.

In chapter 4, the thirty-seven research studies that were located have been categorized into four general types: Wisdom as expertise; Measuring wisdom; Other; and Implicit theories. These then have been summarized in tables, in which the model of wisdom, basis for the model (if applicable), purpose, method, participants, and results are given. Following this, in chapter 5 the results of these studies are presented in more detail, along with the questions regarding the need for 1) an integration of religious/metaphysical wisdom with the practical wisdom in order for research on wisdom to contribute to the development of wisdom fully (or “with a solid basis”, or “more than superficially”), 2) a careful investigation of possible differences between the way men and women conceive wisdom, and 3) the study of actual people who manifest wisdom in their lives. This discussion follows a philosophic method. In chapter 6 these results are discussed in relation to the research questions.

C. Philosophic method

While elements of a philosophic method can be identified, it is not so easy to describe a straightforward method. To be as straightforward as possible, this method, as I use it, consists of
1. Clear statement of the question, with its implications.
2. Diligent search for the best sources for resolving, or clarifying, the question.
3. Particular attention to views that seem alien, and care in discarding information that appears uninteresting.
4. Presentation of the relevant material fairly, clearly, and logically.
5. Presentation of a solution to the question.
6. Confronting the proposed solution fairly and thoroughly with the evidence from the research and, so far as possible, with relevant authoritative statements. A commitment to withdraw or revise any assertions whatsoever if the evidence is found to contradict it.
7. Clear and straightforward conclusion.
This method has been integrated into the entire dissertation, including the literature review.

In his Introduction to The Linguistic Turn, Richard Rorty (1967) indicates the difficulty of finding a satisfactory method in philosophy, by noting that in order to determine one’s method there needs to be a commitment to “certain substantive and controversial philosophical theses”, and yet justifying these remains a basic task the method cannot perform. In a similar vein, the Oxford Companion to Philosophy reminds us that “Isaiah Berlin. . . once characterized philosophy not only as lacking answers to many questions but also as lacking an agreed method for the finding of answers” (Honderich, 1995:vii-viii).
History provides a valuable account of progressive human self-awareness and growing sophistication in regard to mental operations. A philosophical method is to a large extent rules for use of the mind. From the time of Descartes, philosophers have become increasingly attentive to the methods they use in going about their work. In addition to his Discourse on Method, Descartes himself began, but never completed, a work titled Rules for the Direction of the Mind (Regulae ad Directionem Ingenii).
Philosophers carry on their work with varying levels of logical or empirical rigidity. Consider Nietzsche’s method, for example. Not very empirically rigid, but highly influential. Of course, philosophy is not an empirical science but an examination of concepts, or interpretation of empirical observations. The haste of the pre-Socratics in asserting that water, or air are the primary substances is the classic instance of philosophers going way beyond the evidence and jumping to unwarranted conclusions; but even in the twentieth century, philosophers of the first rank were making injudicious assertions. The very respected Bertrand Russell wrote in “A Free Man’s Worship” (1918:46):
That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; . . . that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system. . .—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand.

The power of these “so nearly certain” things to buckle the legs of any philosophy rejecting them is less obvious now, less than a century later. One would think that the many historical examples of revolutionary perspectives and new knowledge would make philosophers, who are trained to expose assumptions, more cautious. If they are not (and cf. the intemperate claims of logical positivism and behaviorism), where are moderating voices to be found? I would like to think we could look to the activity of philosophy before it marginalized concern with wisdom—but to make a good case for this, one would probably have to go back to Socrates. Later Greeks, Christians, and humanists all seem to have inclined to be “so nearly certain” as was Lord Russell.
In regard to method, philosophical work often depends on opinionizing that is given force by incisive questioning of (others’) assumptions, and adherence to standards of logic (and at times by sheer pugnacity). Yet there is no guarantee that philosophers are always good at perceiving their own assumptions, or at making provision for their blind spots; and sound logic may be applied to erroneous assumptions. Susan Haack (2004:4) quotes Rorty (1967) as proposing that “method and argument be given up as we acknowledge that ‘to know your desires is to know the criterion of truth’ …, and that to call a statement true is just to give it ‘a rhetorical pat on the back’.”
Only in the last century was it realized that there are no ideal view-from-nowhere approaches to philosophic inquiry, that is, no objective and impersonal perspective that holds regardless of the context. R. L. Gregory (1981) refers to this thinker-independent method, insisted on by Plato and followed by philosophers at least into the twentieth century, as “the most profound mistake in human history” (quoted by Labouvie-Vief, 1990:61). William James (1955:35) remarks of philosophical systems in general that, “What the system pretends to be is a picture of the great universe of God. What it is,—and oh so flagrantly!—is the revelation of how intensely odd the personal flavor of some fellow creature is”. Far more than empirical science or logical structures of mathematics, philosophy remains a personal statement.
In The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, Anthony Quinton (1995) mentions two important unexamined assumptions: that the greater cannot come from the less, which was assumed as obvious by Descartes and Locke, and used (unsuccessfully) against the theory of evolution in the nineteenth century; and the assertion that a mental or a brain event can occur without a corresponding occurrence of the other.
An example of an important assumption about “how things really and truly are”, not unconsciously made, yet strikingly ephemeral, can be found in C. S. Peirce’s (1877) statement in “The Fixation of Belief” that the “fundamental hypothesis” of science, stated simply, is that “There are Real things, whose characters are entirely independent of our opinions about them; . . . by taking advantage of the laws of perception, we can ascertain by reasoning how things really and truly are. . .” Within fifty years of setting forth this fundamental hypothesis of science, it could hardly be maintained without major provisos, if at all.
In the exposition of philosophic method, it should also be recalled that the two constructive developments in philosophy in the modern period to the twentieth century: Descartes’, and Immanuel Kant’s transcendental or critical philosophy, attempting to provide a method by which metaphysical speculation could be guided (Collingwood, 1933:20), both assumed that knowledge is an objective entity that is valid for all people. This assumption was not displaced until the twentieth century.
Rorty (1967:1) raises the interesting point on the first page of his Introduction to The Linguistic Turn that “Every philosophical rebel”—that is, all those who have proposed a new method—“has tried to be ‘presuppositionless’”. The validity of such an attempt is highly questionable, and might best be abandoned in exchange for an agreement to seek to make presuppositions explicit. Rorty (1967:34-36) also mentions the possibility of philosophy as proposal, not as discovery, creating “new, interesting and fruitful ways of thinking about things in general”, citing Friedrich Waismann as an expositor of this view.
As the weaknesses of philosophic method are pointed out, it should be noted that empirical science does not innoculate its practitioners against succumbing to the belief that its consensus version of reality is objective and exclusively valid, reality. For example, Thomas Kuhn (1970) demonstrated how science progresses, not through the addition of knowledge, but through the replacement of one model of understanding by another that answers questions formerly irresolvable. Bernard E. Rollin (1990:97) amends this insight by pointing out that the ascendancy of behaviorism occurred not because a fatal flaw was discovered in the earlier model, but because of “a change in value and philosophical commitment, which pushed the Darwin-Romanes view out of style, and brought behaviourism in.”
A scientist or a philosopher who holds a view outside the prevailing paradigm of legitimate inquiry, or who is not a member of the club, so to speak, will probably have hir perspective ignored. Sandra Harding (1991:3) makes the point that the “indigenous” people of the modern West—those at home with the scientific worldview—recognize only with difficulty that their distinctive ways of viewing the world, their reliance on scientific rationality, is not simply reality. “From the perspective of women’s lives,” she writes, “scientific rationality frequently appears irrational”.
Concerning gender, Harding (1991:106) writes that until very recently, “Never had women been given a voice of authority in stating their own condition or anyone else’s or in asserting how such conditions should be changed. Never was what counts as general social knowledge generated by asking questions from the perspective of women’s lives.” Not only are the outsiders’ views ignored, outsiders are hindered in their opportunities to form an autonomous view. She uses the phrase “socially legitimated knowledge” in forcefully pointing out that the questions, methods and practice of science have delegitimized ways of knowing other than those of the “modern, androcentric, imperial, bourgeois West” (pp. 106, viii). Considerations such as these contributed to the formation of my research question.
In the twentieth century, pragmatism, logical positivism, post-modernism, and feminism are perhaps the major perspectives affecting methodological questions. There is also the fact that recently the field of philosophy has become more open to non-Western perspectives, which bring their own methods. The Preface to the 10-volume Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Craig, 1998, vol. 1:vi-viii) refers to the “English-speaking philosophical mainstream”, and
by the 1990s the mainstream itself had become a much broader river than it had been twenty or thirty years before, when a narrowly focused jet might have been a more appropriate image. It was also far less clear where the banks were . . . .
The clearest beneficiary of this policy has been what is increasingly called ‘world philosophy.’ Chinese, Japanese and Korean, Indian and Tibetan, Jewish, Arabic and Islamic, Russian, Latin American and African philosophy. . . .

The method is distinct from the object of research, although particularly in philosophical inquiry the two cannot be separated, as Collingwood (1933) points out. The goal of freeing the human mind from the bonds of illusion and deluded thinking is of critical concern in the discussion of philosophical methods—which happens to be the definition of wisdom as proposed by McKee & Barber (1999: “seeing through illusion”). It took over two thousand years for philosophy to recognize a positive role for emotions, and this example can act as a reminder that methods, no matter how foolproof they seem, may yet require revision in the light of further study. We may still be standing on the shore of the vast ocean of knowledge, or as William James (1955:192) put it, humans may stand “in much the same relation to the whole of the universe as our canine and feline pets do to the whole of human life.” This recognition of the limits of human knowledge is also one of the characteristics typically ascribed to wisdom, as discussed in Chapter 2C of this dissertation.
While different philosophers use different methods, and methods are evolving and a matter of dispute at present (considering the challenges presented by post-modernist philosophy, feminism, and world philosophy), generic aspects of a philosophic method can be stated simply: 1) a question or problem is raised and 2) investigated thoroughly and fairly, 3) a solution is proposed and 4) justified. Rather than proposing a solution, the philosopher may limit hirself to clarifying the question. Discovering and criticising assumptions is such a large part of philosophical activity that it is “sometimes used to define it” (Quinton, 1995). This transparency or attempt to uncover and make explicit one’s assumptions or presuppositions is, at the least, a requirement of all philosophical inquiry.
These generic aspects of philosophical method imply unrestricted questioning, intellectual courage, intellectual empathy, fairness, internal consistency to the extent possible, sound, logical argumentation, and humility. Following the examples above of all-too-fallible claims made by philosophers, special emphasis should be placed on humility.
The above correspond to rules for effective use of the mind in all human inquiry in which we are trying “to show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle” as Wittgenstein (1953:§309) defined the aim in philosophy. The fly-bottle is made of the delusions to which the mind is prone. There are so many of these, and the mind is so inclined to be insensible of its assumptions, that entanglement in the snares of Mara might be a more accurate image of the human condition than fly in a bottle.
Philosophical thinking, as described by William James in Pragmatism (1955:124, 127), is the free, careful attempt to understand the situation in which we find ourself, recognizing the traps and the limits to knowledge, questioning where our beliefs come from and the nature of belief itself. Evidence that humans are only beginning to develop the ability to understand the world or the human being can be adduced from the overemphasis given to behaviorism in psychology for much of the twentieth century. We did not know enough about human psychology at the time to put this valuable but limited approach in perspective. Watson’s (1930:104) influential belief that he could make anything of any person through operant conditioningis a fantastic notion; but psychologists knew so little about the mind’s working at that time—less than a century ago. Such experience with changing beliefs leads to openmindedness about the status of current beliefs a century from now.

The dialectic method followed by Socrates provides an example of a basic philosophical method. I. M. Crombie (1963:523) writes that Plato “earns the title of a great philosopher not by the skill with which he forces us to agree with him but by the extent to which he exposes the difficulty, complexity, and ramifying nature of theoretical questions.” In Plato’s earlier dialogues Socrates practices the simple method of elenchus, in which a definition is put forth and then subjected to challenges from the participants in the discussion. In Book VII of The Republic, Socrates describes his fuller method of dialectic. Genuine philosophers are those whose “passion it is to see the truth.” The ultimate goal is reached
by one who aspires, through the discourse of reason unaided by any of the senses, to make his way in every case to the essential reality and perseveres until he has grasped by pure intelligence the very nature of Goodness itself. This journey is what we call Dialectic (532).

The adequacy of this method of reasoning unaided by the senses, and the possibility of arriving at essential reality, is rejected by most philosophers now. At the least, Plato is clear in setting forth the method. If crucial weaknesses are long undetected, this is more than anything a lesson in human limitations that can be taken into account in future methods. This dialectic process, which is empirical only in its early stages, is not the same as the “dialectic thinking” described by psychological writers as an element of wisdom, for example, Takahashi & Overton (2002:269), Ardelt (2000a:778), and Sternberg (1998:350), who describes dialectical thinking in terms of truth evolving in a process of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.
Aquinas’s method in the Summa Theologica can be described as dialectic: a proposition is made, objections listed, counter objections listed, and then Thomas gives his conclusion. A dialectic approach to philosophical inquiry similar to Aquinas’s is often used more or less informally: Gill’s popular textbook The Enduring Questions (2002) follows it in Jerry H. Gill’s Introduction to the seventh edition. After presenting authoritative statements regarding the definition of a philosopher and of philosophy, he presents dissenting views; then he weighs their force, concluding with a definition of philosophy that summarizes the discussion, and then moves on, further distinguishing philosophy from science and religion.
In Pragmatism, William James (1955:177) explains that pragmatism is only a method, and open to widely varying philosophical views, so long as “consequences useful to life flow from it.” Besides its method, pragmatism provides an instrumental theory of truth, such that “any idea that will carry us prosperously from any one part of our experience to any other part, linking things satisfactorily, working securely, simplifying, saving labor, is true for just so much, true in so far forth, true instrumentally” (p. 40—italics removed). For example, if belief in the Absolute affords us comfort, it is true to that extent, that is, in allowing a person occasionally to drop hir sense of responsibility for the course of events. Truth is like health in this regard, a matter of empiric judgment. In the penultimate lecture, “Pragmatism and Humanism,” James discusses the question of an ultimate reality, and says that the best account of reality will be the one that in the end is most satisfactory to people.
Humans are a long way from producing a complete, definitive description of the world and of human being. The questions must be neverending and free-ranging, allowing an escape from the narrow bonds of androcentric, sociocentric and anthropocentric thought, and failures of imagination. Yet knowledge builds on the past; current understanding must be accepted and utilized, while remaining subject to doubt. Collingwood (1933:52-53) assevers that “Thinking philosophically, whatever else it means, means constantly revising one’s starting-point in the light of one’s conclusions and never allowing oneself to be controlled by any cast-iron rule whatever.” His view was that the philosopher proceeded in a sort of spiral fashion, starting from hypotheses whose results in experience are then used to revise the hypothesis. This is very similar to the a priori-empiric dialectic proposed by the psychologists McKee & Barber (1999) for the study of wisdom.
In regard to the investigation of wisdom, we have a virtue, or personality trait, claimed by some of humanity’s brightest spiritual and intellectual lights, over a span of more than four thousand years, to be of crucial importance for humans. By definition it is “knowing what is good for men and women,” to use a generic formulation. Yet throughout these millennia basic assumptions about reality have been disputed, and the long-held belief in a telos for human existence denied.
As Etienne Gilson (1951:2) reminds us, “there was a time” when to be a philosopher meant the single-minded love for wisdom, and the effort to transform onself, becoming wise. This is no longer an accepted method either. But what an appropriate method for investigating wisdom today is, is not known. It is not known by Baltes, the most prominent of psychological researchers into the construct, nor by any of the other psychologists. In this study I have reviewed the history of inquiry into wisdom in the West, and have taken a detailed look at the psychological research. This has led to the basic question, How is wisdom to be studied, learned, and learned about? Unable to answer this, I suggest three directions as unavoidable requirements, and examine them in the light of the psychological research to date.
Towards the end of An Essay on Philosophical Method (1933:197-8), Collingwood presents a scenario of the development of a philosophy that gives an insight into a method of carrying on philosophical work: The person begins with many unorganized and only partly philosophical opinions. In thinking these through, criticising and organizing, philosophical positions emerge. These also are unorganized, perhaps contradictory and with trivial and fundamental views mixed. The process of criticising and organizing begins again, and a connected whole begins to appear, and is refined and adjusted. My advancement in this progression may be modest, but having a method that provides for correction is what is needed, and I have tried to provide this.
The revision of the method itself in the light of real world results is also recommended by Nicholas Rescher (1977), in his more general discussion of a pragmatic method for legitimating factual knowledge. Having a pragmatic perspective, Rescher’s standard is the success of the method in realizing a particular end. He presents a diagram that shows the process: the method is applied and results recorded. As it is implemented, the consequences are evaluated in regard to their achievement of the purposes intended. Then it is refined and improved and the cycle continues. Selection of purposes is the critical point.
Gill (2002:1) refers to C. D. Broad’s distinction between critical and speculative philosophy, the former of which analyzes and defines fundamental and general concepts, the latter attempting to shed light on our place in the cosmos. According to the former, perhaps any area can be approached philosophically; in the latter, all areas fall into place in the general schema the philosopher develops. Both are obviously relevant to the study of wisdom.
I have followed the former. In light of the controversies and complexities of philosophical method just described, and the fascinating, difficult nature of wisdom, my manner of procedure is quite cautious and modest. A comprehensive study of the research into wisdom was lacking, and would likely prove useful both for psychological researchers and for those “in almost any field, ranging from the natural sciences over the life sciences to the social sciences and the humanities” (Baltes, 2004:153), as wisdom is invoked as a guide in them all. As this research proceeded, the question of how wisdom is best to be studied presented itself.

Fray Crisógono de Jesús (1964) begins the Introduction and Historical Sources to his biography of St. John of the Cross—whose view of wisdom will have to be left for another time—with the statement, “Not one fact without documented evidence, not one location without a description made on the ground. This has been our norm.” Fray Crisógono’s has become my norm, in this case for avoiding any gratuitous or half-thought-out assertion, any hasty conclusion, any reference taken out of context or carelessly used, or any subtle intrusion of my values without acknowledgment of the fact. While the difficulty of analogously living up to his standard is impressed on me every time I take up this work (I have not succeeded), the patient devotion to one’s subject that is implied by Fray Crisógono’s description of his method has also become an inspiring model. It should be clear that while I do not experience the question of the existence of God as necessarily important in regard to wisdom, I do find a wealth and profundity of potential meanings, beauty, and love in the world that humans are only beginning (at least insofar as my study of history and observation has informed me) to perceive, and an ultimate union of all that exists. This has certainly colored my approach to wisdom!

4 Descriptions of the research studies

A. The empirical study of wisdom

“The outstanding achievement and intellectual glory of modern times has been empirical science and the mathematics that it has put to such good use,” Mortimer J. Adler (n.d.) wrote. Regarding modern philosophical inquiry into wisdom, the philosopher James D. Collins (1962:128, 136), suggested, “It is legitimate to demand that a contemporary way be found for showing that wisdom has a definite meaning, that it can come within reach of our methods of investigation. . . . And today, the philosopher can use the resources of psychological and sociological studies. . .” However, the psychologists got there first.
Philosophy may be said to have neglected the topic of wisdom, perhaps since the generation of Descartes and Spinoza. Welsch (Oelmüller 1989:216-7) quotes from Nietzsche’s Nachgelassene Fragmente 1884-1885: “Wenn Philosophen unter sich zusammenkommen. . . sie nennen sich nicht mehr ‘Philosophen’ und hängen ‘die Liebe zur Weisheit’ wie eine steife Amtstracht und Maskerade an den Nagel.” (“When philosophers come together, they no longer call themselves ‘philosophers,’ and hang ‘the love of wisdom’ in the closet like a ceremonial outfit and masquerade.”) In the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Smith (1998) writes that after the mid 17th century, “wisdom is mentioned only in passing, or simply passed by altogether by philosophers”, and that “the concept of wisdom has come to vanish almost entirely from the philosophical map”, but he is exaggerating. Though marginalized, wisdom has maintained a continuing place in philosophical discussion, and Collins (1962:2-3) is more accurate when he says that the writings of modern philosophers “show that wisdom is not shunted aside as lacking in interest or as impossible of attainment. Rather, it is treated in new ways and integrated with new conceptions. . .” The philosophic material on wisdom does not, however, reveal a renascence of interest, despite its value. It is the psychologists who have discovered new possibilities.
The earliest empirical research on wisdom consisted of studies into the common opinions people have of it. Referred to as “implicit theories” (Sternberg, 1985), the first such study was conducted in the mid-1970s and the first published report, by Vivian Clayton and James Birren, appeared in 1980. In the responses to her questionnaire, Clayton & Birren (1980:118) found that “Wisdom was perceived by these educated individuals as an attribute representing the integration of general cognitive, affective, and reflective qualities.”
Hershey & Farrell (1997) describe early unpublished research in common opinions of wisdom: “Brent and Watson (1980) asked subjects to describe a wise person. Their analysis revealed that a wise person could be characterized in terms of four clusters of attributes: person-cognitive, practical experimental, interpersonal and moral/ethical.”
This approach was taken a couple steps further by Sternberg (1985), who not only found out the characteristics various groups of people (professors of art, business, philosophy and physics, and respondents to a newspaper advertisement) associated with intelligence, creativity, and wisdom, and the relation of these psychological constructs to each other, but also studied how people’s self-ratings regarding the characteristics of wisdom correlated with assessments of intelligence and personality. He found that wisdom is readily distinguished from intelligence and from creativity in the minds of the participants. The description that emerged of a wise person (pp. 616, 623) is similar to that of other implicit and explicit theories.
A study of common opinions by Holliday & Chandler (1986) found five general dimensions to wisdom: exceptional understanding, judgment and communication skills, general competencies (e.g., curious, articulate, alert, intelligent, creative, educated), interpersonal skills, and social unobtrusiveness. At the time, social unobtrusiveness seemed anomalous, but later research (e.g., Lyster’s, reported in Kramer, 2000), produced similar findings, and “Modesty and unobtrusiveness” was identified as one of the four factors of a wise person in Yang’s (2001) study of the concept of wisdom held by Taiwanese Chinese. Commenting, she writes that in both Confucian and Taoist traditions, “the sage modeled after nature functions everywhere while others are hardly aware of their accomplishments” (p. 677).
This implicit theories approach, which has been used to study other psychological constructs such as intelligence and creativity (Sternberg 1985), is reminiscent of Aristotle’s beginning the Nicomachean Ethics (NE 1095b14seq.) with a discussion of opinions people have of the good, proceeding from there to a more formal analysis. However, Aristotle didn’t actually canvass the public to make sure he was representing their views accurately.
The results of studies of common opinions of wisdom have been fairly consistent. Holliday & Chandler (1986:84) write that “The five factors identified in this study completely subsume the factors reported by Clayton and Birren (1978 [sic]), and include three of the four factors identified by Brent and Watson (1980)”. Hershey & Farrell (1997) describe their own earlier implicit theories research as identifying “four common clusters of descriptors: (a) cognitive and intellectual abilities; (b) perceptive and intuitive skills; (c) knowledge acquired through life experience; and (d) problem solving and decision making abilities.” They conclude that their findings confirmed Clayton & Birren’s (1980) and Holliday & Chandler’s (1986).
The study of implicit theories is still being used, which gives an indication of the stage to which research on wisdom has progressed. Jason’s et al. (2001) Foundational Value Scale (FVS) for assessing wisdom was developed by having participants identify a person they knew or knew of, whom they considered wise, and list that person’s qualities that made them wise. Ardelt (2004) bases her theory on Clayton’s findings. Glück et al., 2005, is a study based on the participant’s ideas of wisdom. Sternberg suggests (1985:624-5) that implicit theories are most useful for initial research into psychological constructs, and that they offer other insights (e.g., correctives for explicit theories) such that “the study of implicit theories is not merely an easy substitute for the formation and study of explicit theories of psychological constructs.”
Empirical psychology has rendered a great service to wisdom by making it at last a legitimate topic for academic discussion, and perhaps wisdom will repay the favor. Blanchard-Fields & Norris (1995:105) recognize this important step when they write, “wisdom has been legitimatized in the science of psychology by operationalizing it into a knowledge system framework, i.e., borrowing from an established scientific approach.” Empiric methods have their own limits, of course, and it remains an open question to what extent current methods can provide understanding into the identification of wisdom and its nurture.
Finding ways to study wisdom empirically at all is a major challenge. As recently as the mid-90s, Smith, Staudinger, & Baltes (1994:989) write “A central problem, to date, has been to specify aspects and dimensions of wisdom in a way that allows empirical study.” Hershey & Farrell (1997) write that “It is only in the past two decades that wisdom has surfaced as a viable psychological construct to be examined in a systematic and scientific fashion.” And Takahashi & Bordia (2000:1) write that “Although this concept had remained mostly within the sphere of theology and religion throughout the history of Western civilization. . ., an increasing number of researchers have recently begun to revive wisdom as a legitimate scientific construct (e.g. Ardelt, 1997; Baltes, 1997; Labouvie-Vief, 1996; Sternberg, 1990; Wink & Helson, 1997).” The contribution of each of these researchers is discussed in this dissertation.
But what does it mean to study wisdom scientifically?
The first published report of empirical investigation, Clayton & Birren, appeared in 1980. Interest has continued to grow, marking a new period in the study of wisdom. The progress of the intervening years can be gauged by Clayton’s (1982:317) observation, that “no tasks or instruments for wisdom have yet been created”, and Taranto’s (1989:4) at the end of the decade, that “A test of wisdom does not even seem to exist.” Sternberg (1985:618) had used the George Washington Social Intelligence Test and the Social Insight Test as proxies to measure wisdom. As late as 1997, Staudinger, Lopez, & Baltes could write, “So far, most of the empirical work has centered on subjective and everyday conceptions of what constitutes wisdom and the expected characteristics of a wise person” (p. 1200).
Blanchard-Fields & Norris (1995:104) write that “Overall, past research on wisdom has been characterized by sporadic attempts at theoretical speculation on what constitutes wisdom (e.g., Clayton 1982; Meacham 1990) and isolated empirical studies that reflect agreed-upon components of wisdom, i.e., problem finding or reflective judgment.”
Currently there are several measures for wisdom, including the Berlin group’s (Baltes & Smith 1990); Wink & Helson’s (1997) Practical Wisdom Scale and Transcendent Wisdom Ratings; Jason et al.’s (2001) Foundational Value Scale, and the Adolescent Wisdom Scale (Perry et al, 2002) that adapted it; Ardelt’s (2003) Three-Dimensional Wisdom Scale; Webster’s (2003) Self-Assessed Wisdom Scale; and see Halverson 2004, who discusses “artifact-based phronetic narratives.” Hanna & Ottens (1995:210) suggest that the Washington University Sentence Completion Test of Ego Development “may well be valuable in measuring wisdom overall.” Sternberg (2001a:236, and see 2003:171-2) writes, “Currently, we have devised a series of 24 problems to measure wisdom. The validity of these problems is currently being assessed.” In Sternberg’s work on teaching wisdom to middle-school children, whose results have not yet appeared, students will be scored on their responses to problematic situations, along with qualitative measures such as evaluations of assignments, journals and reports.
Baltes & Kunzmann (2004:292) are overly modest when they write, “So far, there are more golden words than empirical-experimental nuggets to be found in the psychological wisdom literature. Not much has changed on this score since the excellent volume on the psychology of wisdom edited by Sternberg [1990].” Excluding the work of the MPI group, in the decade 1980-1989, 3 studies were published. In 1990-1999, there were 8, and in 2000-2005, 13.
The following includes descriptions of all the published reports of empirical and qualitative research on wisdom I was able to find. Research, still at an early stage, has yet to exceed the ability of a single person to encompass it all. In this section I examine this research from various perspectives. In addition to being probably the most complete description of the empirical research on wisdom, the presentation has the advantage of being simple and straightforward.

B. Descriptions of the studies

I have been able to identify 37 published studies of wisdom, from the first in 1980 to the most recent, which appeared in May 2005. The following list shows the trend of interest in wisdom by the research community: there were 5 published studies in the 1980s, 14 in the 1990s, and from 2000-2005 15 have appeared.

C. Categorizing the research

A chronological list of the published research studies on wisdom

Clayton & Birren (1980).
Sternberg (1985).
Holliday & Chandler (1986).
Sowarka (1989).
Staudinger (1989).
Smith & Baltes (1990).
Orwoll & Perlmutter (1990).
Staudinger, Smith, & Baltes (1992).
Smith, Staudinger, & Baltes (1994).
Baltes, Staudinger, Maercker, & Smith (1995).
Denney, Dew, & Kroupa (1995).
Staudinger & Baltes (1996).
Ardelt (1997).
Hershey & Farrell (1997).
Hira & Faulkender (1997)
Staudinger, Lopez, & Baltes (1997).
Wink & Helson (1997).
Maercker, Böhmig, & Staudinger (1998 = Baltes et al. 1995)
Staudinger, Maciel, Smith, & Baltes (1998).
Levitt (1999).
Oser, Schenker, & Spychiger (1999).
Ardelt (2000).
Takahashi & Bordia (2000).
Jason, Reichler et al. (2001).
Pasupathi & Staudinger (2001).
Pasupathi, Staudinger, & Baltes (2001)
Yang (2001).
Helson & Srivastava (2002).
Montgomery, Barber, & McKee (2002).
Perry et al. (2002).
Takahashi & Overton (2002).
Ardelt (2003).
Kunzmann & Baltes (2003).
Staudinger & Pasupathi (2003).
Webster (2003).
Bluck and Glück (2004).
Limas & Hansson (2004)
Glück, Bluck, Baron, & McAdams (2005).

The studies categorized according to type. These studies are of three main types: studies of the opinions people hold of wisdom (implicit theories); studies of wisdom as an expertise (the MPI group’s Berlin wisdom paradigm); and other (including longitudinal studies, efforts at measurement, phenomenological studies, and cross-cultural studies). Using this division results in some studies fitting into more than one category—Yang (2001) is a study of cross-cultural implicit theories, for example—but to begin with a simple overview, this three-part division can be useful for categorization, resulting in the breakdown indicated in Table 2. In the list below, identifying the particular studies with their particular approach, those studies that fall into more than one category are listed in all appropriate categories, preceded with an asterisk to indicate multiple listing in what, for convenience, I have judged to be not the primary category. An additional category to that of Table 2, Wisdom and life satisfaction in old age, has been added. This is a secondary category for all the studies included—at least in this scheme.

Implicit theories (Common opinions)
Clayton & Birren (1980).
Sternberg (1985).
Holliday & Chandler (1986).
Sowarka (1989).
Orwoll & Perlmutter (1990).
Denney, Dew, & Kroupa (1995).
Hershey & Farrell (1997).
*Hira & Faulkender (1997)
Oser, Schenker, & Spychiger (1999)
Takahashi & Bordia (2000).
Jason, Reichler et al. (2001).
Yang (2001).
Montgomery, Barber, & McKee (2002).
Bluck and Glück (2004).
Limas & Hansson (2004).
Glück, Bluck, Baron, & McAdams (2005).

Wisdom as expert knowledge (Berlin group)
Staudinger (1989).
Smith & Baltes (1990).
Staudinger, Smith, & Baltes (1992).
Smith, Staudinger, & Baltes (1994).
Baltes, Staudinger, Maercker, & Smith (1995).
Staudinger & Baltes (1996).
Staudinger, Lopez, & Baltes (1997).
Staudinger, Maciel, Smith, and Baltes (1998).
Pasupathi & Staudinger (2001).
Pasupathi, Staudinger, & Baltes (2001)
Kunzmann & Baltes (2003).
Staudinger & Pasupathi (2003).


Ardelt (2000).
Helson & Srivastava (2002).

Life-satisfaction in old age

Staudinger (1989).
Ardelt (1997).


Wink & Helson (1997).
Perry et al. (2002).
Ardelt (2003).
Webster (2003).


*Takahashi & Bordia (2000).
*Yang (2001).
Takahashi & Overton (2002).

Perception of age as influence on perception of wisdom
Hira & Faulkender (1997).

Levitt (1999).
*Montgomery, Barber, & McKee (2002).

Studies listed in all applicable categories. The following categorization puts the studies into every applicable category, attempting to be as generous in distinguishing categories and including studies in them as seems reasonable. Inevitably some of this depends on interpretation. This breakdown allows disaggregation of the MPI studies. The 36 studies are categorized by their specific focuses, and a single study may thus provide insight into several different groups or aspects of wisdom.

Common opinions
Clayton & Birren (1980)
Sternberg (1985)
Holliday & Chandler (1986)
Sowarka (1989)
Orwoll & Perlmutter (1990)
Denney, Dew, & Kroupa (1995)
Hershey & Farrell (1997)
Hira & Faulkender (1997)
Levitt (1999)
Oser, Schenker, & Spychiger (1999).
Takahashi & Bordia (2000)
Jason, et al. (2001)
Yang (2001)
Montgomery, Barber, & McKee (2002)
Bluck & Glück (2004)
Limas & Hansson (2004)
Glück et al. (2005)

Cross cultural
Studies of people in different Western societies (e.g., Germany, Canada, US, are not included here, but studies of people in Eastern societies, whether or not comparisons were made with Westerners, are included
Levitt (1999)
Takahashi & Bordia (2000)
Yang (2001)
Takahashi & Overton (2002)

Longitudinal studies
Ardelt (1997) Not changes in wisdom
Wink & Helson (1997)
Ardelt (2000) Not changes in wisdom
Helson & Srivastava (2002)

This includes all studies that measured wisdom in some way. An asterisk following the date indicates that scores are reported
Staudinger (1989) *
Smith & Baltes (1990) *
Staudinger, Smith, & Baltes (1992) *
Smith, Staudinger, & Baltes (1994) *
Baltes, Staudinger, Maercker, & Smith (1995) *
Staudinger & Baltes (1996) *
Ardelt (1997) Did not assess wisdom directly
Staudinger, Lopez, & Baltes (1997)
Wink & Helson (1997)
Staudinger, Maciel, Smith, & Baltes (1998)
Ardelt (2000) Did not assess wisdom directly
Jason, et al. (2001)
Pasupathi & Staudinger (2001) *
Pasupathi, Staudinger, & Baltes (2001) *
Helson & Srivastava (2002)
Perry et al. (2002).
Takahashi & Overton (2002) * Did not assess wisdom directly
Ardelt (2003) Did not assess wisdom directly
Kunzmann & Baltes (2003)
Staudinger & Pasupathi (2003)
Webster (2003)

Personality-mental correlates or antecedents
Does not include studies of person characteristics that in common opinion are associated with wisdom
Sternberg (1985)
Ardelt (1997)
Staudinger, Lopez, & Baltes (1997)
Wink & Helson (1997)
Staudinger, Maciel, Smith, & Baltes (1998)
Ardelt (2000)
Pasupathi & Staudinger (2001)
Pasupathi, Staudinger, & Baltes (2001)
Helson & Srivastava (2002)
Perry et al. (2002).
Takahashi & Overton (2002)
Ardelt (2003)
Kunzmann & Baltes (2003)
Staudinger & Pasupathi (2003)
Webster (2003)

Life experience, profession, and wisdom

Does not include common opinions regarding the relation of life experience, profession, and wisdom
Sternberg (1985) Common opinions
Staudinger, Smith, & Baltes (1992)
Smith, Staudinger, & Baltes (1994)
Baltes, Staudinger, Maercker, & Smith (1995)
Wink & Helson (1997)
Staudinger, Maciel, Smith, & Baltes (1998)
Helson & Srivastava (2002)
Montgomery, Barber, & McKee (2002) People’s experiences
Ardelt (2003)

Age differences in wisdom
Staudinger (1989)
Smith & Baltes (1990)
Staudinger, Smith, & Baltes (1992)
Smith, Staudinger, & Baltes (1994)
Baltes, Staudinger, Maercker, & Smith (1995)
Pasupathi & Staudinger (2001)
Pasupathi, Staudinger, & Baltes (2001)
Takahashi & Overton (2002)
Kunzmann & Baltes (2003)
Staudinger & Pasupathi (2003)
Bluck & Glück (2004)
Glück et al. (2005)

Wisdom and old age
Studies of Age differences in wisdom will also be relevant here
Staudinger (1989).
Smith & Baltes (1990)
Staudinger, Smith, & Baltes (1992)
Smith, Staudinger, & Baltes (1994)
Baltes, Staudinger, Maercker, & Smith (1995)
Ardelt (1997)
Ardelt (2000)
Pasupathi & Staudinger (2001)
Bluck & Glück (2004)
Glück et al. (2005)

Wisdom, deliberation, and consultation

Staudinger & Baltes (1996)


Includes all studies in which gender effects were mentioned
Clayton & Birren (1980)
Sowarka (1989)
Orwoll & Perlmutter (1990)
Smith & Baltes (1990)
Denney, Dew, & Kroupa (1995)
Ardelt (1997)
Wink & Helson (1997)
Jason, et al. (2001)
Pasupathi, Staudinger, & Baltes (2001)
Yang (2001)
Takahashi & Overton (2002)
Ardelt (2003)
Kunzmann & Baltes (2003)
Staudinger & Pasupathi (2003)
Webster (2003)
Glück et al. (2005)

Religious/transcendental wisdom

Includes all studies in which religious/transcendental wisdom was mentioned
Holliday & Chandler (1986)
Denney, Dew, & Kroupa (1995)
Hershey & Farrell (1997)
Wink & Helson (1997)
Levitt (1999)
Jason, et al. (2001)
Yang (2001)
Helson & Srivastava (2002)

Phenomenological – Wisdom as experienced

Sowarka (1989)
Levitt (1999)
Montgomery, Barber, & McKee (2002)
Bluck & Glück (2004)
Glück et al. (2005)


Pasupathi, Staudinger, & Baltes (2001)
Perry et al. (2002).
Staudinger & Pasupathi (2003)
Bluck & Glück (2004)
Glück et al. (2005)

Wisdom in work organization

Limas & Hansson (2004)

Study of people considered to be wise

Baltes, Staudinger, Maercker, & Smith (1995)

Tables presenting a description of the 37 studies. Following are a number of tables giving a description of the research studies. What is under consideration here—beyond an outline in one place of all the published research on wisdom—are the problem statements, the theory of wisdom behind the research, the approach taken to the study of wisdom, the relation between the information sought and that which is gathered, and what the results tell us about the nature of wisdom and its cultivation.
In several of these studies, various psychometric tests were used in order to provide a fuller understanding of the mental characteristics of the participants. While it is important to note what mental measures were made, I have not examined the nature of these tests, indicating only that they were administered.

Wisdom as expertise (Berlin wisdom paradigm)

The model for the Berlin wisdom paradigm is wisdom as expertise in the fundamental pragmatics of life.
The first two of the five criteria for assessing wisdom are derived from theories of expert performance (as is the think-aloud procedure for assessing the level of wisdom). The other three: understanding of life contexts, of differences that are held regarding values, goals and priorities, and of the extent to which knowledge is uncertain, are specific to wisdom in the fundamental pragmatics of life, are “derived on a priori considerations from life-span theory... and from studies of adult cognitive development” (Smith & Baltes 1990:501; see also Staudinger, Smith, & Baltes 1992:272). These three “are grounded in the ancient wisdom literature, neo-Piagetian research on postformal thought, and propositions of life span psychology” (Pasupathi, Staudinger, & Baltes, 2001:351-2).

Table 4. Studies from the Max Planck Institute

|Author & date |Purpose |Method |Participants |Results |
|Staudinger (1989) |Explore positive aspects of |Think-aloud responses regarding |63 female Germans, equally divided in 3 |All age groups performed at comparable levels. Scores for |
| |aging, particularly regarding |hypothetical life-review scored for|age groups (25-35, 45-55, 65-75) college. |reviews of fictional person significantly different in age |
| |the wisdom model. |6 criteria (somewhat different from| |were lower. |
| | |later studies). | | |
|Smith & Baltes |Empirically test the theoretic|Think-aloud responses to 4 |60 professional Germans, equally divided |Overall, younger group scored highest, followed by |
|(1990) |framework; compare scores for |hypothetical life-planning tasks |in 3 age groups (25-35, 40-50, 60-81) |middle-aged. Some older adults scored at a level equal to |
| |various ages. |scored for 5 criteria (slightly |equal M & F, equal education & |younger adults. Age of fictional person affected scores. |
| | |different from later studies). |intelligence across groups. | |
|Staudinger, Smith,|Explore difference age and |Think-aloud to response to |43 females (21 aged 25-35, 22 aged 65-82) |Clinical psychologists (both young & old) scored higher for|
|& Baltes (1992) |professional experience makes |hypothetical life review question |17 clinical psychologists (9 young) 26 |all criteria. Old psychologists performed comparably with |
| |in wisdom scores. |for a young or old fictional person|controls (12 young). |young; old controls comparably with young. |
| | |scored for 5 criteria, unchanged | | |
| | |since this study. | | |
|Smith, Staudinger,|Explore difference made by |Think aloud responses to 2 |60 female Germans (12 clinical |Clinical psychologists (both young & old) scored >a |
|& Baltes (1994) |experience in a profession |hypothetical life-planning |psychologists aged 26-37, 12 ages 65-82; |standard deviation higher than controls. Old psychologists |
| |assumed to facilitate higher |problems. |17 controls aged 28-37, 19 aged 64-75). |scored comparably with younger ones. Age of fictional |
| |score; compare scores for | |Education & fluid intelligence scores |person affected scores. |
| |various ages. | |similar for study & control groups. | |
|Author & date |Purpose |Method |Participants |Results |
|Baltes, |Compare scores of people |Think-aloud responses to 2 |14 people nominated as life experienced or|Nominees and clinical psychologists scored comparably and |
|Staudinger, |nominated as wise with those |hypothetical life dilemmas, one |wise (ages 41-79, 5 women), and 15 |higher than control groups which performed at a comparable |
|Maercker, & Smith |of clinical psychologists to |chosen to represent “the most |clinical psychologists (ages 60-76, 8 |level for both young and old. Average level of performance |
|(1995) |test for bias of model in |difficult type of life problem to |women). 2 control groups, 20 young & 20 |stable from age 25-80. |
| |favor of the latter. |deal with.” |old professionals, equal M & F. Education | |
| | | |comparable for all groups. | |
|Staudinger & |Explore effect of consultation|Think-aloud responses for 3 |122 pairs (148 women), as broad and |Consultation (whether with a physically present person or |
|Baltes (1996) |with another on performance on|difficult hypothetical life |diverse a sample as possible, ages20-70. |in imagination) resulted in higher scores. Caveat: having |
| |wisdom tasks. |situations. | |additional individual thinking time might be a contributing|
| | | | |factor. |
|Staudinger, Lopez,|Locate wisdom in psychometric |Think-aloud responses to 3 |125 persons (74 women), as broad and |Intelligence, personality traits, and (most of all) |
|& Baltes (1997) |space defined by measures of |difficult hypothetical life |diverse a sample as possible, ages 19-87. |intelligence-personality interface all significantly |
| |personality, intelligence, and|situations, plus a variety of | |correlated with wisdom-related scores. The largest |
| |personality-intelligence |mental measures. | |correlation was with openness to experience (from NEO-PI). |
| |interface. | | | |
|Staudinger, |Testing relative predictive |Think-aloud responses to 2 |90 German females (36 clinical |Greatest predictive factor was profession; none of the |
|Maciel, Smith, & |power for wisdom scores of |difficult hypothetical life |psychologists ages 26-82), and 54 controls|intelligence or personality measures remained important |
|Baltes (1998) |combined experiential and |situations, plus a variety of |(of comparable education, ages 28-75). |after accounting for professional experience. A beginning |
| |personality and intelligence |mental measures. | |for understnding predictive power of intelligence, |
| |factors. | | |personality characteristics, and professional experience |
| | | | |for wisdom. |
|Pasupathi & |Study the relationship between|Think-aloud responses to 3 |220 German citizens (41% female), a |About 38% of the top quintile of wisdom scorers were also |
|Staudinger (2001) |wisdom, moral reasoning, and |difficult hypothetical life |heterogeneous sample. |in the top quintile of moral reasoners, almost doubling |
| |personality characteristics. |situations, plus a variety of | |chance expectancy. A modest correlation between wisdom and |
| | |mental measures. | |moral reasoning scores was apparently due to person |
| | | | |characteristics accounting for both. The configuratioin of |
| | | | |personality-cognition rather than either alone is most |
| | | | |correlated with moral reasoning and wisdom-related |
| | | | |performance. |
|Pasupathi, |Examine age differences |Think-aloud responses to 6 |146 native-German-speaking adolescents |Average scores showed an increase up to around age 24, |
|Staudinger, & |between adolescents and young |difficult hypothetical situations, |(ages 14-20, 54% male), from all 3 German |after which scores leveled off. Adolescents scored lower |
|Baltes (2001) |adults in regard to |4 of them new, concerning |school tracks; 58 young adults (ages |than adults on all tasks and criteria. Female adolescents |
| |wisdom-related knowledge. |adolescent issues. |21-37), heterogeneous, 50% male. |scored higher than male adolescents (14-20), no gender |
| | | | |differences for adults. |
|Kunzmann & Baltes |Explore relationship between |Think-aloud responses to 3 |293 participants (93 15-20 years old, 93 |High scores in WRP correlated positively with high scores |
|(2003) |wisdom-related performance |difficult hypothetical situations. |30-40, and 107 60-70), half female. |in affective involvement, and with cooperative conflict |
| |(WRP) and affect, value |A variety of mental measures. | |resolving strategies; and negatively correlated with both |
| |orientations, and preferred | | |pleasant and negative affect, with valuing a pleasurable |
| |strategies of conflict | | |life, and with dominance, submission and avoidance conflict|
| |management. | | |resolutions strategies. With increasing age higher WRP |
| | | | |correlates with higher other-enhancing values. |
|Author & date |Purpose |Method |Participants |Results |
|Staudinger & |Study and compare correlation |Think-aloud responses to 2 |The same group of adolescents studied in |WRP for adults significantly higher than for adolescents, |
|Pasupathi (2003) |between wisdom, cognitive |difficult hypothetical situations. |Pasupathi, Staudinger, & Baltes, 2001. |and age-WRP correlation strong for adolescents, |
| |functioning, personality, and |A variety of mental measures. |145 German adults (ages 35-75) |nonsignificant for adults. Positive correlations for both |
| |cognitive-personality | |heterogeneous regarding age, socioeconomic|adolescents and adults between WRP and crystallized |
| |interface characteristics for | |statues and education, 40% male. |intelligence, openness, creativity, and moral reasoning. |
| |adolescents and adults. | | |For adults, cognitive-personality interface characteristics|
| | | | |(showing an integration of cognition and personality) |
| | | | |correlated most highly with WRP, for adolescents |
| | | | |crystallized intelligence and openness to experience basic |
| | | | |elements of psychological functioning). |

Table 5. Measuring wisdom
|Author & date |Model of wisdom |Basis for |Purpose |Method |Participants |Results |
| | |the model | | | | |
|Wink & Helson |Categorization into |Follows |Test validity of two|Data gleaned from earlier longitudinal |94 female graduates of Mills |PWS scores tended to increase from age 27 to 52. PWS |
|(1997) |practical and |philosophic |measurement |study. Practical wisdom assessed by |College, 44 men (husbands of |correlated significantly with Dominance & Empathy scales |
| |metaphysical. For |& |instruments, one for|responses to Adjective Check List at ages |females), primarily white and |from CPI at age 21, and with ego development at age 43, |
| |personality, similar |psychologica|practical (PWS) and |27 & 52; transdcendent wisdom by response |socially advantaged, otherwise |and Insight and Autonomy prototype scores from CAQ at age |
| |to that of Achenbaum &|l divisions.|one for transcendent|to an open-ended question, specifically on|heterogeneous. |43, Generativity Prototype (age 43), enjoyment of being a |
| |Orwoll (1991). | |wisdom (TRW). |wisdom, asked at age 52. Other mental | |mentor. |
| | | | |measures given also at ages 21 and 43. | |TRW correlated significantly with Flexibility, |
| | | | | | |Psychological Mindedness, and Empathy from CPI at age 21, |
| | | | | | |Intuition-Sensation sacle from MBTI (age 43) and |
| | | | | | |Occupational Creativity scale and CPI Flexibility scale. |
| | | | | | |CPI Psychological Mindedness scale correlated with both |
| | | | | | |PWS & TRW. Status level, marital satisfaction, SAT scores |
| | | | | | |did not correlate with PWS or TRW scores. |
|Jason, et al. |Themes identified from|See Model of|Test validity of a |First study: Asked to name wisest living |First study: 43 adults (35 |First study: Qualities most frequently mentioned were |
|(2001) |a first study (common |Wisdom. |measurement |person they knew, with some details. |women, mixed race and religion;|drive/tenacity/leadership, and insight/spirituality. Also |
| |opinions), plus items | |instrument. |Second study: Response to 38-item |half with graduate degree. |being smart and being loving, and being reliable/practical|
| |from 3 selected | | |questionnaire, on Likert-type scale (“not |Second study: 242 undergraduate|were frequently mentioned. |
| |authors. | | |at all” to “definitely”). |psychology students (about 2/3 |Second study: Factor analysis indicated 5 general |
| | | | | |female, mixed race, most |dimensions of wisdom: harmony (e.g., good judgment, |
| | | | | |Catholic. |openness, sees meaning & purpose in life); warmth, |
| | | | | | |intelligence, connecting to nature, and spirituality (2 |
| | | | | | |items: feels love, fellowship, or union with god, and |
| | | | | | |Living a spiritual life). |
|Perry, et al. |Jason et al.’s |See Model of|Create an Adolescent|Self-rating for 23 qualities on a |2,027 high school seniors from |Three subscales for the AWS identified: Harmony and |
|(2001) |Foundational Value |Wisdom. |Wisdom Scale (AWS), |Likert-type scale (“do not at all have the|northeastern Minnesota, 96% |Warmth, Intelligence, and Spirituality. Scale and |
| |Scale | |and examine |quality or characteristic” to “definitely |Caucasian, middle to |subscales significantly correlated with less alcohol and |
| | | |associations between|have the quality or characteristic”) |lower-middle class. |cigarette use (and for females less marijuana use), fewer |
| | | |it and adolescent | | |violent behaviors, less peer influence, greater |
| | | |substance use and | | |self-efficacy, and lower scores on the MMPI-A Scales |
| | | |other problem | | |(which was the largest correlation). The AWS did not |
| | | |behaviors. | | |correlate significantly with adolescent |
| | | | | | |health-compromising behaviors after controlling for other |
| | | | | | |known risk factors. |
Table 5 continued
|Author & date |Model of wisdom |Basis for |Purpose |Method |Participants |Results |
| | |the model | | | | |
|Ardelt (2003) |Wisdom as “integration|Clayton & |Develop, and test |Pretest to identify 132 items. From |180 adults (ages 52-87) 73% |The 3D-WS correlated significantly with mastery, general |
| |of cognitive, |Birren |validity of a |response to these by 180 participants, 39 |female, 72% white, 29% with |well-being, purpose in life, and subjective health, |
| |reflective, and |(1980). |self-administered |items retained (the 3D-WS), and this |high school education, 44% with|education and status of longest held job; significantly |
| |affective dimensions”.| |assessment of wisdom|questionnaire (Likert-type responses) |bachelor’s or graduate degree. |negatively correlated with depressive symptoms, feelings |
| | | |(the 3D-WS) “for use|responded to 10 months later by 163 of the| |of economic pressure, and avoidance and fear of death. |
| | | |in large, |original participants. Responses compared | |Scores did not correlate with marital or retirement |
| | | |standardized surveys|w ratings of qualitative interviews by 40 | |status, gender, race, income, or social desirability |
| | | |of older |participants. Other mental measures for | |index. |
| | | |populations.” |interviewees. | |The 3D-WS correlated significantly with ratings of |
| | | | | | |qualitative interviews by the trained raters. |
|Webster (2003)|5 dimensions |Review of |To test a |Study 1, response to 30-item SAWS, |Study 1: 266 participants |A large difference found in the different responses. |
| |(experience, emotional|the |self-assessed scale |(Likert-type: “strongly disagree” to |(about 2/3 women), mixed |Results seem mixed. SAWS scores correlated significantly |
| |regulation, |literature. |for measuring |“strongly agree”), to determine |ethnicities/races. |with both generativity and ego integrity. The fact that |
| |reminiscence & | |dimensions of wise |reliability. |Study 2: 89 adults (about half |generativity correlated with ego integrity at r = .303 |
| |reflectiveness, | |persons (SAWS). |Study 2, half responded as a foolish |women), representative in |presents “a potential problem of multicolinearity when |
| |openness, humor) as | | |person would, and half as they thought a |ethnicity/race. |treated as joint dependent variables” (20). |
| |characteristic of a | | |wise person would respond. |Study 3: 85 adults (46 women), | |
| |prototypically wise | | |Study 3, SAWS, Loyola Generativity Scale, |various races/ ethnicities. | |
| |individual. | | |and measure of ego integrity. | | |

Table 6. Other studies

|Author & date |Model of wisdom |Basis for |Purpose |Method |Partici-pants |Results |
| | |the model | | | | |
|Ardelt (1997) |Wisdom as |Clayton & |Test whether |Data gleaned from an earlier |82 women, 39 men |Correlation between ratings of wisdom & of life satisfaction |
| |integration of |Birren |psychosocial |longitudinal study. Wisdom assessed|(husbands of female|relatively high, and among variables analyzed, wisdom (as |
| |cognitive, |(1980). |development, |from interviewer & rater responses |participants), all |assessed) the most powerful predictor of life satisfaction in |
| |reflective, and | |particularly wisdom, is |to 8 items from Haan’s Ego Rating |Caucasian. |old age for the women. |
| |affective elements. | |prime predictor of life |Scale & 17 items from the | | |
| | | |satisfaction in old age.|California Q-sort. | | |
|Ardelt (2000) |Wisdom as |Clayton & |To learn how people |Data gleaned from an earlier |82 women (same as |Wisdom ratings appear to correlate with good family relations |
| |combination or |Birren |develop wisdom, and |longitudinal study. |Ardelt 1997, |and with physical health. It was unrelated to socieoeconomic |
| |cognitive, |(1980). |wisdom’s benefits in old|Wisdom assessed from interviewer & |excluding males). |status, financial situation, physical environment. Positive |
| |reflective, and | |age. |rater responses to 8 items from | |family relaitons in childhood, and mature personality during |
| |affective qualities | | |Haan’s Ego Rating Scale & 17 items | |early years of life did not correlate significantly with later|
| |of a person. | | |from the California Q-sort. | |wisdom rating. |
|Helson & |Wisdom as an | |To learn antecedents and|For wisdom: Composite of 3 |141 females at age |Scores for the 3 wisdom assessments correlated significantly |
|Srivastava |integration of | |development of wise and |assessments at age 61: PWS (see |21, 110 at age 61, |with each other. Comparison of California Psychological |
|(2002) |various cognitive, | |of creative persons; how|Wink & Helson, 1997), TRW (see Wink|Mills College |Inventory ratings at ages 21 and 60 found higher scorers in |
| |affective, and | |career choice and |& Helson 1997), written response to|graduates. |wisdom increased in ratings for empathy. Achievement via |
| |transcendent traits.| |lifestyles affect |question borrowed from MPI, w | |Independence and Psychological Mindedness associated with |
| | | |measures of openness and|scoring criteria revised. | |higher levels of wisdom. Tolerance scores at age 21 associated|
| | | |complexity. |Other mental measures at ages 21, | |w. wisdom scores at age 61. A career in psychotherapy or |
| | | | |43, 61. Career paths noted. | |spiritual activity added significantly to prediction of |
| | | | | | |wisdom. |
| | | | | | |Results for California Q Set at age 43, compared w. Ryff Scale|
| | | | | | |for Positive Mental Health at age 60, show both creative |
| | | | | | |achievement and wisdom correlate with Sense of Personal |
| | | | | | |Growth; wisdom alone with Positive Relations with Others. |
|Takahashi & |Wisdom as |Eriksonian |To integrate synthetic |Wisdom assessed indirectly through |136 adults, divided|In both cultures, older people scored significantly higher |
|Overton (2002) |cognitive/affective |“broadly |and analytical modes of |measures of intelligence, empathy, |equally between |than the middle-aged, except for Emotional Regulation, for |
| |understanding |defined”. |wisdom both |emotional regulation, |middle-aged and |which they scored slightly higher. Both synthetic and analytic|
| |growing from | |theoretically and |self-actualization, and life |elderly, male and |wisdom variables correlated significantly with scores on Life |
| |analytic and | |methodologically, and |satisfaction. |female, American |Satisfaction Index. Superiority of older persons on wisdom |
| |synthetic skills, | |cross-culturally, | |(various |indicators apparently independent of cultural background. |
| |integrating them | |relating cultural | |ethnicities) and | |
| |into a fabric of | |context to expression of| |Japanese (living in| |
| |reflectivity. | |wisdom. | |Japan). | |
Table 7. Studies of implicit theories (common opinions)
|Author & date |Purpose |Method |Participants |Results |
|Clayton & Birren |To examine wisdom as perceived by|Pilot study to select 12 words describing |83 balanced in gender; 31 |Wisdom found to be perceived as representing the |
|(1980) |individuals of different ages. |wisdom. Supplemented w 3 more, participants |young, 23 middle-aged, 29 old.|integration of general cognitive, affective, and |
| | |rated each of 105 possible pairings on a | |reflective qualities. Increasing diferentiation between |
| | |Likert-type scale 1-5 indicating similarity | |descriptors was most significant age-group distinction. |
| | |between them. | | |
|Sternberg (1985) |To understand 1) implicit |Prestudy: behaviors characteristic of an |Prestudy: 97 professors in |People in different professions have roughly the same |
| |theories of wisdom, creativity, &|ideally intelligent, creative, and wise person |four fields plus 17 adults not|understanding of intelligence, creativity, and wisdom; |
| |intelligence in different |listed. |in academia. |intelligence and wisdom considered more similar than |
| |subgroups, and their relation; 2)|Study 1: behaviors from prestudy rated |Study 1: 285 professors in |creativity and wisdom. Multidimensional scaling for wisdom|
| |how these theories are used in |(Likert-style, “Extremely uncharacteristic” to |four fields and 30 laypersons.|in Study 2 found three dimensions, each with two polar |
| |making judgments; 3) how |extremely characteristic”) of one ideally |Study 2: 40 college students. |interpretations: 1) reasoning ability, and sagacity (e.g.,|
| |self-ratings compare with |intelligent, creative, and wise. |Study 3: 30 adults. |considers advice, is fair); 2) learning form ideas and |
| |psychometric scores. |Study 2: top 40 behaviors in each area (from |Study 4: 40 adults. |environment and (good) judgment; 3) expeditious use of |
| | |previous Study) sorted into groups likely to be| |information and perspicacity. |
| | |found together in a person, without having the | |Study 3 showed that self-ratings matched the predicted |
| | |main category identified. | |psychometric test. Wisdom scores correlated significantly |
| | |Study 3: 4 psychometric tests (2 for cognitive | |with both social intelligence tests. |
| | |abilities, and 2 as indirect measures of | | |
| | |wisdom), and top items from Study 1, but as | | |
| | |they pertained to themselves (for external | | |
| | |validity). | | |
| | |Study 4: Presented w. fictional descriptions of| | |
| | |persons indicating varied levels of | | |
| | |intelligence, creativity, and wisdom (based on | | |
| | |Study 1 results), asked to rate the level of | | |
| | |each quality. | | |
|Holliday & |To determine if wisdom is a |Study 1: Listing atributes of wise, and for |Studies 1 & 2: Two groups of |A principle components analysis of the 79 descriptors |
|Chandler (1986) |“prototype-organized concept”, |comparison, shrewd, perceptive, intelligent, |150 persons of mixed ages, |identified 5 factors, the first two most prototypical, the|
| |consistent across age groups, |spiritual, and foolish people. |balanced gender. |third a bit less, the others less still: exceptional |
| |different from intelligence, |Study 2: 79 descriptors of wise people |Study 3: 38 undergraduates. |understanding, judgment and communication skills, general |
| |describable in terms of |supplemented with 24 others plus 20 from | |competencies, interpersonal skills, and social |
| |underlying psychological |comparison groups on Likert-type scale (“almost| |unobrusiveness. Wisdom does appear to be a |
| |competencies, and if the concept |never true of wise people” to “almost always | |prototype-organized concept, which is consistent across |
| |people hold influences their |true of wise people”) | |age groups. Significant overlap among concepts wise, |
| |judgments. |Study 3: Descriptors presented for | |intelligent, and perceptive (somewhat less among highly |
| | |prototypically wise and shrewd persons plus two| |prototypical items). |
| | |control persons; after brief delay, | |Rather anomalous was that the control shrewd person rated |
| | |participants asked to identify items they had | |as a good example of both a shrewd and a wise person at a |
| | |seen in connection with each person. List | |statistically-significant level. |
| | |included highly and moderately prototypical | | |
| | |descriptors not presented. | | |
Table 7 continued
|Author & date |Purpose |Method |Participants |Results |
|Sowarka (1989) |Determine ideas of wisdom in |Analysis of interview responses from an earlier|41 (25 women) adults, ages |Hypothesis confirmed, that participants’ concept of wisdom|
| |regard to actual people. |study. |55-92, from |is used for identifying actual persons, with men and women|
| | | |various locales in US. |differing in characterizations. |
|Orwoll & |Distinguish wisdom as unique |Asked 1) if they believed wisdom is correlated |Adults ages 20-90. |78% agree wisdom related to age, 16% related to gender, |
|Perlmutter (1990) |construct; establish personality |with age, gender, education; 2) to nominate | |68% related to education. Males more likely to be |
| |characteristics for wisdom. |persons as wise, giving age, gender, and | |nominated. Self-ratings differ little with age, declining |
| | |education; 3) rate own wisdom. | |after 60. |
|Denney, Dew, & |To learn age and gender of people|Asked to nominate the wisest person he or she |388 adults (ages 20-79), 60% |A large majority of M & F nominated a male as wisest; a |
|Kroupa (1995) |nominated as wise, and the |knew, and their areas of wisdom. Also asked to |female, predominately white & |smaller majority of M and F nominated female as most |
| |reasons people consider others to|nominate the wisest they knew in understanding |middle-class. |interpersonally wise. Males were nominated for specific |
| |be wise. |people and interpersonal relationships. | |skills, females for interpersonal skills. 4 components of |
| | | | |wisdom identified: personal/emotional/moral, cognitive, |
| | | | |interpersonal, & specific skills. |
|Hershey & Farrell |To extend empirical research on |Participants asked to rate 96 occupations, and |277 undergraduate students |For personality characteristics, 3 factors (perceptive |
|(1997) |perceptions of wisdom; establish |96 personality characteristics on 7-point |(155 women). |judgment, egotism (reversed), and basic temperament) |
| |a set of normative data for use |Likert-type scale extremely unwise to extremely| |account for 33.4% of variance. Occupations rated highest |
| |in future research. |wise. | |were surgeon, judge, astronaut, physician. |
|Hira & Faulkender |To investigate whether perception|Selected responses to Smith & Baltes (1990) |104 undergraduate psychology |Young female and old male rated highest, followed by old |
|(1997) |of wisdom is influenced by age of|were spoken by a young and an old male, and a |students (86 female). |female and young male. Ratings by male and female |
| |person being evaluated. |young and an old female, and rated by | |participants were very similar. |
| | |participants. | | |
|Levitt (1999) |Examined a non-Western |Grounded theory. Semistructured interview (with|13 male Tibetan Buddhist |Wisdom associated with Buddhist understanding of reality. |
| |understanding of wisdom; explored|interpreter where necessary). Interviews |monks, ages 22-40. |Students’ goal is to develop this wisdom and live |
| |the way cultural context affect |categorized into 5 areas: definitions, | |accordingly. Various insights into participants’ educative|
| |wisdom development. |facilitative conditions, teaching process, | |process. |
| | |methods of developing wisdom, personal | | |
| | |experience. | | |
|Oser, Schenker, & |To test validity of their model |15-item questionnaire, items to be rated on a |199 Hungarians (teachers and |Factor analysis gave a 3-factor solution of the responses,|
|Spychiger (1999) |of wisdom as wise actions, |6-point scale according to perceived relation |students) and 149 Swiss |labeled Solidarity, Situated intelligence, and Risk |
| |determined by 7 criteria. |to wise acts. |(teachers and students). |taking. When discussing opinions of broad groups, groups |
| | | | |need to be differentiated into categories. |
|Takahashi & Bordia|Learning the extent to which |All possible pairings of seven adjectives |53 American, 50 Australian, 59|Americans & Australians paired “wise” closest with |
|(2000) |traditional meanings of wisdom |(eight for Japanese group) associated with |Indian, 55 Japanese |“experienced” and “knowledgeable,” farthest from |
| |affect contemporary |“wise” (from pilot study) rated on Likert-type |undergraduate students (about |“discreet.” Knowledgeable and wise most preferred |
| |understandings. |(“not at all similar” to “very similar”) scale.|70% female for American & |descriptors for an ideal self. |
| | | |Japanese, 50% female for |Indians and Japanese associated “wise” closest with |
| | | |others. |“discreet”, followed by “aged” and “experienced”; for |
| | | | |Indians, “knowledgeable” least closely associated. “Wise” |
| | | | |and “knowledgeable” were most preferred ideal self |
| | | | |descriptorsfor Indians, “wise” and “discreet” for |
| | | | |Japanese. |
Table 7 continued

|Author & date |Purpose |Method |Participants |Results |
|Yang (2001) |To learn components of wisdom, and |First study: response to two questions: How |First study: 296 |First study: 1,893 entries, organized into 100 categories. |
| |behavioral attributes entailed in them,|would you characterize a wise person? and Are |diversely selected from |Second study: Factor analysis into four factors: |
| |for Taiwanese Chinese. |there any benefits or disadvantages to being a |two cities in Taiwan. |competencies and knowledge (e.g., passion for truth and |
| | |wise person? Responses organized into 100 |Second study: 616 |knowledge, thinks clearly), benevolence and compassion, |
| | |categories |diversely selected from |openness and profundity, modesty and unobtrusiveness. |
| | |Second study: Rate the 100 behavioral |six cities throughout |Conceptions of wisdom seem to vary significantly according |
| | |attributes on 7-point Likert-type scale |Taiwan. |to education level. |
| | |(“strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”) that | | |
| | |they are frequently observed in a wise person. | | |
|Montgomery, |To understand wisdom as experienced. |Phenomenological. Interview with two primary |6 people (2 female) ages|5 essential elements to wisdom identified: guidance (i.e., |
|Barber, & | |questions: “Can you describe one or more times |60-88, from backgrounds |mentoring or being mentored), experience, moral principles,|
|McKee (2002) | |in your life in which you believe you were |described as “wisdom |time (the time it takes to realize an action was wise), and|
| | |wise, or acted wisely?” and “Can you describe a|facilitative” by the MPI|compassionate relationships. The first element was used |
| | |wise person in your life?” |group. |much more than the others in coding responses. |
|Bluck and |To test validity of autobiographical |Given two minutes to list as many situations as|86 Germans (28 15-20 |Participants averaged recalling four wisdom-related |
|Glück (2004) |narratives for studying wisdom. Also |they could recall in which they had acted |years old, 27 30-40, and|situations. About 90% of events selected as wisest referred|
| |interested in wisdom experiences at |wisely. Then participants discussed the |31 ages 60-70). Gender, |to “fundamental” life situations. No outcomes were more |
| |different ages, and how these connect |situation selected as wisest in a |education, and |negative than the eliciting event or situation. Over 3/4 of|
| |to other life events or themes, and the|semi-structured, interview. Asked if they had |professional status |older adults related the event to other parts of their |
| |lessons learned. |learned a lesson from the event, and if so what|“balanced within age |life; 2/3 of younger adults, and about 1/3 of the |
| | |it was. |groups”. |adolescents did so. 78% said they had learned a lesson from|
| | | | |the event; about 40% of adolescents gave no indication of |
| | | | |learning a lesson. |
|Limas & |First study: develop an instrument for |First study, nomination of person as wise and |First study: 222 adults |First study found four factors of wisdom in the workplace: |
|Hansson (2004)|studying wisdom in work organizations, |rating of hir wisdom on a questionnaire calling|(ages 18-74), 59% |Broadly Integrative in Perspective; Respect for Human |
| |investigate how wisdom contributes to |for Likert-type responses; plus response to one|female, 66% Caucasian. |Diversity; Practical Political Acumen; and Sensitivity to |
| |well-being in work organizations, and |open-ended question. |Second study: 105 |Organizatioinal Culture. Responses to open-ended question |
| |examine age-differences in perceptioins|Second study, response to a shortened form of |employed adults (ages |were categorized into five areas in which the wise nominee |
| |of organizational wisdom. |the questionnaire, rated for their own |17-68), 60% female, 79% |contributed to the organization: 1) provided stability; 2) |
| |Second study focused on types of |organization. Response correlated with |Caucasian. |provided unity in stress; 3) helped create a civil and |
| |organizations most likely to need and |participants’ categorization of their place of | |humane work place; 4) contributed to a culture of equity; |
| |value wise persons of influence. |employment according to eight types of | |and 5) provided needed vision and leaderhsip. |
| | |organizational culture. They also rated extent | |Study 2 found wise persons of influence most important in |
| | |to which their jobs involved Stress and | |cultures valuing Supportiveness and a Team Orientation; |
| | |Conflict and potentially disruptive Change. | |least important for organizational cultures valuing |
| | | | |Attention to Detail, Aggressiveness, and Decisiveness. |
|Glück, Bluck, |Study 1 (=Bluck & Glück 2004). Study 2,|Study 2 used data from McAdams et al., 2001. |Study 1 = Bluck & Glück |Study 1, In addition to findings reported in Bluck & Glück |
|Baron, & |to replicate findings of Study 1, |Participants were mailed a booklet, asking them|2004. Study 2: 51 |2004, in almost 90% of situations whose reason for |
|McAdams (2005)|concerning differences in types of |to narrate a time when they were wise, were |Americans (ages 30-72), |selection was identified, the process was given. |
| |situation and forms of wisdom, and |foolish, and experienced a peak event. |70% female, 20% ethnic |Significant differences in form of wisdom across age |
| |fundamentality of event. | |minority. |groups. Over half the adolescents selected an “empathy and |
| | | | |support” situation, the least common form selected by the |
| | | | |other two age groups. Over half early midlife adults |
| | | | |selected a “self-determi-nation and assertion” situation. |
| | | | |Almost half the older adults selected a “knowledge & |
| | | | |flexibility” situation. |
| | | | |Study 2: More than 90% of events selected as wisest |
| | | | |referred to “fundamental” life situations (a much smaller %|
| | | | |of peak and foolish events did so). 78% contained the three|
| | | | |types of life situations found in study 1, only about ¼ of |
| | | | |peak experience and foolishness narratives did. Early |
| | | | |midlife and older adults were almost evenly divided between|
| | | | |identifying a self- or other-related event (compared with |
| | | | |Study 1, in which over 80% selected a self-related |
| | | | |situation). 84% of the wisdom narratives involved one of |
| | | | |the three forms from Study 1; very small numbers of peak |
| | | | |experience or foolishness narratives did. However, relative|
| | | | |frequency of the different forms reported in the wisdom |
| | | | |narratives was significantly different for the adults in |
| | | | |this study. |

5 Results

This section centers on the question What has been learned from the research into wisdom of the past twenty-five years? and on the questions dealt with as part of the more general question, How is wisdom to be studied? namely
1. The need for explicit integration of metaphysical/religious and practical wisdom in research.
2. The possibility of gender differences regarding the concept of wisdom, that it might mean something different to women than it does to men.
3. Whether the study of wise persons is a necessity for understanding wisdom and for developing a model of wisdom useful for helping people and the choices they make become wiser.

In addition, there are evaluations of different theories (e.g., the Berlin Wisdom Paradigm, Sternberg’s Balance Model, Ardelt’s Three-Dimensional Model).

A. What have these 37 studies found out about wisdom?

In this section the main results of the studies are presented. This provides a clear synoptic view. Of course, it is quite possible that findings that to me appear insignificant may to a shrewder observer, or even owing to chance circumstances, prove most valuable. The example Flyvbjerg (2001:chap.10) gives of coming across five lines of crucial, though seemingly insignificant, information as he pored over thousands of pages of documents, is a good lesson to retain. But an all-inclusive wide-screen tableau is useful too, and that is what I try to present here. In this section I will first report the cumulative results of the studies of common opinions of wisdom, as chronologically prior, followed by those of the MPI group, and the other research, which is considered chronologically for each researcher (Helson & Srivastava, 2002 follows Wink & Helson, 1997).

Studies of common opinions (implicit theories)

Clayton & Birren (1980).
“The results from this empirical investigation indicated that young, middle-aged, and older individuals all perceived wisdom as a multidimensional attribute involving the integration of general cognitive, affective and reflective components” (p. 130). Young and middle-aged respondents attributed wisdom to the older persons, but older individuals did not judge themselves as possessing more or less wisdom than did the others. Older individuals identified a time component of wisdom. Unlike the two younger groups, the older individuals also perceived the affective qualities of understanding and empathy as being more similar to wisdom than to chronological age or to experience.

Sternberg (1985).
In general, intelligence, creativity, and wisdom are perceived as positively correlated attributes in people, although intelligence and wisdom are more closely related than is either of these two constructs to creativity. Ratings did not differ significantly across groups in terms of mean levels of particular attributes. Three dimensions of wisdom were found, each with two polar characteristics: “reasoning ability, sagacity (Dimension 1); learning from ideas and environment, judgment (Dimension 2); expeditious use of information, perspicacity (dimension 3)” (p. 622). The prototype measure for wisdom showed its greatest correlations with psychometric tests of social intelligence” (p. 622).

Holliday & Chandler (1986).
The hypothesis that wisdom may be thought of as a well-defined, prototypically-organized competency descriptor was supported, and it appears that the word wise references a well-formed and prototype-organized concept. The researchers identified the prototype as consisting of five factors: exceptional understanding, judgment and communication skills, general competencies, interpersonal skills, and social unobtrusiveness. The first two factors contain the variables found to be most prototypical, with the third a bit less, and the others less still.

Sowarka (1989).
Elderly people, who were interviewed after having been nominated for possible knowledge about wisdom, were found readily able to identify people in their own lives who could be considered wise, and able to describe attributes, situations, and actions that would so qualify them. There were significant differences in the descriptions offered by men and by women (see pp. 197-199 herein).

Orwoll & Perlmutter (1990).
There was fairly high agreement regarding some demographic characteristics of wise people: 78 percent of the respondents agreed that wisdom is related to age, and 68 percent to education. While only 16 percent held that it is related to gender, when asked to name three wisest people they could think of, males were far more likely than females to nominate males, though both nominated more males than females. Nominees were generally older people (average about 50 years old for young nominators, 65 for older nominators) and with a high level of education. Self-ratings of wisdom showed little difference with age, self-rated wisdom increasing slightly until the respondents’ age of around 40, and declining after age 60.

Denney, Dew, & Kroupa (1995).
The researchers asked participants to nominate the wisest person and the most interpersonally wise person she or he knew, and in what areas that person was wise. Almost 80 percent of all males, and 67 percent of the females nominated a male as most wise; only 40 percent of males and 47 percent of females nominated a male as most interpersonally wise. Nominees were said to be particularly wise in four distinct areas: interpersonal relationships and specific skills (about 30 percent each), wise in general (about 20 percent), and small numbers were judged particularly wise in the cognitive or personal/emotional/moral areas. In general, for both male and female nominators, male nominees were considered wise for specific skills, female nominees wise for their skills in interpersonal relationships. The researchers conclude that “implicit theories vary as a result of the nominees’ sex but not as a function of the subjects’ sex” (p. 46).
The researchers suggest that their findings indicate “that subjects’ implicit theories of wisdom may have four main components”, i.e., personal/emotional/moral, cognitive, interpersonal, and specific skills (p. 45). They point out that people’s idea of what wisdom is tends to vary with age, that this may be due to cohort effects or to age changes, and for the most part both men and women “have very similar views about wisdom” (p. 46).
Hershey & Farrell (1997).
Participants were presented with a list of occupations and personality characteristics and asked to rate each on a scale from extremely unwise to extremely wise. Factor analysis found three resulting factors: perceptive judgment, egotism (reversed), and basic temperament. The first includes intrapersonal, interpersonal, and cognitive characteristics. The second includes characteristics that are unwise (e.g., arrogant, impulsive), and the third includes such characteristics as withdrawn, reflective. Occupations requiring advanced education, and carrying high social status, tended to be ranked as more indicative of wisdom.
The findings show that “The wise individual is one who is capable of making perceptive judgments, and has a quiet, reflective nature.” The researchers note that there does not seem to be any other study of the association people have regarding various occupations and wisdom, and that the inclusion of personality characteristics that could be rated unwise provides a unique survey of the characteristics associated with lack of wisdom.

Hira & Faulkender (1997)
Desiring to learn “whether a person’s perception of wisdom is influenced by the age of the person he or she is evaluating” (p. 89), the researchers had a young and an old male, and a young and an old female variously deliver, via videotape, responses that had been made to four different life-planning tasks in research by the MPI group. On a 7-point scale, the 104 undergraduate psychology students gave the young male a mean rating of 4.64, the young female 5.19, the old male 5.12, and the old female 4.83.
The scores given by these untrained raters were consistently higher than those given by the trained raters for the MPI group; otherwise, the untrained raters’ evaluations of wisdom were not substantially different. It is possible that the manner of presentation by the actors influenced the scores for wisdom that were given. By themselves, age and gender do not seem to influence the perception of wisdom. The ability of the young participants to assess wisdom is questionable.

Oser, Schenker, & Spychiger (1999).
The researchers wanted to test the validity of their model of wisdom, that “wisdom is in the act itself” (p. 156). Wise actions are distinguished through 7 criteria (see above, page 103), and 348 Hungarian and Swiss teachers and students responded to a 15-item questionnaire, with the items to be rated on a 6-point Likert-type scale according to their perceived relation to wise acts. Factor analysis resulted in a three-factor solution of the responses, labeled Solidarity, Situated intelligence, and Risk taking. Hungarians rated solidarity higher than the Swiss, although the Swiss teachers rated it more highly than either Hungarian teachers or students.
Five of the 15 items were included in Solidarity: Recognition of human dignity; Orientation by idealistic notions; Transcending own interests; Sign of deep knowledge of humans; Warding off injustice and suffering. 2 formed Situated intelligence: Strictly logical thought; Sign of high intelligence of the actor. 3 were included in the Risk taking factor: Unexpectednesss/unusualness of outcome; Unavoidableness of risk-taking; Overcoming resistance. 5 items were eliminated.

Takahashi & Bordia (2000).
American, Australian, Indian and Japanese undergraduate students rated the similarity of all possible pairings of 7 adjectives (aged, awakened, discreet, experienced, intuitive, knowledgeable, and wise) on a scale from “not at all similar” to “very similar”. There were 8 adjectives for the Japanese, as two words connoting wisdom were included. The Westerners did consider wise to be closer to cognition (“knowledgeable” and “experienced”); the Easterners closer to social behavior, and more associated with age and experience. The high value given to “discreet” by the Easterners contrasts markedly with the low value given it by the Westerners. The authors note the relatively close pairing of “wise” and “aged” for both Eastern and Western participants—and that both also chose “wise” as most favored ideal-self descriptor. Determining that both Japanese descriptors of wisdom were highly comparable was a useful step for further research.

Yang (2001).
The purpose of the study was to learn the components of wisdom for Taiwanese Chinese, and the behavioral attributes entailed in them. Factor analysis showed that the results could best be arranged in four factors: Competencies and knowledge (such as, a passion for truth and knowledge; thinks clearly, has high mental abilities); Benevolence and compassion (is good hearted; brings about joy and harmony); Openness and profundity (such as, enjoys life fully, with a sense of contentment; able to think about all aspects of things, in great detail); and Modesty and unobtrusiveness (not showy, conceited, arrogant). Taiwanese Chinese emphasized that a wise person is able to bring harmony to home and society.
These four factors were fairly invariant for all demographic samples. Those with graduate level education considered wisdom more related to Competencies and knowledge, Openness and profundity, and Modesty and unobtrusiveness, than those who did not have this level of education. Conceptions of wisdom seem to vary significantly according to education level.

Montgomery, Barber, & McKee (2002).
From phenomenological interviews with six people considered to have life experiences facilitative of wisdom, the researchers identified five essential elements to wisdom: guidance, experience, moral principles, time (the time it takes to realize an action was wise), and compassionate relationships. The element “guidance” was used much more than the next most frequently used code term, “relationships” (though the accuracy of this label is questionable RHT). The researchers note that the gradual revealing of the wisdom of an action does not seem to have been reported in earlier research, nor their respondents’ association of wisdom with close relationships, nor the confronting of mistakes as aspects of wisdom.

Bluck and Glück (2004).
Participants discussed the situation that she or he selected as that in which E had acted wisest. About 90 percent of the events selected as wisest referred to “fundamental” life situations. About two-thirds of the eliciting events were negative situations, and none of the outcomes were more negative than the eliciting event or situation. Over three-quarters of the older adults related the event to other parts of their lives; two-thirds of the younger adults, and about one-third of the adolescents did so. Keeping in mind that participants had been requested to list “situations”, The fact that so many brought up repeated, or long-term situations as opposed to discrete events, is telling in regard to the way people consider their life narrative and the place of wisdom experience.
The method appears a valid way to study wisdom, as events chosen concerned fundamental life situations, and were the types of situations that theorists describe as calling for wisdom. The fact that few adolescents reported learning a lesson from the event or related it to other parts of their lives, “supports the view that wisdom is still being developed in this life phase (Pasupathi, Staudinger, & Baltes, 2001)” (p. 568). Wisdom appears to manifest in qualitatively different ways at different periods of life.

Limas & Hansson (2004)
There were two studies. The first had three objectives: to develop an instrument for studying wisdom in work organizations, to investigate how wisdom contributes to well-being in work organizations, and to examine differences in perceptions of organizational wisdom according to age. The second “focused on those types of organizations most likely to need and value wise persons of influence in their midst” (p. 89).
For the first study, “Results. . . indicated that the core themes of individual wisdom could be meaningfully translated to the level of the organization” (p. 94).The findings “suggest the relevance of studying wisdom in diverse social and cultural contexts such as the workplace, where realistic characteristics and demands of the environment may uniquely temper and shape perceptions of the nature and relevance of wisdom” (pp. 100-1). Also, “the nature of one’s [organizational] culture is probably more important than the nature or intensity of one’s adaptive challenges with respect to the need for wisdom” (p. 102). Study 2 found that “having wise persons of influence appears most important in cultures valuing Supportiveness . . . and a Team Orientation.” This was least important for organizational cultures valuing Attention to Detail, Aggressiveness, and Decisiveness. The correlation of importance of a wise person in a position of influence was unrelated to the ratings for Stress and Change and had a small, significant correlation with Conflict.

Glück, Bluck, Baron, & McAdams (2005).
The hypothesis was confirmed that wisdom and peak experience narratives would pertain to fundamental life events, and that narratives regarding a foolish behavior would not. The three forms of wisdom (Empathy & support; self-determination & assertion; and knowledge & flexibility) were found frequently in wisdom narratives, very infrequently in the comparison events (peak experiences and foolish experiences) as hypothesized. However, the relative frequency of the different forms reported in the wisdom narratives was significantly different for the adults in Studies 1 and 2. 79 percent of the narratives in Study 2 concerned empathy and support. There were significant differences in form of wisdom across the three different age groups. Over half the adolescents selected an “empathy and support” situation, while this was the least common form selected by the other two age groups. Over half the early midlife adults selected a “self-determination and assertion” situation. Almost half the older adults selected a “knowledge & flexibility” situation. The possibility that this might be due to cohort effects cannot be discounted.
The study “provides evidence for theories suggesting that wisdom involves fundamental events, and is elicited chiefly in response to life decisions and negative life events” (p. 206). “Theoretical claims suggest that wisdom is applied in response to fundamental life issues...and emerges in the face of uncertainty...or when confronting challenging situations.... These theoretical ideas receive their first empirical support from the high levels of fundamentality, and the types of life situations described by participants across these studies” (p. 207).

Summary. Studies of common opinions of wisdom have identified characteristics people associate with wisdom: reasoning ability, exceptional understanding and lack of self-centeredness, good judgment and morality, learning and using information well, flexibility, and good communication skills. Independence of judgment seems identified with wisdom. In general wisdom is associated with an integration of cognitive, affective, and reflective components. Social intelligence seems to correlate well with a model of wisdom resulting from a study of implicit theories of wisdom.
People were found readily able to identify qualities of wisdom, and people in their own lives who could be considered wise. Wisdom appears to be associated with age and education. Theoretical ideas that wisdom is applied in response to fundamental life issues, and emereges in the face of uncertainty or challenging situations receive “their first empirical support” from studies in which people were requested to describe a situation in which they acted wisely.
Westerners queried considered the term “wise” to be closer to cognition; the Easterners considered it closer to social behavior, including benevolence and unobtrusiveness, and more associated with age and experience. An intercultural study found that both Easterners and Westerners chose “wise” as the most favored ideal-self descriptor from a list of self-descriptors.
Core themes of individual wisdom seem capable of being meaningfully translated to the level of the organization; it is the nature of the organizational culture that seems to determine the need for wisdom in that setting.
Berlin wisdom paradigm
Staudinger (1989).
Older adults generally performed as well as younger adults on the criteria indicative of wisdom. For the criterion “awareness of uncertainty”, one of the more elaborate and specific criteria, old and middle-aged participants (combined) scored higher than young subjects. The age advantage was even stronger when participants responded to a difficulty concerning a hypothetical person in their own age group: here, middle-aged subjects as well as younger subjects were rated lower than the old subjects for the old hypothetical. In general, similarity between subject and target-review age seemed to enhance the quality of the response. For the old participants, there was less variation between scores in different criteria than for young subjects. Results seem to indicate a developmental process from the more general skills to later development of expertise in knowledge specific to wisdom.
Staudinger (pp. 150-151) writes that “the primary result is age-related stability and that there is advancement in one aspect of the knowledge system ‘fundamental pragmatics of life.’ Thus, the results—weak as they may be judged by others—are consistent with the dual process model of intellectual development across the life span which predicts stability and/or growth for the pragmatics of intelligence.” Staudinger argues that life review exercises may be useful for assessing wisdom-related knowledge and also for increasing such knowledge.

Smith & Baltes (1990).
In addition to testing their theoretical model (Staudinger’s earlier study was her dissertation), age differences in response were tested. In general, the young participants scored highest, then the middle-aged, and the old scored lowest. However, for one of the four tasks (a response to a less typical problem encountered by an old person), scores for old participants were roughly equal to those of the others, and a bit higher than the young people’s. Few responses qualified as “wise” by the researchers’ standards, but among the 11 highest scores, four were from older adults. “The study of top performances have rarely been the focus of past work on the aging of fluid intelligence” (p. 502).
Apart from Staudinger’s (1989) study, this was the first study of wisdom and age. On the one hand, wisdom is commonly associated with age, and at the same time, modern studies of intelligence invariably tested fluid intelligence, which found steady decline after early adulthood. This study found that older people did not excel in a test for wisdom, but that at least for one task, and for the highest scorers, they maintained parity with younger people. The fact that participants scored higher for tasks concerning people in their own age group was also a new finding.

Staudinger, Smith, & Baltes (1992).
This was an “age-by-experience” paradigm, to study the difference that age and professional experience makes in wisdom-related knowledge. Wisdom task scores were compared for young (22-35) and old (65-82 years) clinical psychologists and others of comparable education and socioeconomic level. Results were positive and support earlier studies. The clinical psychologists scored significantly higher than the control group, and in general, young and old clinical psychologists scored the same, as did young and old controls. Six of the eleven highest scores were by old participants. “Such a finding is clearly different from aging research on fluid intelligence. . . where the dominant picture is one of aging loss, with no evidence that older adults score in the top range of performance” (p. 280).
It was shown that professional training and practice facilitated high scores, although the possibility exists that the relation goes in the opposite direction: people apt to score high in wisdom tasks chose the field of clinical psychology. A bit discrepant to earlier findings, old clinical psychologists did not score higher than young clinical psychologists in general for the old target problem, though the old control group scored significantly higher for the old target problem than did the young control group. Young clinical psychologists scored a bit higher for the young target problem than did old clinical psychologists, and young controls scored slightly higher for the old target than they did for the young target. (The authors’ statement to the contrary on p. 280 appears to be in error.)

Smith, Staudinger, & Baltes (1994).
Another “age-by-experience” study. Wisdom task scores were compared for young (26-37) and old (64-82 years) clinical psychologists and others of comparable education and fluid intelligence level. The difference between the 1992 and 1994 studies is that the 1992 study presented participants with a life-review problem; this study gave them a life-planning problem.
In general, young psychologists scored higher for the young target problem and old psychologists scored higher for the old target problem—and the pattern was the same for the control group. Scores for both young and old clinical psychologists were roughly a standard deviation higher than those of the control group, and scores for old clinical psychologists were equivalent to those of young clinical psychologists. Scores in general were only of “average” level, while among the highest scores, for the young target problem, 5 young and 2 old clinical psychologists scored highly; for the old target problem, 7 older and 2 young clinical psychologists, as well as 1 old control group member reached the highest levels. The finding regarding higher scores for the psychologists “could also be due to initial group differences in career selection” (p. 996).
The fact that once again old people did so well is important evidence indicating the possibility of cognitive abilities in some areas remaining high into advanced age.

Baltes, Staudinger, Maercker, & Smith (1995).
To check whether the Berlin wisdom paradigm might have a bias favoring clinical psychologists, the four groups tested in this experiment were old clinical psychologists (age 60-76) , people from other fields who had been nominated as wise (40-79), and two control groups (young, 25-35, and old, 60-80). All were of comparable educational level. The two hypothetical problems participants responded to were 1) a life planning task for an old person, and 2) a call from a friend who says he/she is going to commit suicide.
There appeared no decline in scores from age 25 to 80. Average scores for all groups were below average: raters were told that a score of 4 (on a 7-point scale) indicated an average level response, and the mean score was below 3. Among the top scores, 6 were from the nominees, 5 from the clinical psychologists, 4 from the young control group and 1 from the old control group. In general, wisdom nominees and old clinical psychologists performed at about the same level, and almost one standard deviation above the old controls. For both younger and older control groups, average level of performance was the same.
The MPI group’s wisdom measure does not seem to be biased toward the particular expertise of psychologists. Wisdom nominees and clinical psychologists were expected to perform higher than the control group on the three metacriteria, which were hypothesized by the model to develop subsequent to the two basic criteria of rich factual and procedural knowledge, than the control groups. However they performed better on all criteria. Perhaps because wisdom scores are relatively low, with experience improvement is to be expected for all criteria, not just the three metacriteria (p. 164).

Staudinger & Baltes (1996).
This study investigated the effect that consultation with another person, whether present physically or in imagination, would have on performance. Neither age nor profession were variables, the participants consisted of as representative a general sample as possible, of 122 pairs. It was found that a) the opportunity to talk over the problem with a partner, and then think over the problem alone, b) the opportunity to think over the problem alone, prompted to consider what others whose opinions the respondent valued might say, and c) the opportunity to think over the problem “as they usually think about life problems” resulted in the highest scores, with no significant difference among a), b), and c). However, scores for each of these conditions were almost one standard deviation above the standard condition, in which the participant is presented with the problem and asked to respond immediately. This was the form in which the response had been given in all the previous studies, and the difference in scoring is dramatic and marked a breakthrough in understanding of wisdom, at least in this context. The opportunity to consult with another, and time to think over a response, may improve the wisdom of a judgment significantly.
For the highest 20 percent of the scores (average scores above 4.9), a far greater proportion came from the External dialogue plus (41%) and the Internal dialogue (26%) groups than from the other three. The Standard and the External dialogue conditions each contributed 8% to the top performances. The researchers conclude that “any performance setting that ignores the interactive-minds aspect of wisdom clearly underestimates wisdom-related performance capacity” (p. 758). It is interesting that the positive effects of mental consultation with another, when followed with individual thinking time, was as facilitative of higher scores as actual consultation with a partner. It is possible that the higher scores for these two groups resulted at least in part from the fact that they had an extra five minutes to think over the task. Future studies, the researchers note, will need to “uncontaminate this confound.”
In all five conditions, older adults (age 45-70) performed at levels comparable to younger adults (20-44), except for the External Dialogue plus condition, in which they performed at a significantly higher level. The fact that older respondents benefited more than young ones from External dialogue plus individual thinking time is particularly noteworthy, as the researchers state that they are unaware of any other intervention performed in cognitive training studies in which older people benefited more than younger ones (p. 759).

Staudinger, Lopez, & Baltes (1997).
The seventh of the tests of the Berlin wisdom paradigm (Bwp) continued the move into new territory, this time a study of the relationship of wisdom-related performance to measures of personality, intelligence, and personality-intelligence interface. This last term refers to social intelligence, creativity, and cognitive style. Again the participants were chosen to be as diverse a group as possible. Scores were found to correlate with one of the two measures for fluid intelligence and one of the two for crystallized intelligence; two of the personality measures (psychological-mindedness and openness to experience); and six (of nineteen) of the personality-intelligence interface measures (the conservative, monarchic, oligarchic, judicious and external styles on the Sternberg (1996) mental self-government measure, along with creativity. Not, it should be pointed out, with social intelligence.). The largest correlation was with openness to experience. While wisdom-related scores are significantly correlated with intelligence, personality traits, and the intelligence-personality interface, the highest correlations are with the last. This finding provides evidence that the Bwp is not exclusively cognitive in its focus.
In addition, the likelihood that their measure of wisdom-related performance indicates a unique mental construct is confirmed by the fact that all 33 predictors (all of the intelligence and personality factors) together accounted for only 51% of the variance in wisdom-related scores. On the other hand, if each of the three wisdom tasks is considered separately, after the 33 predictors were accounted for, the other two could account for a significant additional amount of the variance.

Staudinger, Maciel, Smith, & Baltes (1998).
This study returns to the comparison of clinical psychologists (chosen as having experience facilitative of the development of wisdom) and controls of comparable education. Age was not of interest, as earlier studies indicated that wisdom-related performance remains stable from around age 25 to 80. This time, the researchers wanted to correlate a) experience and training, b) personality characteristics, and c) intelligence with wisdom scores. The researchers are interested in learning “What predicts wisdom-related performances?”
They found that the greatest predictive factor for wisdom-related scores was profession, with personality characteristics somewhat less predictive, and intelligence less still. In fact, “neither standard personality nor intelligence measures remained important once the predicted effect of professional specialization was accounted for” (p. 14). The main correlations with high wisdom-related performance were profession, and Openness to Experience, and a negative correlation with Extraversion as measured by the NEO-PI. The Raven Progressive Matrices, a test of fluid intelligence, also showed a significant correlation. The measure for crystallized intelligence had very little correlation with wisdom scores.
The question still remains whether it is the experience in the profession that caused the variation, or the fact that people of a particular psychological makeup enter such a profession. The evidence is that training and experience are more important. This study is a beginning toward understanding the predictive power of intelligence, personality characteristics, and professional experience for wisdom. The researchers conclude that “this study has suggested that it is the joint effect of person characteristics and experiential contexts that make a strong contribution to the prediction of wisdom-related performance” (p. 15).
Again, wisdom as operationalized by the MPI model appears to be a unique construct, distinct from intelligence and personality measures. As little of the variance was accounted for by the psychometric measures, “it seems defensible to pursue wisdom as a construct in its own right, and that it is not easily captured by extant measures” (p. 14).
Pasupathi & Staudinger (2001).
The correlation between levels of moral reasoning, personality characteristics, and wisdom scores of a heterogeneous group of participants was the focus of this study. A significant correlation between wisdom-related scores and moral reasoning was found, though it “was about the same as many other correlations reported in the literature on personality, creativity, and cognitive styles” (p. 411). There was a tendency for those in the top quintile of wisdom scores to also be in the top quintile of moral reasoners, and very few were from the lowest quintile of moral reasoners. It appears that higher levels of wisdom-related performance almost require high levels of moral reasoning, while the association between moral reasoning and wisdom is mediated by characteristics such as creativity, cognitive styles, and intelligence—and not by personality or cognitive factors alone.
The researchers found once more that age did not correlate with wisdom performance. For those whose moral reasoning scores were above median, wisdom-related performance increased with age (the oldest in this category was about 70). For those whose moral reasoning scores were below median, wisdom-related scores were quite stable throughout the age range (20 to upper 80s). Apparently the responses were given in their “standard condition” without any consultation or time to think over the response.

Pasupathi, Staudinger, & Baltes (2001).
For this study, the MPI group looked for the first time at adolescents (14-20) and their wisdom-related knowledge. They were compared with young adults (21-37). An increase in scores up to around age 24 was found, after which scores level off. Adolescents scored lower than adults on all tasks and criteria. While adults scored comparably across all criteria, adolescents showed considerably more variance, with scores particularly lower for two of the metacriteria, confirming the hypothesis that adolescents are developing discrete mental abilities at different rates, and that the metacriteria, being wisdom-expertise specific, develop subsequent to the basic criteria, which are general expertise abilities. On their 7-point scale, female adolescents’ overall averaged scores were 3.1, and boy’s 2.8. Prior to responding, participants were given 5 minutes to think over the test dilemma.

Kunzmann & Baltes (2003).
This study examined values, affect, and conflict resolution style as correlates of wisdom-related knowledge. “[A] very first step in broadening our definition of wisdom as knowledge to also include other human strengths” (p. 1105). They found that people high in wisdom-related knowledge are likely to experience high affective involvement (e.g., feelings such as interest), and at the same time to experience pleasant feelings less frequently than others. Wisdom, age, and pleasant affect, negative affect, and other-enhancing values were found to correlate together. Thus it is age and wisdom together, neither by themselves, that account for the correlation with experiencing both positive and negative affect less. It is only with increasing age that higher wisdom-related knowledge correlates with values that are other-enhancing. Those scoring highly on the wisdom criteria demonstrate self- and other-enhancing values to a similar extent, and their conflict-management styles involve efforts towards cooperative resolution. Examples of self-enhancing values are self-actualization and insight into life. Wisdom-related knowledge is negatively correlated with hedonistic values.
Staudinger & Pasupathi (2003).
This is a study of the correlation between wisdom, cognitive functioning, personality, and cognitive-personality interface characteristics, for adolescents and adults. While crystallized intelligence and openness to experience show the greatest correlation with wisdom-related performance (WRP) for adolescents, for adults it is the three interface measures. “As predicted, the proportion of unique variance as compared with the zero-order relations of the interface variables is significantly smaller in the adolescent sample than in the adult sample” (p. 257).
The age-WRP correlation was much stronger for adolescents than for adults, for whom it was nonsignificant. For adolescents intelligence and personality factors show greater correlation with WRP than do characteristics that develop later. For adults, it is those characteristics that require “integrated cognitive and personality functioning” that correlate most with WRP.

Summary. The MPI group’s dozen studies (beginning with Staudinger’s (1989) published dissertation—although her research did not initiate the rather systematic progression the other studies have followed) have proceeded methodically to study various factors influencing scores for their five criteria of wisdom as expertise in the fundamental pragmatics of life. In studies two through five (1990-1995), the effect of age and professional experience was tested. Studies ten and twelve (Pasupathi, Staudinger, & Baltes, 2001; and Staudinger & Pasupathi, 2003) extended this line of research to adolescents. It was found that after age twenty-five, until around age eighty, age does not account for variances. The biggest factor is a profession that facilitates development of wisdom, such as clinical psychology or ministerial counseling. At the same time, people in public life who were nominated as being wise scored as highly or higher as clinical psychologists.
In their sixth study, they asked whether consulting with another (either in person or mentally) would affect scores on their wisdom tests, and found that it did, and that perhaps having, in addition to time to consult, extra time to think over the question, also affects scores. All previous tests had asked for an immediate response to the wisdom task, with no consultation.
By the seventh study (Staudinger, Lopez, & Baltes 1997) they were testing the effect personality, intelligence, and qualities evincing a personality-intelligence interface, have on scores for their wisdom criteria. The eighth study (Staudinger, Maciel, Smith, & Baltes 1998) added the effects of experience and training to this direction of inquiry into the relation of personality and intelligence characteristics and wisdom. The ninth (Pasupathi & Staudinger 2001) brought in the correlation between level of moral reasoning, personality characteristics, and wisdom scores. Most recently, in the eleventh study (Kunzmann & Baltes 2003) values, affect, and conflict resolution style as correlates of wisdom-related knowledge were tested. Openness to experience, and negative correlation with Extraversion (both from the “big five” personality characteristics) seem to correlate most strongly, after profession, with wisdom-related performance (WRP). Higher levels of WRP seem to almost require high levels of moral reasoning, and for testees with above-median scores in moral reasoning, WRP increases with age.


Ardelt (1997).
Ardelt has a 3-component model of wisdom: cognitive, affective, and most importantly, reflective. In this study of correlates of life satisfaction in old age, she found that the cognitive component of wisdom was most highly correlated with life satisfaction. For men and women considered together, life satisfaction correlated most significantly with wisdom, then with physical health, and social involvement. Wisdom correlated most closely with life satisfaction, then with social involvement and physical health. For women, objective life conditions correlated significantly with life satisfaction, but not significantly with wisdom (p. P21). For the women, the data show that “wisdom has a strong and highly significant positive impact on women’s life satisfaction in old age”—significantly more than the strongest objective condition (financial situation) (p. P22), and more than the influence of physical health. Wisdom counterbalances the negative effect of age on women’s life satisfaction.
“Among the variables analyzed, ‘Wisdom’ is clearly the most powerful predictor of life satisfaction in old age for women in the sample” (p. P22), and it is highly and positively related to the life satisfaction of both men and women, regardless of their objective conditions. The influence of objective conditions on life satisfaction depended on circumstances and the participants’ “vulnerabilities, anxieties, and strengths” (p. P24).

Ardelt (2000).
Expanding on the previous study, Ardelt sought to learn how people develop wisdom, and what its benefits are in old age, beyond life satisfaction. She found that wisdom is positively correlated with family relationships, as hypothesized, but almost equally correlated with physical health, which is contrary to the hypothesis. “On the average, wise elderly women were not only more satisfied during their later years of life, they also tended to be healthier and to have better family relationships than women with a lower degree of wisdom” (p. 383). Wisdom was found to be “unrelated to older women’s socioeconomic status, financial situation, and physical environment” (p. 381). Only wisdom and the respondent’s financial situation were found to have a positive significant effect on subjective well being.
She found a lack of influence of favoring factors in childhood and early adulthood on wisdom in old age, which indicates that such factors are not necessary. The fact that mature personality characteristics in early adulthood correlate positively with life satisfaction in old age but not with later wisdom is interesting. There are apparently very few longitudinal studies that provide data for a range of psychological and social characteristics, and fewer still that provide data usable for assessing wisdom. “The results from this research may be viewed as an important first step in developing a model for the antecedents and effects of wisdom in old age” (p. 386).

Ardelt (2003).
The purpose of the study was to develop and test the validity of a self-administered assessment of wisdom, “for use in large, standardized surveys of older populations” (p. 276). As predicted, the reflective component of this 39 item instrument had the highest factor loading. Other mental measures were given the participants, and the 3-Dimension Wisdom Scale (3D-WS) was significantly-positively correlated with mastery, general well-being, purpose in life, and subjective health; and significantly-negatively correlated with depressive symptoms, feelings of economic pressure, and avoidance and fear of death. Scores were less, but still significantly-positively, correlated with education and status of the respondent’s longest held job. Scores on the 3D-WS did not correlate with marital or retirement status, gender, race, or income. Those who scored high on the 3D-WS were more likely to have been nominated as wise.
“The analyses show that the 3D-WS is a reliable and valid instrument and a promising scale to assess respondents’ indicators of the latent variable wisdom in large standardized samples of older populations if the latent variable wisdom is defined and operationalized as a combination of cognitive, reflective, and affective personality characteristics” (p. 311).

Summary. Ardelt’s three published studies focus on wisdom and old age, and have found (Ardelt 1997:P22) that wisdom (her 3-component model) “is clearly the most powerful predictor of life satisfaction in old age for women in the sample.” It positively correlates with positive family relationships and physical health, not with financial situation or physical environment. She developed a quick 39 item instrument (Likert-type responses) to assess wisdom in large samples of older people.

Wink & Helson (1997), and Helson & Srivastava (2002)

Wink & Helson (1997).
The researchers wanted to get away from approaches to wisdom that leaned heavily toward the cognitive, and developed two measures of wisdom to assess personality and developmental correlates: the Practical Wisdom Scale (PWS), which seems so simple as to rouse skepticism, and the Transcendent Wisdom Ratings (TRW). The PWS is scored by responses to the 300-item Adjective Check List, of which 14 items were selected as indicators of wisdom and 4 counter-indicative. The total of indicators minus counterindicators checked gives the score for the PWS. For the TRW, testees are asked one question: “Many people hope to become wiser as they grow older. Would you give an example of wisdom you have acquired and how you came by it?” Responses are rated on a 5-point scale, and for the highest rating the response needs “to be abstract (transcending the personal), insightful (not obvious), and to express key aspects of wisdom, such as a recognition of the complexity and limits of knowledge, an integration of thought and affect, and philosophical/spiritual depth” (p. 6).
The researchers found a nonsignificant correlation between the PWS and TWR (at age 52) for the women, and for the men a correlation significant at a trend level. A number of other mental assessments were correlated with results. Status level in work or life, and marital satisfaction, did not correlate with either practical or transcendent wisdom scores. The researchers consider that the construct validity of both measures was established (p. 12). “Jointly, these results suggest that high scorers on both measures tend to be cognitively complex and morally serious, insightful, perceptive, and objective. We believe that the above findings provide support for the claim that both the PWS and the TWR are measures of wisdom” (p. 11).

Helson & Srivastava (2002).
This was a longitudinal study of the personality correlates of wisdom and creativity from age 21 to age 61. The PWS and the TWR were administered, along with one of the Berlin wisdom paradigm tasks, although the criteria for rating this were adapted. So all the wisdom measures were taken at age 61. Scores, which were considered as a single composite, were not reported as the researchers were concerned with the correlates of wisdom and creativity.
A career in psychotherapy or spiritual activity “added significantly to the prediction of wisdom but not of creative achievement” (p. 1439). This seems to indicate that the choice of a particular life path shapes one’s personality. Selection of items from the California Q Set (CAQ), which had been performed by three psychologists (or graduate students) for each woman at age 43, were checked against results for the Ryff scale for positive mental health, measured at age 60, for correlations. Creative achievement and wisdom both correlated with a Sense of Personal Growth; wisdom alone correlated with Positive Relations with Others. There was evidence “of greater dynamism in creativity and greater balance in wisdom” (p. 1438).
The researchers found support for the finding that wisdom is “associated with increased awareness of and confidence in one’s place in society” (p. 1439). The interests associated with wisdom at midlife correlated with measures of continued growth and complexity from youth, such as “being open to and skillful in appraising the feelings of others” (p. 1439). “Cognitive-affective vitality” appears essential for both creativity and wisdom, and in wisdom this is combined with benevolence. The signs of future wisdom were present from age 21, but required subsequent behavioral commitments to result in later wisdom.

Summary. Wink & Helson (1997) and Helson & Srivastava (2002) developed two wisdom measures: one for practical wisdom (PWS) and one for transcendent wisdom (TWR). The PWS consists of responses to a 300-item adjective check list, 14 of the items either indicating or counterindicating practical wisdom. The TWR consists of a response to a single question, a request for an example of the wisdom the respondent has acquired. No information other than scoring criteria for the TWR has been published.


Levitt (1999).
In her grounded theory study of Tibetan Buddhist monks, Levitt found that wisdom is associated with altruism and compassion, distinguishing good from evil, self-examination and monitoring of behavior, and with personal characteristics such as honesty, humility, and respect for all creatures. To gain direct personal benefits of wisdom seems self-contradictory for these practitioners, as “By definition, the wise person acts to meet the needs of others” (p. 93). However, recognition of the personal kharmic costs of bad deeds provides a motive for altruism, and these costs are frequently emphasized (p. 97). Extraordinary power (reading past lives of others, seeing the future, for example) are considered as “signifying very high levels of wisdom” (p. 100).

Jason, Reichler, King, Madsen, Camacho, Marchese (2001).
The purpose of the study was to test the validity of a measurement instrument designed by the authors. Factor analysis of the responses to the Foundational Value Scale (FVS) in the second study indicated five general dimensions of wisdom: harmony (such as good judgment, sees meaning and purpose in life, openness), warmth (e.g. humor, kindness, being in the present), intelligence (genius, intelligence, problem-solving ability), connecting to nature (e.g., reverence for nature, childlike wonder and awe), and spirituality (feels love, fellowship, or union with god, and living a spiritual life).

Perry, Komro, Jones, Munson, Williams, Jason (2002).
The researchers adapted Jason et al.’s (2001) Foundational Value Scale for use with adolescents (to produce an Adolescent Wisdom Scale), asking them to respond as they felt they possessed the 23 characteristics or qualities on a Likert-type scale. Three subscales were identified: Harmony and Warmth, Intelligence, and Spirituality, and all correlated with less alcohol and cigarette use, and for females less marijuana use; with fewer violent behaviors, less peer influence, greater self-efficacy, and lower scores on the MMPI-A Scales—which last provided the largest correlation. The study was not primarily intended to learn more about wisdom, but the correlation between the Adolescent Wisdom Scale and health-compromosing behaviors. The scale “did not remain significant after controlling for other known risk factors, with the exception of female cigarette smoking” (60). Over half the items reflect spirituality, directly or indirectly, though they do not necessarily reflect religiousness.

Takahashi & Overton (2002).
This is a cross-cultural study (Japanese and Americans), hypothesizing that old adults will exhibit higher scores on wisdom indicators than the middle-aged, independent of culture. This study did not assess wisdom directly, but as indicated through measures of intelligence, empathy, emotional regulation, self-actualization, and life satisfaction. The synthetic features of wisdom are expected to correlate with life satisfaction. Synthetic features are those involving holistic expression and intrinsically-valued experience. It was assessed here by the Short Index of Self Actualization. The analytic aspect concerns adaptation and instrumental means, attainment of practical goals rather than self-expression.
For both cultures, older people scored significantly higher than the middle aged on all the indicators, except for the Emotional Regulation variable, on which they scored slightly higher. Both synthetic and analytic variables correlated significantly with scores on the Life Satisfaction Index. There was a difference between the American and Japanese respondents, in regard to collectivist/individualist attitudes, indicating that the superiority of older persons on wisdom indicators is independent of cultural background. The superiority of older respondents to wisdom measures has been found in other studies, but “the present study extends these findings both cross-culturally and in terms of broadening them into the synthetic mode of wisdom” (p. 275).

Webster (2003).
A test of a self-assessed scale for measuring dimensions of wise persons (Self-Assessed Wisdom Scale, SAWS), a 30-item self-assessed wisdom scale (SAWS), which contains six statements for each of the five dimensions (experience, emotional regulation, reminiscence and reflectiveness, openness, and humor) considered to represent wisdom. Webster concludes that “The SAWS appears to be a highly reliable scale” (p. 20) and suggests a number of possible improvements and directions for future study.

Summary. Levitt (1999) interviewed thirteen Tibetan Buddhist monks (mainly through a translator) for their ideas of wisdom. Takahashi & Overton (2002) conducted a cross-cultural study of Japanese and Americans assessing wisdom indirectly through measures of intelligence, empathy, emotional regulation, self-actualization, and life-satisfaction. Jason, et al. (2001) and Webster (2003) developed Likert-type questionnaires to assess wisdom, the former a 38 item test including items such as reverence for nature, imagination and creativity, and compassion; and the latter a 30 item test including items regarding emotional regulation, openness, experience, reminiscence and reflectiveness, and humor.

B. Integration of metaphysical and practical wisdom

Sowarka’s (1989) secondary analysis of interviews with 41 people regarding descriptions of people identified as wise (their qualities, and the acts that qualify them as wise) indicates that the concept of wisdom is easily brought forth by the respondents—and that there are no religious or spiritual associations. Holliday & Chandler (1986:59) found “spiritual” to rate third from the bottom in the ratings of 79 descriptors people gave on a 7-point scale (“almost never true of wise people” to “almost always true of wise people”). Denney, Dew, & Kroupa (1995) found that people nominated as particularly wise were considered so because of such things as inner strength, values, integrity, compassion, life priorities, love, and religion/spirituality. “Spiritual” was one of the 96 personality characteristics Hershey & Farrell (1997) asked their subjects to rate according to their association with wisdom, but the association was not particularly strong. Takahashi & Bordia’s (2000) cross-cultural study of six adjectives associated with wisdom, chosen as being those most frequently mentioned by people in a pilot study who had been asked to list words associated with “wise”, did not include any terms associated with religion or spirituality.
Jason, et al. (2001:590) found that categories of “Drive/Tenacity/ Leadership and Insight/Spirituality” were the categories most mentioned by the forty-three participants as associated with people they nominated as wise. They thoughtfully include the religious affiliations of the participants in their study: 65% were Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish, and 34% without religious affiliation. In the test of the Foundational Value Scale developed from these responses, they found a feeling of “love, fellowship, or union with god”, and “Living a spiritual life” were included, but the correlation between ratings participants in the second study gave to these and other indicators of their wisdom is not specified.
Wink & Helson (1997:4) believe that the highest scores on their Transcendent Wisdom Ratings (TRW) should indicate, among other things, “philosophical/spiritual depth” but no relevant findings are reported. They did find “a positive but modest correlation” between the TRW and their Practical Wisdom Scale (1997:9). In Helson & Srivastava’s (2002) study, participants also responded to the question for the TRW, but as responses were not relevant for the purpose of their research (correlating personality factors and career paths with creativity and wisdom) they are not reported. Likewise with Ardelt (1997, 2000, 2003), who theorizes a strong spiritual component to wisdom but whose studies have not included religious or spiritual connections with wisdom.
The themes mentioned by participants requested to describe a situation in which they had acted wisely, in Bluck and Glück (2004), and Glück et al. (2005), do not include mention of religion or spirituality.
Levitt (1999) was studying Tibetan Buddhist monks. In her study of the concepts of wisdom held by Taiwanese Chinese, Yang (2001:676) found them to correspond with Confucian ideals of humanity, although “the spiritual aspect is not salient”.
In a phenomenological study of six people selected as being likely to have developed some wisdom, Montgomery, Barber, & McKee (2002) found moral principles and compassionate relationships to be among the five essential elements to wisdom. There was no mention by any of them of wisdom in connection with spirituality, or as accessible through dogmatic faith, as residing with God.
Religion and spirituality are not mentioned in Clayton & Birren 1980 or Sternberg 1985; they are not a part of the studies of Takahashi & Overton 2002 or Webster 2003, and are not mentioned. The studies of the MPI group, viewing wisdom as “expert-level knowledge and judgment in the fundamental pragmatics of life” (Staudinger & Pasupathi 2003:240), and assessing wisdom on the five criteria of rich factual knowledge and rich procedural knowledge about life, life-span contextualism, value relativism, and awareness and management of uncertainty, are not involved with the religious or spiritual dimensions of wisdom, even if the fundamental pragmatics include insights into the existential questions “such as birth, death, or transcendence” (Pasupathi & Staudinger 2003:241).

C. Possible differences in gender regarding understanding of wisdom

There is some indication from the studies of implicit theories—the opinions average people hold about wisdom (Denney et al. 1995, Orwoll & Perlmutter 1990, Sowarka 1989—see below for details)—that women have a different idea of what wisdom is than men do. Since classic sources of theory on wisdom are almost all men (Christine de Pizan (1364-1430) and the tenth century canoness and playwright Hrotsvitha may be the only exceptions), it is most important to ascertain whether, in fact, there is a masculine bias to theories of wisdom, whether implicit or explicit.
Jason, et al. (2001) found no significant gender differences. Ardelt (1997:P19) found that “wisdom for men is more strongly characterized by cognition and less by affect than for women”, although the small sample size makes this result no more than worth noting.
The MPI group has not specifically studied gender effects, but has tested for them in regard to their investigations of other factors that correlate with wisdom-related knowledge. The first mention of gender seems to be in Staudinger, Maciel, et al. (1998:5), a study in which the participants were 90 females: “Prior research on wisdom has demonstrated no gender effects (see e.g. Baltes et al., 1995; Smith and Baltes, 1990; Staudinger and Baltes, 1996).” In Smith and Baltes (1990), in which equal numbers of men and women participated, a factorial ANOVA of the results with gender as one of the factors found no significant main effects for gender (pp. 499-500). I did not find any reference to gender effects in Baltes et al. (1995), or in Staudinger & Baltes (1996).
Clayton & Birren (1980:113) state that they found no significant gender differences in the comparisons between paired adjectives descriptive of wisdom, though they did find significant age cohort differences through a Points of View individual differences procedure in their multidimensional scaling analysis of the data.
In the most thorough consideration of gender differences in regard to wisdom, Sowarka (1989) found significant differences between the responses of men and women in their descriptions of wise people in their lives and the actions they took. As this has not appeared in English the description here, with my translations, is more detailed than it would have otherwise been. 19 women and 14 men nominated roughly equal numbers of wise people (57 and 63 respectively). For women, 49% of their nominations were in the category “Own family”, vs. 2% for the men. 65% of the women named a person from either their own or their husband’s family, although this figure decreased to 57% for women who had experience in the workforce. The men chose 25% of their nominees from “Professional activity” vs. 8% of the women who did so. Men were much more likely to name an “Idealized figure” than the women. Women were more balanced in the gender of the person they named: 41% of their nominees were female, as opposed to 12% for the male participants.
In Sowarka’s study, a total of 1,636 person attributes were given by the 33 participants (908 by the 19 women), which were grouped into six categories and 77 general statements. Looking at these general statements, women were much more likely to characterise their nominees as having their own financial resources, and also as of low financial resources, with a well-educated background, as maintaining lifelong contacts, having several children, and the date of the nominees’ death not being forgotten. There were 29 instances by women of the general statement “contribute to the well-being of a family”, and only one for the males. Male participants were more likely to give instances of intellectual capability and having a good reputation. Male and female participants both tended to describe male nominees in terms mainly of their role attributes, and female nominees in terms of personal characteristics (Sowarka, 1989:98).
The women contributed 50 narratives about 30 different nominees, and the men 27 narratives for 19 different nominees. These also showed marked differences in response depending on the narrator’s gender. Though there were almost twice as many narratives from females as from males, there were almost equal numbers of narratives categorized as Situationen zur Sozialisation, and four times as many narratives of Positive/creative lifestyle (Daseinsgestaltung, p. 100).
There were also many similarities between responses of men and women, for example regarding the effect the wise nominee had on them, and the interpersonal nature of the narratives, often occurring in a negative or conflict situation. Also there was agreement across the sexes regarding their multifaceted and thoroughly positive image of the wise reference person. 42 percent of the narratives involved actions that many people could carry out in their daily lives, the others portrayed actions that would be within the capabilities (Handlungsrepertoire) of only a few people. In regard to the behavioral pattern (Handlungsmuster) of the narratives, eight of the narratives by women and none of the narratives of the men concerned “Acting according to one’s own philosophy of life”. Nine of the narratives by women and one by a man concerned Erziehung nach Bewältigungsprinzipien (p. 102). Although there were almost twice as many narratives by females as by men, nine of the males and only five of the females told of instruction in particular areas of knowledge (Unterrichtung in besonderen Kenntnisgebieten).
Sowarka notes a “thoroughly distinct point of view taken by men and women (Frauen und Männer durchaus verschiedene Schwerpunkte setzen) when they characterized the reference persons in concrete terms” (p. 105). She attributes the differences in response by different genders to a sex-differentiating store of knowledge and experience (p. 103). Internalized social gender stereotypes may have played a part in the descriptions, although a comparison between women who had and who had not been employed speaks against this. The ascription of excellence of character to the wise person is a “possibly significant deviation from the scientific-psychological definitions” (p. 105).
Smith & Baltes (1990:499-500) performed an analysis of variance (ANOVA) on the data in their study, using Subject age X Sex X Rating criteria X Life decision type X Problem target age as factors, and found no significant gender effects.
Orwoll & Perlmutter (1990:170-1) report that, requested to “nominate the three wisest people they could think of and to specify the age, gender, and educational backgrounds of the wise nominees”, males were far more likely than females to nominate males. They do not report figures, but the graph shows a roughly 75-25% split for the male nominators, and a 60-40% split for females.
Denney, Dew, & Kroupa (1995:46) conclude that there was no difference between the ideas of wisdom held by male or female participants, but both sexes conceive there is a difference between a wise male and a wise female.
Hira & Faulkender (1997) investigated whether age and gender play a part in the wisdom ascribed to people by undergraduate psychology students, and whether this varies with the gender of the person making the ascription. They found no apparent differences depending on the gender of the person making the ascription, but the old male was consistently rated higher in wisdom than the young male, and the young female consistently rated higher than the old female (while trained raters had given them equal ratings).
Wink & Helson (1997) found that the correlation between scores on the PWS and TWR (both at age-52 testings) was nonsignificant for the women, and significant at a trend level for the men. For the PWS, the researchers found no significant gender differences in age-related changes from the age-27 to age-52 testings
Jason, et al. (2001:594) found “no significant differences between males and females on the FVS [Foundational Value Scale] factors.”
In Pasupathi, Staudinger, & Baltes (2001), gender differences were found for performance among adolescents (14-20), when girls outperformed boys, but there was no difference in performance between adult males and females, and “No other effects involved gender” (p. 358).
Yang (2001:671) did not find significant gender differences in ratings of the behavioral attributes of a wise person in their study.
Takahashi & Overton (2002) found no significant gender differences in their indirect measures for wisdom, although there were significant age and culture correlations with results.
Kunzmann & Baltes (2003a) found that, while gender is meaningfully associated with affective experiences, after controlling for gender in an analysis of covariates, “the relationships between wisdom-related knowledge and the three affective dimensions remained significant and basically unchanged” (p. 1110). Gender was also unrelated to the correlation between wisdom-related knowledge and the six value dimensions measured (p. 1113). Age was found to have a more significant effect, for the affective experiences-wisdom correlation and for the value-wisdom correlation.
Ardelt (2003:305) found no correlation between gender and results on the 3D-WS.
Webster (2003:19) found that scores correlated with gender at r =.291.on the Self-Assessed Wisdom Scale, but not much can be concluded from this.
Glück et al. (2005:201) found “no significant gender effects for any of the variables” for their first study (= Bluck & Glück 2004). In study 2, in which participants (70% of the 51 were females) responded in writing to a request to describe an experience or episode in which they had displayed wisdom, the females reported higher relations indicating Empathy and support (one of the 3 forms in which responses were categorized) than the males reported: 87.1% to 58.3%.

D. Study of exemplars

The research to date has focused on randomly-chosen people’s ideas of wisdom, and not a single study of wise people has been found.

6 Discussion

A. What has been learned from the research of wisdom??

The distinguishing characteristics of this new (post-1980) phase of interest in wisdom are methodological carefulness, an empiric attempt to specify the mental factors involved in wisdom (Baltes, Glück, & Kunzmann 2002), and transdisciplinarity. As wisdom is a multidimensional construct, there are many approaches to its study.

The MPI Group’s Berlin Wisdom Paradigm

Perhaps it is the idea of wisdom as expertise, and its use as a heuristic that are the most original and suggestive ideas to emerge from the Berlin wisdom paradigm. The idea of wisdom as an ability that can be assessed, and cultivated as a distinct area of activity, seems to represent the best of what methods of modern science can provide for contributing to better lives and a better world. (The Balance Theory of Sternberg, directed more toward action, provides a complementary approach.)
The biggest weakness of their approach is that it is focused on cognition, “wisdom-related knowledge.” At best, this is only a part of wisdom, it omits an essential aspect: if knowledge is not used, it is not wisdom. There is nothing in their model that touches on this necessary feature of wisdom. Wisdom requires doing and being as well as knowing. Considering wisdom as “expertise” is promising. “Proceeding from a theoreticical definition of wisdom as ‘expert-level knowledge. . .’” (Baltes, Staudinger, Maercker, & Smith, 1995:155, emphasis added) is a problem. Perhaps, as Sternberg (1985:624-5) said in regard to studies of “implicit theories”, this approach is most useful as an entry into the study of wisdom.
The ellipsis in the above definition of wisdom is supplied by the term “in the fundamental pragmatics of life.” “Fundamental pragmatics of life” is an interesting phrase. It certainly escapes any urge toward romantic esotericism, and makes consideration of meaning and interpretation of existence more of a down-to-business inquiry and craftlike practice than a mystic quest. The three metacriteria are all negative, all about nuances, uncertainty, and relativism.
The influence that the study of expertise has had on the Berlin group is large. Their idea that age alone is not sufficient for bringing wisdom follows the “age by experience” paradigm of Ericsson & Smith (1991). One difference, of course, between the expertise which the Berlin group patterns their model of wisdom performance on, and wisdom as demonstrated by the people they test, is that experts in the systems that have been studied generally require years of systematic training to reach that high level, whereas the wisdom people demonstrate is developed indirectly and almost certainly with no specific intent.
When Staudinger & Pasupathi (2003:240) write that their research indicates that “wisdom-related knowledge and judgment . . . reaches a plateau around age 25”, this raises a question about the validity of the model, as it seems that much experience is necessary in order to consider all the things needful for a wise decision. In this regard, Aristotle (NE 1142a:12-15) wrote that “although young people may be expert (sophoi) geometers and mathematicians and in such areas, we do not consider a young person to be phronimos. The reason is that phronēsis also requires knowledge of particulars, known from experience—which a young man does not have.” Members of the MPI group have shown how the age-25 plateau is simply the results of their research, but I am still left thinking, How can this be?
Of Baltes’ (2004:17) seven properties “generally, if not universally, accepted as inherent in any definition of wisdom”, mentioned previously, properties two through seven look like glosses on property one. Perhaps in the first property, the word “interpretation” could be substituted for “meaning,” in order to avoid implying that the wise person has special insight into “the meaning” of existence. Yet this is not quite right either, as any interpretation that qualifies as wise will be more than “an” interpretation: it will be a particularly insightful interpretation, one that is recognized (by whom?) as insightful regarding what is most central.
Regarding criticism of the Berlin wisdom paradigm, wisdom defined as “expert-level knowledge in the fundamental pragmatics of life”, fundamental pragmatics considered as “the quintessential aspects of the human condition and human life” (Baltes, Staudinger, Maercker, & Smith, 1995:155) as being exclusively cognitive or technique oriented (e.g., the critique of the MPI group by Chandler & Holliday, 1990:130-136; and Ardelt, 2004) it can be asked whether this expert-level knowledge is possible without an advanced moral character and development of noncognitive aspects of one’s personality, emotions and social sensitivity. Can one have advanced knowledge of the quintessential aspects of existence and yet be unwise through lack of fellow-feeling or a flawed moral character? Baltes & Staudinger (2000); and Baltes (2004) addressed this specific question, and as early as Baltes & Smith (1990:107), the authors raised the question of “whether we should explicitly add this aspect [excellent character] to our theoretical definition.” In the 1997 study of Staudinger, Lopez, & Baltes, comparing the influence on results of testing for wisdom of a large number of intelligence, personality, and intelligence-personality interface factors, the authors concluded that
In our view, these results indicate that wisdom-related performance, as we have construed it, is not just another measure of cognitive ability or a measure that exclusively focuses on the cognitive side of wisdom. . . . Our conception of wisdom-related knowledge and judgment and its operationalization is more closely related to measures of personality and of the personality-intelligence interface than to intelligence (p. 1209).

Their results to date show that wisdom is an exception to other mental abilities in that it remains the same, and possibly increases throughout adulthood rather than declines; and responses to the difficult hypothetical situations by which they evaluate the testee’s “wisdom-related knowledge” are generally rated higher if the task concerns a person of the same age group as the respondent.
The idea of wisdom as “expertise in living” opens up rich vistas for visualizing possibilities for a better life. Like ars vivendi, it is a lapidary description that speaks volumes. “Expertise” unfortunately is not “art”, and wisdom may ultimately be closer to the latter. But for contemporary Homo sapiens the term “expertise” has advantages and “art” has weak or negative connotations. (See Staudinger, 1999a, “Social Cognition and a Psychological Approach To an Art of Life”.) Horn & Masunaga (2000:264-5) write that wisdom “is very close to what is described as expertise” in that it involves a complex and detailed representation of a situation and its integration with complex and detailed knowledge of previous experience.
Trying to tease out the specific antecedents of wisdom is a nice problem that the MPI group has been working on. For example, Staudinger, Maciel, et al. (1998), find that the greatest predictive factor for wisdom-related scores was profession, with personality characteristics somewhat less predictive, and intelligence less still. Yet, as they note, , longitudinal studies will be necessary “to disentangle whether experiential context or personality set-up has primacy” (p. 14).
It was interesting that in the first published empirical study of wisdom by the MPI group (Staudinger, 1989:161), found that responses to the difficult life situation question “may be under certain conditions further away from an individual’s competence” than responses to supplemental questions. Yet this hint was not followed up in any way until Staudinger & Baltes (1996) examined the effect that consultation with another person (either physically or in mental conversation) might have on scores. There they concluded that “any performance setting that ignores the interactive-minds aspect of wisdom clearly underestimates wisdom-related performance capacity” (p. 758). Smith, Staudinger, & Baltes (1994:996) had pointed out that the response format might not be ideal for generating “the highest level of performance available”. The finding that the Standard condition contributed a quite small percent of the highest scores, and on average was significantly below the scores for External dialogue plus and Internal dialogue, is particularly noteworthy, as all the earlier participants in the studies of the Berlin group responded in the Standard condition.
In Staudinger & Baltes (1996), it was found that participants scored higher if they were able to consult with another person, even if this was only a mental consultation. In real life, a person might want to spend extended time considering the problem, and consulting different people and sources. Some people are undoubtedly better at using the available resources than others, and this is an important factor in the level of their wisdom responses. But why stop at brief consultation with a single person? The question arises of tutoring people in wisdom. What about training people to become skillful in approaching difficult situations through the 5 criteria? Perhaps they would still not be wise, but they would certainly become wiser. There is also the possibility of assessing the wisdom of decisions reached by a group, rather than by an individual after consultation (p. 749).
Are there aspects of wisdom that are not being noticed in the five criteria? (See page 89 in this document for the five criteria.) Consider Smith, Staudinger, & Baltes (1994), in which young and old clinical psychologists gave responses for problems faced by young and old fictional people. The young psychologists scored higher in their responses to the problem faced by a young person, and scored about the same as old psychologists for the problem faced by an old person. But in general, can an old person count on the same quality of understanding from a young psychologist as E can from an older one?
As the 5 criteria correlate with each other (and Smith & Baltes, 1990:502, write that “Theoretically, we expected a fair degree of homogeneity, inasmuch as we consider each rating criterion to be assessing an aspect of the general concept, wisdom.”), it might be possible to develop a simplified test for measuring wisdom-related knowledge by using one of the expertise criteria and one of the metacriteria. The highest scores on the wisdom scale have been consistently attained by the raters. It might be worthwhile to skip the experiment and report the raters’ responses.
Regarding hypothetical dilemmas: a wise response is acutely sensitive to the nuances of the situation, and is likely to be unique in addressing the situation’s uniqueness; presenting people with hypothetical situations may miss wisdom altogether. Cf. Aristotle’s statement in EN 1109a26-28, that “any one can get angry. . . But to get angry at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way—this is not within everyone’s power and is not easy.” A response for a hypothetical situation is not the same as for a unique actual one.
In discussing the highest scores, at least through 1996, the top 20 or 25 percent of the performers in the particular experiment are considered. Staudinger & Baltes (1996:756) write that “Because we reserve the label wise for only the highest performances, it is of interest to pay special attention to the upper range of performance (Baltes & Staudinger, 1993). As in past work, we used a top-20% criterion.” If wise people are the interest, we are relatively less interested in who might have been among the highest scorers on a particular test. Scores are figured on a 7-point scale, from the average score on the five criteria. How many people have attained scores above 5.0? (In the 1995 study, nobody did.) The protocols of high scorers may contain rich insights into the thought processes of people high in wisdom-related knowledge, but they have been reported only in very fragmentary form.
Again, the MPI researchers single out the highest 20 percent of the scores, rather than the highest absolute scores. In a couple of their reports (Staudinger & Baltes, 1996:762; Maercker, Böhmig-Krumhaar, & Staudinger, 1998:12), researchers from the MPI group have included excerpts of typical high-rated responses, and a more phenomenological look at the responses might be interesting. I am puzzled as to why the highest percentages are always considered, and the highest absolute scores seldom considered, that is, a detailed look at the one or two highest scorers. After all, if this test is to be of use beyond the Berlin group’s experiments, it needs to be able to assess the wisdom of respondents against some absolute scale, not only in relation to other people who were tested at the same time. For example, in Staudinger & Baltes (1996), there were several average scores above 5.0 for each of the five conditions, whereas in Baltes et al. (1995), there was not one, although that group included older clinical psychologists and distinguished people who had been nominated as wise by a knowledgeable group of journalists. So this group of randomly-selected participants seems to have performed higher than people whose training and whose lives should have facilitated the development of wisdom.
Comparing the scores with the previous experiments, the wisdom nominees and the old clinical psychologists in Baltes, Staudinger, et al. (1995), scored lower for contextualism and relativism than did all groups (young, middle-aged, and older professionals, but not psychologists) in Smith & Baltes (1990). In Staudinger, Smith, & Baltes (1992), young clinical psychologists averaged about 3.6 for their responses to the two life review problems, and old clinical psychologists averaged about 3.5. In Baltes, Staudinger, et al. (1995), the scores for the criterion Awareness and Management of Uncertainty were not printed with the others in the graph, “because of floor effects” (p. 163). In Staudinger et al. (1992), also, scores for Uncertainty were very much lower than for the other four criteria. In Smith, Staudinger, & Baltes (1994), the average wisdom score for young psychologists for the two wisdom-related problems was 4.0, and for the old psychologists it was 3.7. Scores for the Uncertainty criterion tended to be slightly lower than for the other criteria, but roughly the same as for scores for the Value relativism criterion. The report concludes with the statement that “we now think that such a low production level [i.e., low scores] may also reflect the limitations of a single-person paradigm when applied to bodies of knowledge that have a strong interactive-social feature” (p. 165).
In Baltes, Staudinger, et al. (1995), the composite scores of eminent people specifically nominated for their wisdom barely attained an “average” level. This seems to be a sign that what is being measured may not be the same as actual wisdom. In this particular case, the standard might be the people nominated as wise rather than any rating system. Just as if a theory contradicts popular opinion it is the theory that needs to be defended (Kekes, 1995:13), if the scoring rubrics classify eminent wisdom nominees as barely average, it is time to take a look at the scoring system.
Staudinger & Baltes (1996:748) mention that scores on their 7-point rating scale are quite low, even for people expected to perform highly: median results to that time were 3.04, with a standard deviation of 1.08.
Pasupathi & Staudinger (2001:407) note that their study of wisdom and moral reasoning is the first study that has been done “exploring a threshold relationship between wisdom-related performance and moral reasoning.” The validity of the results, of course, depends on the ability of the researchers’ measure of wisdom to actually measure wisdom.

Sternberg’s Balance Theory

Sternberg’s Balance Theory is not, any more than the others, an all-inclusive model. Theoretical or metaphysical wisdom is not represented, nor is McKee & Barber’s (1999) definition of wisdom as “seeing through illusion”, nor Erikson’s (1997:61) notion of wisdom as “informed and detached concern with life itself in the face of death itself.” Nor does the Balance Theory include the sort of intrapsychic balance that Ardelt (2003, following Clayton & Birren, 1980) defined wisdom by. Sternberg (1998:353) writes that “the balances proposed by the theory are in the interaction between a person and his or her context, rather than, say, in internal systems of functioning (such as cognitive, conative, and affective).” In fact, although “The definition of wisdom proposed here. . . draws both on the notion of tacit knowledge. . . and on the notion of balance” (353), it seems to have little connection with any other theories on wisdom. References to philosophers are more rare in Sternberg than chez Ardelt, where they are scarce.
The lack of connection with the tradition of thought regarding wisdom is not necessarily a problem: the Balance Theory does not contradict traditional definitions, there is overlap in the conceptual space between this theory and traditional ones, and humans have not advanced so far in developing our wisdom that we need cling to past guides. There are three difficulties I see with the Balance Theory of Wisdom. First, Why should wisdom be a person-context balance? Perhaps it is a balance, but why? A rationale for defining wisdom this way is never given. In “A Balance Theory of Wisdom” (1998:358), Sternberg mentions that the importance of balance is noted in philosophical conceptions of wisdom, especially Chinese. But a general reference is not epistemological justification.
The second difficulty concerns what is meant by “a common good.” What are the standards for determining a common good? and if ad hoc agreement of all relevant stakeholders is to be the standard (which is problematic but defensible), this should be made explicit. The only guidance Sternberg gives is to state “one seeks a common good, realizing that this common good may be better for some than for others” (p. 355). He mentions (p. 360) the superiority of decisions that have a more inclusive accountability to relevant stakeholders. He declines to discuss what is meant by good, “believing such questions to be better dealt with by moral philosophy and religion.” But if he has nothing to say about it, why make “a common good” the goal of wisdom? Again and again we see statements such as “Wisdom seeks out a good through a balancing of interests” (p. 359). Then Sternberg says he is not going to discuss what he means by good, because that is the province of moral philosophers or theologians. He does not say why wisdom seeks a good through balancing interests. It is hard to see where this theory gets any traction. We end up with the same lack of epistemological justification that plagues the philosophers who discuss wisdom.
A common good is often contrasted with concern for one’s own good, or that of a narrow group (e.g., p. 335), and in his talk at the Positive Psychology Network (2002b), Sternberg seems to indicate that the “common” in common good is up to the individual to define: “It could be your university, it could be your community, it could be your family, it could be your society, it could be God, whatever, but it’s something that goes beyond just individuals as individuals.” Later, Sternberg (2003a:397) writes that aiming for a common good “means that one extends one’s field of vision beyond oneself, one’s immediate family, or the particular groups with which one identifies.”
This leaves many questions. Are there circumstances that make it appropriate, or wise, to limit the circle? Since Sternberg often uses the example of Hitler, Stalin, or Milosevic, among others—are there particular requirements for those whose decisions affect an entire nation, or even the globe, that differ from the considerations in regard to a common good that private individuals need to ask? If so, what are the balances? In pointing out that “this common good may be better for some than for others” (p. 355), he says no more about this critical point.
A third difficulty is the relation that values have to wisdom in this model. In speaking of values, Sternberg (1998:356) again expresses diffidence: “I do not believe it is the mission of psychology, as a discipline, to specify what the common good is or what values should be brought to bear in what proportion toward its attainment. Such specifications are perhaps more the job of religion of moral philosophy”. He does note a similarity between this theory and the two highest stages of moral development as conceived by Kohlberg, although wisdom includes more than moral reasoning. He writes that “People have different values mediating their utilization of tacit knowledge in the balancing of interests and responses” (p. 357). It would be worth exploring whether the values of wise people tend to be similar or even the same. Sternberg (2003:157) observes that “there seem to be certain core values that are common to the world’s great ethical systems and religions.” But the relation of values and wisdom seems to be more integral than what is suggested by the Balance Theory, in which the goal is a common good. With the proviso that there “seem to be certain core values that are common”, values are considered to be idiosyncratic, as “People have different values mediating their utilization of intelligence and creativity in the balancing of interests and responses” to produce a wise outcome (p. 156). Later, Sternberg (2004d:166-7), he writes
What constitutes appropriate balancing of interests, an appropriate response to the environment, and even the common good hinges on values. Values, therefore, are an integral part of wise thinking. The question arises as to ‘whose values?’ Although different major religions and other widely accepted systems of values may differ in details, they seem to have in common certain universal values. . . .
The question of ‘whose values,’ though, can become a red herring. When world leaders such as Stalin or Hitler or Milosevic act in ways that directly contradict these values, only the most cynical individual could believe they are doing so in the service of the common good.

To posit “a common good” as the goal of wise action is to take a position in regard to values, a position that seems to be in basic conflict with liberal societies such as the United States, which is explicitly formed to allow individuals to pursue their own particular notions of happiness. Dupré (1993:701) writes that “the liberal idea of rights, dispensing with any definition of the common good, provides the kind of unembarrassed freedom needed for individuals with divergent and often incompatible goals to pursue their sundry interests.” In response to a paper presented at the Commonweal Colloquium, Mansbridge (2000) mentions “traditional theories that simply asserted that ‘enlightened self-interest’ is congruent with the public good”, for example those of Aquinas, Hume and Tocqueville. She goes on to describe ways and situations in which the common good can still be achieved, for example through incentives that are not self-interested.
Sternberg seems to be aware of the need for a fuller treatment of values in his theory. In (2001a:232-3, 237), he appears to be struggling with this question, without making much progress; and (2003a) offers nothing new. This is not an issue that can be resolved in a day, and Sternberg’s careful use of language shows the kind of delicacy needed in the undertaking. In his talk “Wisdom, Schooling, and Society” (2002b) Sternberg says, concerning his middle-school curriculum for helping students to think wisely, that it attempts to give students a framework in which to develop their values: “seeing things from others’ perspectives as well as one’s own, and thinking not just about one’s interests but also about a common good.”
Since Sternberg (1998:357) writes that different people may give different importance to different elements that are balanced, “balance” should perhaps be understood primarily in the sense of “weighing”, or “taking into account.”
Concerning the basis for the Balance Theory, Sternberg (1998:350) writes that “My earlier theory is incorporated into the balance theory as specifying antecedent sources of developmental and individual differences”, and obviously Sternberg’s extensive research into intelligence and creativity also contributed. In “WICS: A Model of Leadership in Organizations” (2003a:150), he states that the balance theory of wisdom expands on other theories that emphasize different types of integration or balance for wisdom, citing three of the articles from the volume of which he was editor in 1990, as well as four articles by the MPI group. It differs from these in the particular kinds of balance it identifies. In “Words to the Wise About Wisdom?” (2003c:131), Sternberg says “Our work on wisdom is relatively recent (Sternberg, 1998, 2002a) and is very much ‘work-in-progress’; we are currently developing and validating various assessments of wisdom.” They have devised twenty-four problems for assessing participants’ wisdom by presenting them with fictional scenarios describing difficult situations (Sternberg, 2003a:159), as does the Baltes group, and Kohlberg before them. Sternberg does not indicate how scoring will be done, but in “WICS: A Model of Leadership in Organizations” (2003a) states that they are currently assessing validity, and in describing the middle school-level Wisdom-Related Curriculum in (2001a:241) “Why Schools Should Teach For Wisdom: The Balance Theory of Wisdom in Educational Settings” (as well as 2003a:171-2), writes that students’ responses to similar fictional difficult situations will be rated on a 7-point Likert scale for their quality in regard to seven criteria. A comparison of this with the scoring criteria used by the Baltes group, as described, among other places, in Baltes & Smith (1990:99-104), is instructive.[2]
To an objection that his concept of wisdom “is overloaded and heterogeneous”, Sternberg (2004b:111) replied “The definition of wisdom posed in WICS (Sternberg 2003a) contains what I believe to be the essential elements, nothing more, nothing less.”

Ardelt’s Three Dimensional Model
Monika Ardelt’s (2000, 2004) 3-dimensional model of wisdom is based on the research of Clayton & Birren 1980 (she also mentions Kramer (1990) on one occasion, and on another “explicit wisdom theories from the Eastern wisdom traditions”). Ardelt (2003:277) defines wisdom as a personality characteristic, “an integration of cognitive, reflective, and affective dimensions.” She mentions that this has the advantage of parsimoniousness, and that it “seems to be compatible with most of the definitions found in the ancient and contemporary wisdom literature” (Ardelt, 2004:274). Such a casual approach to a definition may be adequate for some purposes; for the construct of wisdom to become truly useful as a universal standard or model for improving the quality of decisions or as a path to the good life, it probably needs to be more rigorously based.
Wisdom knowledge “is timeless and independent of scientific advancements or political and historical fluctuations because it provides universal answers to universal questions that concern the basic predicaments of the human condition” (Ardelt 2000a:779). Nonetheless, an important qualification seems to be to recognize that human understanding of existence may be rudimentary still, and a glimpse of the history of thought regarding wisdom does show fluctuations and evolution. We are not likely to claim to be wiser than Socrates, Plato, or Aristotle, and yet there are some statements about wisdom made by each that are unlikely to meet with our agreement. It is unlikely that there will be widespread agreement today that “wisdom is reverence”, sapientia pietas (Augustine, Enchiridion, 1.2), although that view held for about a thousand years in the West. Not all masters agree about what wisdom is. While writing that “wisdom-related knowledge is timeless”, Ardelt’s own research on wisdom begins with Erikson (1963), and is pretty much confined to the psychological literature except for Kekes (1983, 1995).
By basing her definition of wisdom on Clayton’s work, a limited understanding of wisdom results, in addition to the limitations provided by the selection and measurement of the indicators. She writes that “Reflective thinking and a diminished ego-centeredness lead to a deeper comprehension of the contradictions, imperfections, and negative aspects of human nature, a process that is likely to make a person more caring, empathic, and compassionate toward others” (1997:P16). It seems just as likely that it works the other way around, that the starting point is caring and empathy, or that there is a sort of spiral progression. Maybe some people, at least, begin with caring. Then awareness of great and needless suffering leads to more reflection, to a search for understanding and solace from the great moral teachers, and then to increased caring and questioning. This leads to recognition of the limits of one’s ability to do good and prevent suffering, even for oneself.
Ardelt’s (1997:P16) understanding of wisdom is narrow. “The question for wisdom, however,” she writes, “is never completed because to be totally liberated from one’s subjectivity and projections is an ideal state that is seldom reached. The criterion for wisdom, therefore, is how close people come to this ideal state”. Even if one were as liberated as possible from subjectivity and projections, E would still need a great store of experience and knowledge, and higher-order mental functioning, to be able to make the best choice. Such expertise seems to have no place even in her construal of the cognitive component of wisdom, as she writes (2000:361) that this component “refers to the ability to see the truth, that is, to perceive reality as it is and not as one wants it to be.” This narrowness is still in evidence in 2004, when she writes “I propose that the term ‘wisdom’ should be reserved for the wisdom of people” (2004:260). This appears to be a case of Taranto’s (1989:10) “a theorist espousing wisdom of one kind, while ignoring other types.”
Restricting use of the term “wisdom” to people is not, of course, how Socrates or Aristotle thought of wisdom, and it is probably too late now to limit the application of the term. And there is no need to do so. It is useful to speak of the wisdom of particular acts, and here is where the Berlin model offers an advantage. In proposing this restriction on the use of the term, Ardelt (2004:259) is arguing against the MPI group’s claim that individuals are “weak carriers” of wisdom, and that wisdom can most fully be found in written materials. She does not bring up the case whether an action can be termed wise or not, and so she makes her case more inclusive than is necessary, leaving no room in which one can speak of the wisdom of an action.
Ardelt writes (2000a:777) that “wisdom-related knowledge searches for answers to the meaning and purpose of life and the human situation in particular.” It might be more accurate to say that wisdom-related knowledge “searches for answers to the nature of existence and its significance for humans.”
Ardelt notes (1997:P25) that “we cannot be completely sure at this point that a combination of cognitive, reflective, and affective qualities is indeed a measure of
wisdom.” The idea that wisdom can be assessed indirectly, through assessing its cognitive, affective, and reflective components, assumes that these components are a reasonable indicator of wisdom.

Phenomenological study
At the conclusion of their quantitative study, Takahashi & Overton (2002:276), write that “Designing a qualitative measure with questions from real-life events of research participants . . . is a viable option.” In their phenomenological study, Montgomery, Barber, & McKee (2002) mention the role of phenomenological research as a check on empirical studies, and as being checked by them. Phenomenological research might also serve as a source for deeper analysis of the implications and significance of the participants’ experience. The authors describe phenomenological research as allowing the phenomena under consideration to speak for itself, the researcher being careful to avoid imposing hir preconceptions on the experience, “‘patiently dwelling’ on what has been said, sometimes magnifying details” (p. 140), attempting to capture the essence, which, it is believed, can be communicated.

It is difficult to know how generally valid are the thoughts of the participants in a phenomenological study. In quantitative research, if you give people a certain number of adjectives to rate on a Likert-type scale, you can report that the adjectives were rated in such-and-such an order, and which adjectives were most associated with wisdom. But in such as study as Montgomery et al. (2002), the researcher(s) need to interpret the material. The same is true for the quantified adjectives: the significance needs to be interpreted; but at least on the surface, things are much more cut and dried. And so I felt dissatisfied upon finishing Montgomery et al. (2002), wanting more and deeper analysis from the researchers. More of that “‘patiently dwelling’ on what has been said”, which, unfortunately, they did not share. Much of their rather brief report consists of unreflected-on excerpts from the participants.
Several of the five essential elements of wisdom that Montgomery et al. (2002) identified seem to admit of, if not require, further clarification, indicating a difficulty with phenomenological research, but not only of this type of method: the same reservation can be made of Clayton & Birren’s (1980) and Holliday & Chandler’s (1986) categories. The point Montgomery et al. (2002) make regarding some of their findings, which do not seem to have been reported in earlier research (i.e., the gradual revealing of the wisdom of an action, their respondents’ association of wisdom with close relationships, and the confronting of mistakes as aspects of wisdom), is an indicator of the strengths of phenomenological research. At the same time, their own description of the “Guidance” dimension of wisdom that they found is not clear. What is discussed in the section on guidance seems little related to guidance.
Bluck and Glück (2004:545) state that qualitative research on wisdom is as important as quantitative, and their own studies have examined the wisdom events that participants identify as having occurred in their own lives. Levitt’s (1999) phenomenological study of Tibetan monks is, oddly, the least personal of the thirty-three studies. There were few references made to personal experiences or personal views; rather wisdom, Buddhist study, and learning, were discussed in general.

Implicit theories
Sternberg (1985:625, and elsewhere) states that implicit theories are useful as a preliminary aid to developing an explicit theory, and as helping to correct explicit theories. Holliday & Chandler (1986:36) propose that “people’s informal conceptions may prove to be a particularly important source of information for developing a comprehensive psychological theory of wisdom.”
To call the notions that average people have regarding wisdom “theories” seems a bit grandiose. None of the studies of implicit notions have talked with people to determine in detail what their understanding of wisdom is, on what it is based, and what part it plays in their day to day lives. None of the respondents have been people who have spent years in the pursuit of wisdom and who know the path, the struggles and pitfalls, and can describe the insights into themselves and others that one gains from viewing existence from the perspective of wisdom. These studies are not, ultimately, about wisdom, but about the opinions people have of wisdom. They may be important preliminaries to research into wisdom, and they do help us get “a lay of the land”, as Sternberg (1985:624) says. If it is meant to imply an essential similarity between the opinions average people hold about wisdom and those held by those who have specialized in its study, it is confusing the issue to say that “Explicit theories derive, in large part, from implicit theories of the scientists formulating the explicit theories” (Sternberg 1990:143). Such explicit theories are expected to have been corrected and developed through much study and thought, and subjected to rules of logic and critical thinking. The objection to use of common opinions as much more than a check on theories, or as demographic opinion surveys, is not based on the likelihood of common opinions and “expert” opinions both starting from an inner sense, but on what is done or not done with the original intuition. It is true, as Kekes writes (1995:13), that a theoretical definition that contradicts popular beliefs must provide “very strong arguments” for doing so; but his caution only means that popular conceptions act as a starting point and check on theoretical speculation. To base a theory of wisdom on popular opinions, other than as a temporary expedient, is to base the theory on superficial and uninformed ideas. Such a theory cannot help but be incomplete and misleading.
Smith & Baltes (1990:495) write that “We postulate that the knowledge system associated with wisdom is represented as a latent construct on a societal level.” But how much time do people give to thinking about wisdom or about people who are wise? If they never give any thought to this, and all their notions are picked up in passing, what is gained by presenting them with the term and asking them to describe it? It is very like a forced choice situation and doesn’t tell us what wisdom actually means to the respondent.
Orwoll & Perlmutter (1990:170seq.) report a study in which participants were asked to name actual people they consider wise, an approach likely to yield useful information complementary to studies of implicit theories that ask about wisdom in the abstract (e.g., Clayton & Birren, 1980; Sternberg, 1985; and Holliday & Chandler 1986). The questions about the nominees were so general as to be of limited use (their age, gender, and educational background), and their simplicity is in strong contrast to the sophisticated theorizing of the rest of their article. This may be an indication of the difficulty of planning and carrying out empirical research on wisdom.
The study of implicit theories of wisdom has evolved over the years, but as they are still being used it should be helpful to consider the thirteen studies of implicit wisdom together, to see what was being done in them, and what has been learned. Together they form a genre. Other than the wisdom-as-expertise approach of the MPI group, this was the only approach I am aware of that was taken until 1997, when Ardelt, and Wink & Helson, published the results of their research.
In recommending the study of implicit theories, Yang (2001:664) writes that “Understanding how conceptions of wisdom are expressed through daily communication and social interactions may constitute the key to understanding the concept of wisdom.” Although it depends on what we are attempting to understand regarding wisdom, this statement is probably incorrect. Consider wisdom at its most general manifestation, as knowledge of how to lead a good life, the ability to make sound judgment (and actually doing so). All people are likely to value this, at least at some critical moments. Yet most of us, most of the time, value things that are more immediate and more tangible. Few have spent enough time studying and pursuing wisdom to be able to understand what is involved with any degree of adequacy. The concept arises through the experiences of the many, but the experts are few. It is to them that we can most profitably look for knowledge about wisdom and its practice.

One question in regard to all such studies is the reliability of randomly-chosen people to contribute much to the understanding of wisdom. Sternberg raised this question in his 1985 article and attempted to provide an answer by administering tests of social and of cognitive intelligence to thirty adults, then asking them to fill out the second questionnaire from the first study, rating the behaviors on a characteristic-uncharacteristic scale—but as the behaviors applied to themselves. It was found that the intelligence behaviors correlated with scores on tests of cognitive intelligence, and wisdom behaviors correlated with scores regarding social intelligence, showing that the approach has “at least some external validity”. The approach of basing a definition on the opinions people have of wisdom, however, does point to an important consideration: for a concept with such deep cultural meanings, and such a long history, a definition that will be adequate for making wisdom a goal for human behavior that can be used perhaps universally, cannot be based on the ideas of any single person (or group, for that matter). The inductive approach used by researchers who gather the implicit conceptions people have of wisdom can possibly be used in a modified way, by gathering the opinions of people who have concerned themselves seriously with the question of what wisdom is, over the centuries, and in all cultures. This is only the beginning of the process, however, as a sensitive understanding will be needed about what their ideas actually meant in the context of their culture and time.
Although they state that their procedure “may not be the ideal method for studying implicit theories” (p. 44), Denney, Dew, & Kroupa’s (1995) study provides insight into these questions (i.e., going beyond forced choice), as participants were asked to identify their relation to the persons they nominated as most wise and as most interpersonally wise. There was a significant tendency to identify the same person as both, and for both categories of wisdom, over half of all participants nominated a spouse or parent. (Actually only 48.4% of the males nominated spouse, father or mother as wisest.)
The specific areas of the wisdom of the wisest person known to them also gives some idea of what is in people’s minds when they are asked about wisdom. If a female was nominated, by either a male or a female, almost half the time it was for her interpersonal skills. If a male was nominated, in slightly over one quarter of the cases it was for interpersonal skills. If a male was nominated by either a male or female, a little over one third of the time it was for “specific skills”, such as education, business, spirituality, politics, or mechanical things. Slightly over one-fifth of the female nominees were selected for these reasons. The other major category, for about one-fifth of the nominees by either males or females, was “general”, referring to “life, world issues, all areas, everything” (p. 42).
In Clayton’s study (Clayton & Birren, 1980), with only 15 descriptors, all of them identified beforehand with wisdom, might it not have been possible to arrange them in the three groupings (cognitive, affective, reflective) without doing any test? At any rate, the value of this first empirical study of wisdom lies in its suggestiveness.
Investigations of the notions people hold of concepts such as intelligence, creativity, and wisdom, Sternberg (1985) writes, are useful for the subsequent development of explicit theories. They also help us to understand what people actually mean by these terms, and to ascertain how close explicit theories are to the ideas people hold; and they can identify aspects of the concept that are not being included in explicit theories. “Thus, the study of implicit theories [i.e., the notions people hold in regard to the concept] is not merely an easy substitute for the formation and study of explicit theories of psychological constructs” (p. 625).
The series of experiments in Sternberg (1985) seems rather ingenious. We identify
a) What average educated people think of as wise.
b) How a person rates hirself in regard to the characteristics identified in a).
c) How responses in B score in regard to the prototypical wise person from a) (“r”).
d) How “r” correlates with scores on tests of social intelligence.
e) As “r” correlates well with this, “the wisdom scale seems to come closest to measuring skills that are traditionally measured by tests of social intelligence (or social competence)”
This tells us a): what average people think wisdom is, and b): how people’s self-ratings in regard to a). correlate with their scores on tests of social intelligence. It turns out that social intelligence correlates fairly well with wisdom. This is not unexpected, it is generally in line with statements by philosophers and religious writers on wisdom. Can we say that now, at last, we have empirical evidence for this correlation? Maybe, although Staudinger, Lopez, & Baltes (1997:1210) found little correlation of wisdom-related performance with social intelligence: “It was surprising to us that neither of the two social intelligence measures emerged as a strong predictor of wisdom-related performance.”
Sternberg (1985:625) states that the results of implicit studies can be helpful in developing an explicit theory of wisdom. The usefulness of relying entirely on the notions average people have of wisdom for developing a theory of wisdom seems questionable, but there seems no reason to take a purist or elitist attitude. If we can get results that are useful for helping people live better lives from studies that are a bit rough, that’s fine. We can refine the research later: the crucial step is to get started. The doubt arises from the fact that wisdom is profound and a rare quality. How completely, how adequately, can average people inform us about it? Wisdom is a term that is fairly commonly used; if we ask a person what he or she considers it to mean, E can probably provide a rough idea. Then we can determine how closely people match the prototype that emerges. By studying in depth those who approach the prototype, we could learn something about the experiences and attitudes that helped make them wise, and identify the traits such people express, their beliefs and perspectives, values and decision-making strategies. These real-life embodiments of the characteristics identified with wisdom in the abstract, could help us identify the person characterics and the external goals towards which wisdom aims, and help us figure out how to help others become wise. This is to work from the opposite direction than suggested by McKee & Barber (1999:149-150), who described “a dialectic between a-priori and empirical definitions”, in which an explicit theory is first put forth and then tested and revised.
The study that Holliday & Chandler (1986) reported is very similar to Sternberg’s (1985) Prestudy and Experiments 1 and 2. Sternberg found three dimensions to account for 87 percent of the variance in the data, and two polar interpretations for each. Holliday & Chandler found five general factors of wisdom, accounting for 41 percent of the variance. These are: exceptional understanding, judgment and communication skills, general competencies, interpersonal skills, and social unobtrusiveness. These are somewhat similar, but what does it mean that these only accounted for 41% of the variance, and Sternberg’s accounted for 87% of the variance?
It is frustrating that none of the researchers who have investigated average people’s conceptions of wisdom have compared them with the characteristics that philosophers have identified as comprising wisdom. But then, so far as I know, none of the philosophers have paid attention to the studies coming from psychology, except for Aleida Assmann (1994), and Kekes’ (1995) dismissive note.
As part of their first study, Jason, et al. (2001) asked 43 people to name the wisest living person they knew, whether personally or not, and to give an example of the person’s wisdom and the qualities that made hir wise. Ardelt adopted a very similar procedure in the test of her instrument for measuring wisdom, in which participants were asked to nominate a person they considered to be wise, explain why they considered hir to be wise, and identify the specific characteristics that made hir wise in their opinion. Ardelt (2003:303) reports that “88.2% mentioned cognitive, reflective, and/or affective personality qualities. . . and 11.8% named all three dimensions.” Jason, et al. (2001:590) found drive/tenacity/leadership, and insight/spirituality to be the most frequently mentioned. About a third mentioned “being smart” and “being loving.” Reliable/practical were also frequently mentioned, and creative/curious, being open, light-hearted, and “a variety of other interpersonal skills” were also mentioned.
Yang (2001:676) observes that “Education seems to play an important role in Taiwanese Chinese conceptions of wisdom”, that is, that conceptions of wisdom vary considerably according to the education of the respondent. This seems to suggest that a person who is actually wise would have a different understanding of what wisdom is than an average person. Yang does not make this connection, but does provide an insight by pointing to the differences in response. (This is not to suggest a connection between wisdom and education, but to draw attention to the differences in conceptions held by different segments of the population.) Although she cites several Chinese classics going back to Confucius, the citations regarding Western wisdom begin with Erikson, and the only philosopher considered is Kekes (1983).
Studying people’s concepts, “implicit theories” of wisdom is incomplete until it is known what place the concept has in their lives. If you ask me what I think of as wise behavior, I can no doubt tell you. But it is of crucial importance also to know whether I have ever in my life given a moment’s thought to wisdom, or if I have never thought about it and now am parroting information from other sources. The need for this bit of information has not been mentioned by any of the researchers, and the question has never been asked of the participants in this type of research.

Wink & Helson (1997:11) state “We believe that the above findings provide support for the claim that both the PWS [Practical Wisdom Scale] and the TWR [Ratings of Transcendent Wisdom] are measures of wisdom.” Yet what have we learned about wisdom? Transcendental wisdom has been operationalized by them as “freedom from narrow self-concern, recognition of the limits and contextual nature of knowledge, and philosophical or spiritual insights”, along with communication skills adequate for articulating one’s experience of wisdom. Practical wisdom is operationalized as a person’s response to a list of three hundred adjectives. If a person selects as self-descriptive those adjectives that have been judged to indicate wisdom (ones that describe a person’s “cognitive appraisal that is clear, open, complex, insightful, reality-oriented, benevolent, and not distorted by bias or impulsivity” (p. 3), he or she meets the criterion for practical wisdom.
Takahashi & Overton (2002:271) acknowledge their use of “relatively simple protocols” which at least serve the purpose of providing “for the first time a convenient avenue to explore the extent to which cultural context is related to the expression of wisdom.” The construct validity of this study is questionable, as it did not assess wisdom directly, but as indicated through measures of intelligence, empathy, emotional regulation, self-actualization, and life satisfaction. A definition of wisdom is assumed, and its presence measured through standard psychological tests, despite their statement that “the present study demonstrates that both the analytic dimension and the synthetic dimension of wisdom are important in understanding the functioning of wisdom in late adulthood” (p. 275).
Kunzmann & Baltes (2003:1114) note their finding of wisdom-related knowledge as correlating negatively with hedonic values as “important to wisdom theory.” But again, what new have we learned about wisdom?
A question I have in regard to Jason, et al. (2001) is, if the purpose is to measure the perception of wisdom that people have (“. . . this is a test of people’s perception of what wisdom is. . .”, p. 591), why would you restrict the range of possible responses to a 5-point scale (from “definitely” to “not at all”) rating of 38 one word or very brief descriptors? Twenty-three items are reprinted in an Appendix, and include Animation, Harmony, Positive self-esteem and self love, Openness, Gratitude and appreciation. For some items there are brief explanations or synonyms. The labels given to the five general categories of wisdom characteristics they identified can be a bit misleading. Included in Harmony, for example, is Good judgment, Openness, Capacity to cope with uncertainty, and Sees meaning and purpose in life. How high a level of wisdom can such tests identify? and How full and subtle a picture of wisdom can they provide? The construct validity of this study is questionable: 23 of the 38 items on the FVS are given here. How do we know that these 38 items actually measure wisdom? Only because responses on the FVS align with the information provided by the respondents to Study 1.
Still, there is no reason to consider this not to be a good “preliminary study” (p. 596), as the authors describe it. Such measures might eventually be helpful in identifying wisdom. To do so is not an easy task. The authors discuss several of the recent measures of spirituality, another construct that can have very practical applications (e.g., for physical and mental health, resilience). Wisdom no doubt has effects in a person’s life that are just as important and as measurable as those of spirituality.
In his discussion of future steps to be taken in regard to improving his Self-Assessed Wisdom Scale (SAWS), Webster (2003) mentions giving the test to people nominated as wise. He might also interview people who score highly to learn more about them and about the quality of their wisdom.
Bluck and Glück (2004) wondered whether the participants in their study were wise, even though they were able to respond to a request for situations in which they had acted wisely, giving responses that matched criteria for wisdom as described by other researchers. They mentioned the advantage of interviews in comparison with “forced responses to individual questions” (p. 551). But to be asked to provide an example of a wise action is something of a forced response, even if it does match descriptions of wisdom. They used the term “experienced wisdom” to emphasize “that individuals recall the event as a time when they experienced being wise” (p. 564), but there is no evidence that the participants ever thought of the event as “wise” before being asked to supply wise events from their lives. It would be important to know what role the concept of wisdom has played in their lives, their goals and their thoughts. This would make a difference if a goal is to help make people wiser. Otherwise, if the participants had never thought in terms of wisdom before being asked as part of this study, what is the point of this research in regard to wisdom? Are the respondents talking about good decisions or wise decisions? The authors are interested in the relation to the rest of the participants’ lives of events identified by them as calling for a wise response. But this is not the same as inquiring what role and what value wisdom per se has in their lives. They may never have thought of the event as “wise” until asked by a researcher to recall a time in their lives when they acted wisely.
Denney, Dew, & Kroupa’s (1995:45) comparison of the categories of wisdom found in their study with those resulting from the studies of Clayton & Birren (1980), Sternberg (1985), and Holliday & Chandler (1986) is of doubtful persuasiveness for demonstrating the similarity they claim. Few respondents in Denney et al. ascribed wisdom to their nominees in cognitive or personal/emotional/moral areas (about 12%), which nonetheless do yeoman’s work in being used to demonstrate correspondence with several dimensions identified by the others. And the large number of ascriptions of wisdom in Denney et al. to “specific skills” and “general” would have to be discriminated into categories more correspondent to those used by earlier researchers. In their well-designed Table VIII, these last two dimensions, in which over half of their nominees were judged to be wise, had no correspondent in any of the other studies. They suggest causes for the lack of a correspondence to their “specific skills” dimension.
A general question in regard to the research is, With so few subjects, how valid can fine distinctions such as are sometimes made be? For example, those of the MPI group regarding findings of higher scores for specific criteria, or regarding relative homogeneity across criteria for particular age groups. Staudinger (1989:151) is cautious in drawing conclusions, but while it is true that her study “seems to support the meaningfulness of the theoretical distinction between the more general and the more specific wisdom-related scales” (that is development of general expertise precedes that of expertise in the particular specialty of wisdom), how conclusive, actually, is this finding, or any such conclusion from a study of fifty, a hundred, or two hundred people? In the case of the MPI group, the true relation between a) their criteria for assessing wisdom and b) wisdom itself remains inconclusive. And they are the most careful theorists.
In assessing wisdom, the sort of life task for which wisdom is applied needs to be specified: the wisdom of an old person who has come to terms with life and mortality is different from that of a statesman responsible for the well-being and the future of a large political unit, or from that of a person advising another in regard to a difficult life decision. There may be particular attitudes or questions or things to look for that are similar in all different tasks, but this has not been established to date.
Levitt’s (1999) study presented a formidable challenge: interviewing people from another culture, most of whom do not speak the researcher’s language, about something as subtle and complex as wisdom. The responses seem to be a recounting of Buddhist doctrine. The preformed categories seem problematic, and Levitt does not say why she relied on these. Possibly it provided a structure for the interviews, which were semi-structured rather than unstructured as in traditional grounded theory.
There seems a bit of narrowness in the centrality placed on one’s own life as the sphere of wisdom in Erikson. Hoare (2002:193) quotes the statement of his developing sense that “I am what survives of me”. This is far from experience of the unus mundus (Jung 1977:533-543) where the individual drops off the sense of personal existence to merge in the One.
The differences between the Eastern and Western students in the study by Takahashi & Bordia (2000) are striking: of the 7 adjectives, for the Westerners wisdom is closest to knowledgeable, and farthest from discreet; for the Easterners wisdom was most closely associated with discreet. This is perhaps a good entry point to understanding cultural differences, and inquiry into what this means in more detail should be very useful. The adjective “discreet” conveys a combination of intellectual and emotional understanding, caring, and social tact; “knowledgeable” recalls the Stoic definition of wisdom as rerum humanarum et divinarum scientia. But it would be useful to know how the participants understood these terms.

B. Integration of metaphysical and practical wisdom

It was hypothesized that it is unavoidable, and necessary, for any serious inquiry into wisdom to consider metaphysical or divine wisdom and integrate this with wisdom as dealing with secular affairs. The hypothesis does not receive much support from the research: the studies of implicit theories do not provide much evidence that average people connect wisdom and religion or even wisdom and spirituality.
The diminishing belief in cosmic justice, or reliance on a divine guarantor of wisdom and justice, may be important in allowing a scientific approach to wisdom to come forth (see Kekes 1995:2, 183, et alibi). Abandoning trust in a divine justice is an important step along the way toward assuming human responsibility for justice.
Theoretical and practical wisdom are distinguishable, but not separable: the standards for decision making in regard to practical affairs depend, as Garrett (1996) points out, on one’s basic orientation toward existence, metaphysical and epistemological assumptions. And as problematic as practical wisdom is, theoretical is moreso. Justus Lipsius, the sixteenth century founder of Neostoicism, “asserts that the main characteristic of the wise man is that ‘he knows in a sense all the instances that fall under the universal’ (Manuductionis ad Stoicam Philosophiam II.8)” (Papy 2004). The Stoic concept, placing wisdom beyond the reach of all, was relatively harmless. The Christian division, taking wisdom away from human reason and placing it with God, to bestow as His grace, remains a powerful force that cannot be ignored.
The uncompromising challenge of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:20-25 has been quoted: Christ is “the wisdom of God” and God has “turned to foolishness the ‘wisdom’ of this world.” This view left little room for worldly wisdom, and through Augustine (e.g., Enchiridion De Fide, Spe Et Caritate—The Handbook of Faith, Hope, and Charity—states at the beginning, “Quod hominis sapientia pietas, id est Dei cultus”—“Piety, that is, the reverence of God, is wisdom for humans”), this view dominated in Europe until the Renaissance, despite Aquinas’ admission of a metaphysical wisdom through human efforts to accompany the divine gift of wisdom through piety. Until the Enlightenment, that is, until wisdom became of marginal interest for philosophy, wisdom and the divine had a four thousand year shared history. The connection is inescapable, although not necessarily exclusive: there is a history of separate existence of secular wisdom and metaphysical or religious wisdom also. The extent to which empirical psychology can successfully ignore the connection remains to be seen. In this connection, Christianity is only a specific instance: wisdom ultimately depends on one’s understanding of the nature of reality, and we appear to be a long way from a definitive answer to the question whether the universe exists with or without a divine creator. As long as the question remains open, wisdom is not entirely separable from religious explanations. If religion were actually a permanently waning, permanently enfeebled force, this point would be of little importance. But such is not the case, and it might be imprudent for those concerned with wisdom to be unprepared for neo-Pauline challenges, not to mention “the black tide of . . . occultism” such as Freud (Jung, 1963:152) warned against.
1Cor 1:20-25 is a locus classicus for reserving wisdom, in principle, with God, and with a particular religion at that. The hostility toward human efforts unaided by submission to doctrine needs to be noted, but the argument for declaring the human desire for knowledge and understanding futile and even prideful, and that wisdom resides solely with God, goes back to Plato (Phaedrus 278D; Symposium 203E-204C; Apology 23A-B, cited in Rice, 1958:6) and Aristotle’s distinction between sophia as true conception of the first principles of existence and that which follows from them, and a subordinate phronesis as wise deliberation about human affairs, “a truthful rational characteristic concerned with action in the things good for human beings” (NE 1140b20-22). Leisegang (1972:1022) notes that “The later theologians can, with good reason, rediscover their wisdom as gnōsis tōn theiōn (knowledge of the divine) or simply gnōsis theou (knowledge of God) in Plato.”
Perhaps to this day wisdom has not found a solid nonreligious identity. The fact that sophia has found its way into so many English words, while phronesis has no English borrowing (as Flyvbjerg, 2001:3-4, points out) is perhaps an indication of the attitude of our culture, even among intellectuals. Tshiamalenga-Ntumba (Oelmüller 1989:322) remarks that the idea of a wisdom that is divine and out of reach of humans is “completely alien to us Africans”, and Arlin (1990) points out that wisdom is also and importantly the art of finding problems as well as of finding answers.
As a metaphor, to see wisdom as a gift, an intuition, can not be objectionable. Where does any breakthrough insight into a difficult problem come from? The danger with Paul’s conception was not the metaphor, but the whole thrust of thought that moved everything of value to heaven, leaving human affairs, and wisdom in guiding human affairs, evacuated of importance, or rather disdained. This assertion of the relative unimportance of the actual world is similar to Plato’s abstraction of the realm of Ideas and the notion that thought proceeds objectively, independent of the thinker, which has been called “the most profound mistake in human history” (Richard Gregory, quoted in Labouvie-Vief 1990:61).
A complicating factor is that wisdom cannot be separated from one’s understanding of the nature of existence, and insight counts here. While Stern (1997:264), writes that part of the current interest in phronesis is “its apparent independence with respect to theoretical foundations”, decisions regarding human affairs often tend to be made in accordance with ultimate values.
Wisdom (per Kekes 1983:278) interprets the facts supplied by the basic assumptions “every sane, normal, and mature human being makes”. For example, that I have a body, that other beings exist, that I perceive the world through my senses. Karl Jaspers (1954) wrote of Grenzsituationen, or “ultimate situations,” in a similar way, and to consider them together might be useful. As Jaspers’ translator describes it, “the ultimate situations are the inescapable realities in relation to which alone human life can be made genuinely meaningful. Ultimate situations cannot be changed or surmounted; they can only be acknowledged” (Jaspers 1954:20). Pascual-Leone (2000:247) considers these “limit situations” (as he translates the term) as overwhelming, unavoidable, apparently irresolvable life events or circumstances. Confronting these with awareness and resolve can lead to “remarkable growth in the self. . . . the natural mergence of a transcendental self, if they do not destroy the person first.” Kekes is talking about our existential condition, which is more inclusive than the Grenzsituationen, and often experienced unconsciously and simply as Reality, although a person could stop and think, for example, “How amazing that anything exists. . .” or “I really am going to die,” and go from there to draw the conclusions that eventuate in wisdom. The reason for considering basic assumptions and Grenzsituationen together is that both are universally experienced, and both can be used for developing wisdom. And through focus on such ultimate basic experience wisdom may be seen as independent from supernatural infusion, while at the same time no claim is set forth that a breakthrough, in Zen Buddhist terms kensho, “seeing the nature”, has completely naturalistic provenance. Wisdom comes from honest conscious encounter with the basic assumptions or limit situations, not from focusing on divine intervention with all the doctrine and commitment to an entire worldview involved. (See the discussion of Augustine in Rice, 1958:4-13, in regard to wisdom’s necessary link to divine intervention; and Maercker, Böhmig, & Staudinger, 1998, for more discussion of Grenzsituationen in relation to wisdom.)
Everybody, Kekes says, has descriptive knowledge of these commonplaces, but not everybody has interpretive knowledge of their significance. For that, knowledge of priorities and depth is needed. Yet wisdom cannot simply be an understanding of the significance of the basic assumptions: it must include a vision of the possibilities, and in a later work, Kekes (1995:106-112) discusses this under the rubric moral imagination. In their account, Lehrer & Smith (1996) do not say that the wise person understands the significance of events, but rather E understands what is worth believing, what has value. McKee & Barber (1999), propose a definition of wisdom as “seeing through illusions”. This echoes the words of the philosopher Pierre Hadot, as quoted by Achenbaum (2004:301): “Wisdom is nothing more than the vision of things as they are, the vision of the cosmos as it is in the light of reason.” A thread that binds all different kinds of wisdom together (guidance of human affairs, and divine, for example), and the key but unexpressed element in definitions such as Birren & Fisher’s (1990), Taranto’s (1989), and Sternberg’s (1990), is the ability to see through illusion. Judgment is considered a central aspect of wisdom and, McKee & Barber point out, it is a form of seeing through illusion.
It is in regard to questions of meaning that modern empiric science has been most disappointing. The disappointment does not come from its failure to provide what it was not meant to provide, but in its claims that meaning is an illegitimate subject for concern. For example, Mauritz Schlick (1932) wrote that “The definition of the circumstances under which a statement is true is perfectly equivalent to the definition of its meaning.” Statements regarding metaphysics are held to be meaningless under this principle and thus not a matter of philosophical discussion. “Also the traditional philosophy is indeed meaningless, and the only role of philosophy is the clarification of the meaning of statements” (Murzi 2001).
The question “Why is there anything rather than nothing?” expressing an inevitable curiosity, is entirely different from the question “Why do we exist?” expressing an assumption that there is a particular purpose, a position which nowadays, as we review the history of such assertions, is considered to lack epistemological justification. Yet if the first question is a legitimate one to ask, it brings with it other questions about the significance of there being anything rather than nothing. It has been dissatisfaction with the nihilistic implications of meaninglessness in scientistic empiricism that has contributed to the late appearance of wisdom as a possible solution for many of the modern ills caused by poor priorities in public policy and morality, for which empiricism is often held in part responsible.
Psychologists have, in the main, ignored the divine, religious aspect of wisdom, and it is hard to see empirical science doing otherwise. Recent interest in spirituality and positive psychology has helped open a way to such concerns. All three share an interest in well-being, and Baltes and Staudinger at least have been important contributors to positive psychology. Staudinger was co-editor of one of the earliest booklength presentations of positive psychology (Aspinwall & Staudinger 2003), and Baltes & Staudinger (2000) contributed to the issue of American Psychologist that introduced positive psychology, for example.
In the first presentation of their model of wisdom (Smith, Dixon, & Baltes 1989:311), the MPI group skirted the metaphysical-practical wisdom issue, writing that “Overall, we view wisdom as a cognitive expertise. . . . Of course, wisdom could also be studied from a philosophical, moral, or religious domain. Our focus is on wisdom-related knowledge in the domain of fundamental life pragmatics.” These pragmatics concern life management, life planning, and life review. They do not have anything to do with a larger life-orientation involving the meaning of life, although by 1990 Baltes & Smith (p. 87) wrote of the fundamental pragmatics of life as involving knowledge and judgment (cf. the statement from Conley, 2003:784 in the New Catholic Encyclopedia, that wisdom “may be given speculative or practical emphasis or even special religious value, but it always implies a type of knowing and usually a capacity to judge.”) The fundamental pragmatics of life includes “knowledge about important matters of life, their interpretation and management” (Baltes & Smith 1990:96). Again they avoid any mention of religion, but of course given humanity’s history regarding the interpretation of the important matters of life, religion is not far in the background.
In considering this dilemma for wisdom studies, I do not have a solution to offer. The point I am suggesting is that there can be no serious treatment of wisdom that does not engage religious concerns. It seems to me this can be done at a level that does not get involved in disputes such as sociobiology or religious dogmatism, perhaps at a meta level of specifying processes by which questions are taken up. Paul’s challenge, and claims that humans can only reach wisdom through God, are, given the current level of the species’ moral, cognitive, and religious development, irrefutable. A long-term solution may depend on attainment by large numbers of people of the higher stages of Kohlberg’s (1981) moral development or Fowler’s (1995) stages of faith.
Not all questions, not even those calling for wisdom, require that one resolve existential questions prior to attempting their resolution. Yet, if wisdom is to deal with important and difficult matters of life, including its meaning, it must be able to approach such matters through an understanding of the human need for meaning and human propensities to belief, and be able to discuss from a position of sympathetic experience such profound convictions as Paul puts forth so bluntly. Wisdom researchers have not dismissed religious concerns, as empiric, positivistic science has done with such superficial success. Yet they have not yet, except perhaps for Jung, unfolded the entire map.
A look at the eleven theories, or views of wisdom, outlined in Part 2D of this dissertation, shows that none are inimical to an integration including religious perspectives. Achenbaum and Orwoll’s (1991) model was developed from an analysis of the Book of Job. Kramer’s organicist model is holistic and integrative, and it includes “spiritual introspection” as one of the five functions of wisdom. Spiritual introspection does not seem to equal “Christ: the power of God and the wisdom of God” however, or even “concern with primary causes” (Aristotle, Metaphysics I.1). Sternberg (1998:354) is a bit more cautious—the balance of extrapersonal interests includes such things as “one’s city or country or environment or even God”; and Kohut seems to have a more worldly interest in the dynamics of the psyche (I may be mistaken). But a broad range of approaches, religious and atheistic, is preferable. While Ardelt’s model defines wisdom as composed of cognitive, affective, and reflective dimensions, she has a noticeably spiritual approach, writing for example that “the quest for wisdom-related knowledge is spiritual” (2001a:777) and occasionally citing Jesus or Buddha as examples. Pascual-Leone (2000) writes of wisdom in relation to transcendental meditation and Vedic teaching, attempting to provide the attentional mechanism by which development of post-formal thinking can lead to “higher stages of consciousness—spiritual enlightenment, wisdom, graceful life and aging” (p. 241).
In one of his most recent writings, Baltes (2004) makes a sympathetic attempt to integrate religion-based and secular wisdom. He notes that modern views consider religion predominantly “outcomes of human rather than divine activity” (p. 131), and at the same time, they recognize that there are forms of legitimate knowledge beyond positivism. Baltes (2004:132) calls for a transdisciplinary approach to wisdom in the recognition that “in our search for the meaning and conduct of life, we humans drink from many fountains, and some are more scientific than others.” What one means by “science” can be debated, but the point is acceptable.
While empirical scientists have approached the study of spirituality and religiousness with an open attitude, wisdom and religion have a special relationship such that wisdom has been entirely co-opted by religion for long periods: in the first fifteen hundred years of the Christian era in Europe, for example.
Religion can entirely subsume wisdom; wisdom cannot completely separate itself from religion or questions of ultimate meaning, so long as what is wise is connected with judgments regarding what is best for men and women. As long as a recrudescence of religious fervor cannot be declared impossible, and as long as people have a tendency to odium religiosum, it would seem that those with an interest in maintaining wisdom’s independence from dogmatic religion need to be prepared to meet challenges such as Paul’s.
More generally, the relation of wisdom to existential questions would seem to be an issue that requires clarifying, if not resolving. Research into understanding “first principles” has not been mentioned by psychological researchers. Those philosophers and theologians who proposed this possibility, calling it wisdom, did so perhaps because their own understanding of the cosmos was that it is far more limited than we now know it. Yet this understanding of wisdom held for a long time, at least for two thousand years from Plato to Descartes’ Principles of Philosophy, in the French edition Preface to which he wrote
by wisdom is to be understood not merely prudence in the management of affairs, but a perfect knowledge of all that man can know, as well for the conduct of his life as for the preservation of his health and the discovery of all the arts, and that knowledge to subserve these ends must necessarily be deduced from first causes.

C. Possible gender differences in understanding of wisdom

While the MPI group has made studies of the influence of age, profession, and intelligence-personality on wisdom, they have not performed any studies of gender differences. If in fact the MPI group has found no gender differences regarding wisdom, this finding has not been stated fully, and their research has not provided a conclusive answer to the question of gender differences regarding levels or quality of wisdom, and the MPI group has not taken up the question of possible differences between genders regarding what wisdom is. As has been stated many times, and never contradicted, wisdom is a matter of interpretation. It is not something whose identity can be fixed with the certainty of physical phenomena. What is wise at one time, in one society, in one situation, from one point of view, may be considered less wise in different times, societies, situations, perspectives. It cannot be an a priori conclusion that there are no gender differences regarding wisdom, either in its definition or its attainment.
Pasupathi, Staudinger, & Baltes (2001:353) state that “There are no gender differences in wisdom-related knowledge and judgment among adults (Baltes et al., 1992; Baltes & Staudinger, 2000).” The first article referred to, Baltes, Smith, & Staudinger is a 45 page article, so a more specific reference would have been helpfu (also the book I found carries a 1991 copyright). Gender differences are mentioned as a topic of lifespan developmental theory on Baltes et al. (1992 [1991]:127). Discussing the research of the MPI group which, the Baltes et al. state (p. 137), “is still in its infancy”, the main results are said to be a) findings of few “truly ‘wise’ responses”, b) that old people perform at levels comparable to younger people, and c) that age when combined with facilitative life experiences, seems to result in higher level performance. However, there is no mention of gender in this section, nor in the rest of the article. Even if research to that date had found no gender differences, the fact that the authors at that time considered that their research was “in its infancy” recommends against closing the books on this question and against considering any of the findings conclusive. Baltes & Staudinger (2000:127-131) summarize “some of the main findings” of the MPI group. Gender is not mentioned in this section, nor does it seem to be mentioned anywhere in the article.
Kunzmann & Baltes (2003a:1110, 1113,1114) found that their results remained “basically unchanged” in all areas after controlling for gender, but this is not a finding that there are no gender differences regarding wisdom.
The concern with gender differences regarding wisdom is in part a question of different levels of wisdom, but it is more about possible different understandings of what wisdom is. Thus, whether men and women perform equally on the MPI group’s tasks is not the main issue, but whether wisdom means the same thing to men and women. The MPI group is largely composed of female psychologists, but that fact does not settle the question either.
Almost without exception, researchers have found no significant gender differences in regard to assessed wisdom, but there are some indications that women and men have different ideas about what wisdom is. An even more weighty reason for opening this question is recognition of the fact that for over four thousand years, until the twentieth century, female writers on wisdom are not to be found. Among the current generation of researchers, both psychological and philosophical, women form a sizable perhaps preponderant portion, and it is unlikely that wisdom is of no interest to women. The fact that the classic models have without exception been set forth by males, and comments on them have been without exception by males, is prima facie evidence that female ideas of wisdom deserve to be carefully sought out. Maybe there is no difference between wisdom as understood by males and females generically. At this time I do not know, nor does anybody else.

D. The study of exemplars

A few years before the empirical study of wisdom began, Abraham Maslow, in The Farther Reaches of Human Nature (1971:9) wrote:
It has been my experience through a long line of exploratory investigations going back to the thirties that the healthiest people (or the most creative, or the strongest, or the wisest, or the saintliest) can be used as biological assays, or perhaps I could say, as advanced scouts, or more sensitive perceivers, to tell us less sensitive ones what it is that we value.

Orwoll & Perlmutter (1990:165-167) discuss research methods for wisdom, proposing a method for studying personality and cognitive components of wisdom together. “The main premise of this approach is that wisdom can be better understood by the intensive study of people believed to be wise” (p. 165). Collins (1962:131-133) recommends using ordinary language analysis and phenomenological description for investigating the traits of wise persons, and the relation between aspects of wisdom and plenary, unqualified forms of wisdom such as moral or metaphysical wisdom, seeking perhaps to identify the common core. Or recall Aristotle’s advice: “To grasp what practical wisdom is we should first study the sort of people we call practically wise” (NE 1140a25). This approach has not been followed by empirical research to date. Levitt’s (1999) study of monastic Buddhist students using grounded theory, and Montgomery, Barber, & McKee’s (2002) phenomenological study of six older adults with a background that “Baltes and Staudinger [1993] found to be ‘wisdom facilitative’” come closest to the study of people who are actually wise.
The research to date has focused on randomly-chosen people’s ideas of wisdom, and not a single study has been done of wise people. Since wisdom is generally agreed to refer to a very high level of cognitive, reflective, and affective functioning, to take the descriptions of even well educated average people as decisive is bound to provide a very limited picture, like using an average person’s description of genius.
The study by Paulhus et al. (2002), “Use of Exemplar Surveys to Reveal Implicit Types of Intelligence” presents an example of researchers stumbling over the more valuable, unasked question in order to repeat a limited, but orthodox approach. A list of 50 exemplars of intelligence were presented to one group of 10 judges to rate them on their fame, problem-solving ability, verbal ability, and social competence. Another set of 10 judges rated five kinds of exemplary intelligence (scientific, artistic, entrepreneurial, communicator, moral) for each of the 50. The statistical methods used to analyze the data are sophisticated and impressive. But the entire project is of dubious value. The researchers should have been talking with the exemplars.
J. Allen Boone (1976) tells of taking care of the German shepherd filmstar Strongheart and realizing that Strongheart was more intelligent than he had assumed dogs could be, and communicating in a way Boone was unable to decipher. The perplexed dog-sitter visited a person he knew to have a special understanding of nonhuman animals (Mohave Dan), and asked him how he could learn what the dog was trying get across. When Boone finished talking, they sat in silence a long time, until the other finally responded, “I’m trying to figure out why you’re talking to me. If you want to understand the dog, you have to talk with him.”
If we want to understand wise people, we have to talk with them.
The particular value of studying exemplars carefully is that they can show us the way to wisdom. Exemplars of intelligence cannot show us the way to intelligence (at least not “fluid intelligence”, although some things can be learned from them), but wisdom is a perspective, and a method of processing experience, that can be learned, even if not mastered, by all. Wisdom is to a large extent acquired deliberately and through reflection, and so people who are wise can be expected to be capable of articulating the nature of their wisdom. Furthermore, wisdom is much more associated with living a good life, whereas intelligence has little relation to a good life (Sternberg 2003:160-163). We would not want to know the results of their wisdom so much as to understand the process by which they arrive at the results.
Study of exemplars need not be restricted to individuals who are physically present. For some purposes, such as general theoretical work, and the investigation of wisdom in public affairs, documentary evidence might be preferable. Between 1952 and 1965, the American television network NBC broadcast a program of interviews with distinguished people, titled Wisdom from 1957 to 1965, and before that, Conversations with Elder Wise Men or Conversations with Distinguished Persons (Wisdom Collection 2005). If still extant, these films may provide a valuable resource for the study of wisdom.
Orwoll & Perlmutter (1990:167) distinguish a “personalogical approach” from the “exemplar approach,” and refer to several examples of this method “in which individual lives form the basic unit of investigation.” Clinical assessments, psychobiography, personal narrative, and personal documents have been utilized in such studies, which can also compare idiographic data with nomothetic principles. Theygive references for other areas that have used this approach, such as creativity, and studies of people with exception psychological adjustment or ego development. They make suggestions for the undertaking of such studies, and consider some potential difficulties (1990:166-167). How are exemplars to be nominated? The fact that considerable consensus regarding people’s concept of wisdom has been found lends support to the idea that trustworthy nominators can be found, and the use of multiple nominators would provide further trustworthiness to the nominations. Results of the study of the nominees could be compared with results of prior research and philosophical concepts. Nominees could perhaps suggest others whom they considered to be wise: the “seven sages method” of nomination. (Recall that the tripod inscribed “To the wisest”, found by the Milesians, was first presented to Thales, who declined and recommended Bias, who demurred and recommended. . .)
Such an approach offers at least one major advantage over construct formation based on the notions of wisdom that people from the general population have. That is, you are examining the thing itself, not the idea that someone, who probably has not given the matter much thought, has of the thing. As Orwoll & Perlmutter write (1990:174) “to really know what wise people are like, it is important to actually study them.” Mohave Dan couldn’t have said it better.
In Some Do Care: Contemporary Lives of Moral Commitment, Anne Colby and William Damon (1992) describe the criteria they developed for selecting moral exemplars, and an interview method of “assisted autobiography” for their case studies. They cite Alasdair MacIntyre’s (1980) After Virtue in describing this, though without page reference. After a brief, four sentence introduction, interviewees were asked to respond freely to fourteen questions, with followup questions and comments from the interviewer being made as necessary. They also provide their rationale for this approach (pp. 321-2).
In discussing three ways to measure practical intelligence, Wagner (1986:373), describes using an expert-group to provide standards. Perhaps if a hundred people were identified with a fairly unanimous consensus as being wise, these people could express their ideas about what wisdom is. This approach has not been tried, as far as I know. As wisdom is so uncommon, the expert-group for providing standards would be a select one. It might be well to identify, say one hundred, or five hundred, possible instances, perhaps historical, and then seek the themes they share, or particularly striking or particularly rare characteristics.
Perhaps some of the tests, such as Wink & Helson’s (1997) Practical Wisdom Scale, Ardelt’s (2003) Three-Dimensional Wisdom Scale, and others, might be useful tools for identifying candidates for further study. The MPI’s response-to-difficult-hypothetical-situations measure requires rating that is too expensive and time-consuming to be used for large numbers of people, at present. Perhaps there are ways for such questions and discussion of them to be introduced into school and other settings.
The “implicit theories approach” can also be used for the study of explicit theories. The ideas of philosophers and others who have given careful thought to wisdom can be canvassed with the same care that the opinions of average people are, and to a certain extent in the same way. Explicit philosophic theories to be gleaned for their usefulness to empiric research. Flyvbjerg’s (2001:66) recommendation of case study, which “may be useful in the preliminary stages of an investigation since it provides hypotheses which may be tested systematically with a larger number of cases”, can be added in support of the proposed study of exemplars.
In writing about the study of common opinions of wisdom, Yang (2001:664) says that “Understanding how conceptions of wisdom are expressed through daily communication and social interactions may constitute the key to understanding the concept of wisdom.” She seems to mean that the understanding of average people’s conceptions are the key, but if so, the proposition is debatable: why should average people’s expressions of wisdom be of key value, compared with the conceptions of wisdom expressed by wise people? Understanding wisdom through investigating its manifestation in daily behavior is a different thing, but still the key might be to study wisdom as it is manifested by wise people rather than as it is manifested by the rest of us.
One of the psychologist theorists of wisdom, Erik Erikson, devoted much time to the study of eminent people. Yet none of those he studied completely embodied complete maturity as he defined it, as Hoare (2002:197) notes. While Erikson held St. Francis, Charles Darwin, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln in higher regard than the others he studied, Hoare writes that “he had studied not one of those men’s adult lives in depth”, and if he had, he would have found flaws equal to those found in Gandhi, Luther, and Freud.

In short, Maslow (1971), and Orwoll & Perlmutter (1990) have both expressed the view that we have to study wise people themselves if we want to understand their wisdom. To date there have been no studies of exemplars. Orwoll & Perlmutter (1990) have given some guidance for carrying out such study, and Colby & Damon’s (1992) study of exemplars of moral commitment includes the method they used for selecting exemplars and conducting case studies through “assisted autobiographies”, to allow the people being studied to articulate their own perspective and experiences.

E. Summary

About a decade and a-half after the first empirical research on wisdom, Robert J. Sternberg (1990:ix) expressed the opinion that research on wisdom had progressed to the second of the four overlapping periods through which fields of knowledge characteristically pass. That is, the period of early energetic development with an abundance of proposed paradigms. In the third period, one or a few paradigms have become dominant and research is undertaken to extend these. Another decade and a-half has passed since these words of Sternberg’s, and while empirical research into wisdom is on the increase, we seem as far from the third stage now as in 1990. There is still no consensus on a definition, though much useful investigation into and discussion of the elements of a definition has gone on. More assessment measures of wisdom have been developed (Wink & Helson, 1997; Ardelt, 2003; Webster, 2003) to test new explicit theories. In 1990, there was only one explicit theory that had been tested. New approaches have been put forth, such as Oser, Schenker, & Spychiger (1999).
There is still little transdisciplinarity in the study of wisdom and even little utilization of insights from disciplines outside the researcher’s discipline. In the articles in the recently published Handbook of Wisdom (Sternberg, 2005), there is little from philosophy or religious studies that has been integrated into the psychological approaches.
Studies of common opinions about wisdom still comprise a major element in the research, almost half the studies published since 2000.
All of the approaches that have been taken can be strongly criticized. Several of them are considered promising, and require further research for validation and improvement. The fact that empirical science has taken an interest in wisdom at all, and has found ways to study it, gives hope for an eventual positive resolution to the current quandary regarding meaning in life, and values in a postmodern, pluralistic global society—and hope for improved quality of life for the new phenomenon of large numbers of physically, mentally, and financially healthy old people.

7 Conclusion

Following Nicholas Maxwell’s call for academic inquiry to seek that which provides “the best hope of helping us progressively to resolve our most urgent problems of living” (1984:2), the purpose of this dissertation is to help our species become truly Homo sapiens, the human who is wise. Now that the research questions have been raised and the data presented and discussed, in this concluding section I will summarize the results and discuss the meaning of this study and of the research on wisdom it has examined for the eventual achievement of a wiser world.

Regarding the first question, What has the psychological study of the past twenty-five years learned about wisdom and its ontogenesis?
Perhaps the most important contribution to date has been to find a way to begin the empirical study of wisdom, reintroducing wisdom into the world of contemporary scholarship. Wisdom has been operationalized in several different ways. It appears that wisdom is a unique construct, related to but distinct from cognitive or social intelligence or any other personality trait.
While much of the research has been directed at defining wisdom, the question has not been resolved. A number of testable theories of wisdom have been proposed.
That wisdom is an area in which older people may excel is a valuable finding, as earlier models of aging showed unrelieved physical and mental decline. The finding that wisdom plateaus at around age twenty-five, remaining stable until a person’s eighties, awaits further specification, particularly regarding highest level performance. The ideas of wisdom as an expertise, and as a heuristic by which difficult questions regarding the meaning and conduct of life can be approached, seem rich with possibilities. The heuristic, or metaheuristic, has yet to be promulgated.
The greatest predictive factor for wisdom has been found to be a profession in a field such as clinical psychology or counseling (such as ministerial work).
Positive correlations have been found between wisdom and life satisfaction, or particular personality traits such as openness, social intelligence, moral reasoning.
Researchers have found, but have only begun to realize, that wisdom may be enhanced through consulting with others, or through allowing time for a person to think over a situation.

Regarding the three proposals made as a partial response to the question, How should wisdom be studied:

1. Is an explicit integration of metaphysical/religious and practical wisdom an inescapable necessity for an adequate understanding of wisdom? At this time, none of the studies of common opinions indicate that people associate wisdom with an understanding of first principles or consider that wisdom is a quality restricted to, or to be bestowed by, God. When people think of wisdom, religious associations do not readily occur. The lack of a metaphysical dimension has certainly not hampered the research of the MPI group.
This is the most difficult of the three proposals considered in this dissertation. The current world does not have a comfortable relationship with questions regarding ultimate meaning or priorities. A way to discuss priorities, including metaphysical priorities, remains to be set forth. At some point, ultimately, wisdom is involved with a person’s, or a society’s, deepest beliefs about reality. When interest in wisdom was flourishing, until around the late seventeenth century, there were invariably ontological and epistemological assumptions made that have since become highly questionable. We are not able to use Plato’s, Aristotle’s, or Aquinas’s approach to first principles.
Perhaps the wisdom discussed by the psychologists is a denatured, consumer society type of thing. Or perhaps wisdom needs to be considered at the level it currently is: as responses on Likert-type questionnaires, as demonstration of sensitive, knowledgeable, post-formal operations thinking when confronted with life plannning, life-management and life-review questions. We need to see how the new, empirical approach will develop. This is all the more reason in favor of the answer that is given to proposal number 3 below.

2. Is there need for research into whether wisdom means something different to women than it does to men? The research shows no difference in the levels of wisdom evinced by males or females. This is irrelevant to the question of whether wisdom means something different to women than it does to men. There is some evidence that women do have different notions of what it is to be wise than men do. Considering the almost complete lack of women’s voices regarding wisdom until the twentieth century, and the evidence of gender oppression and attitudes towards women from the dominating group, which may have influenced women’s understanding of their own identity, this question must be considered an essential part of any thorough investigation into wisdom.

3. Is the study of wise persons a necessity for understanding wisdom and for developing a model of wisdom useful for helping people and the choices they make become wiser? The conclusion from this study must be, unequivocally, that as long as there is no investigation of people who are actually considered wise, the study of wisdom will be seriously incomplete. Despite the best empirical studies, without this phenomenological evidence, the study of wisdom will remain abstract.
People who are wise may have found the “metaheuristics” Baltes says that a wisdom model may provide for resolving important and difficult questions about the meaning and conduct of life. They may have learned to take into account factors that the rest of us are not currently aware of. They may have put ultimate questions, or questions about meaning and significance of existence, into a form that is helpful for our pluralistic world as we struggle with important choices and questions of meaning. What does a wise person look like? How I would like to have a model, or several models, to look toward!

Limitations of the study. The present study does not provide a systematic outline of the questions that are involved in a program of scientific research of wisdom. It lacks a clear model by which wisdom might be researched. Such a model might have provided a clearer method through which the questions of wisdom’s scientific study could be framed. Instead, I have raised the general question and considered three reasonable directions for exploration. My future research will be dedicated to helping provide such a systematic outline and clear model, being transdisciplinary. A sort of ad hoc approach to researching wisdom seems valid for now, as we are still at the stage when much of the empiric research is focused on the opinions average people have of wisdom, but eventually a more systematic approach will be needed.
Another limitation of the present study is that it is incomplete. It does not include all the materials outside the field of psychology that are important for defining wisdom and determining how it is best to be studied. Nor does it integrate adequately those sources it does take up. Baltes (2004:10) proposes that “a new stage of scholarship on wisdom has been reached. In this new stage, wisdom will have been lifted from the hands of philosophers, religious scholars, and humanists to a new plane of collaboration and
transdisciplinary discourse.” Other than by Baltes himself, I have not found evidence of discourse on that plane. This dissertation proceeds only a short distance in this direction. A more thorough presentation of the philosophic and theologic tradition is necessary if we are to understand what wisdom actually is for humans, and what its possibilities are. This will require the recovery of that tradition. Many of the key works dealing with wisdom, such as Pierre Charron’s De la Sagesse (1601) have not been translated into English for centuries, or have never been translated. This historical investigation will also add to our understanding of what has been considered the ultimate or ideal achievement for humans.
Of course, traditions other than those of the educated male European need to be examined. The future of humanity is global and unified, not separate traditions. This study was limited by its inclusion of only one part of one tradition.

Suggestions for future research. The limitations of this study identified above point to important directions for future research. A history of thought regarding wisdom in the West and more important, globally, is lacking and a project worth undertaking. Translations of long-forgotten texts could be made, and published perhaps in a series modeled after the Paulist Press’s Classics of Western Spirituality. Fortunately, many of these texts are becoming easily accessible through the internet.
Earlier I alluded to Nicholas Smith’s (1998: xx) statement in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy that, “Given its [wisdom’s] disappearance from our discussions, none of the claims by the early Greeks has been sufficiently well scrutinized by philosophers.” And so there is a backlog of at least a twenty-four centuries of thought by some of the preeminent philosophers and religious minds in the West that needs to be carefully and sensitively considered, putting aside religious or philosophic or psychologic ideologies insofar as possible, in order to ask questions such as What were the assumptions? What was the basis of the assertions? And, What intuitions and elusive visions, actually, were these masters, living in times of limited historical perspective and relatively incomplete psychological understanding, attempting to comprehend and describe?
The study of exemplars of wisdom, one of the proposals put forth in this dissertation, is obviously needed and important research to carry out. After many studies of ordinary people responding to Likert-type questioinnaires about wisdom, studies of people who have devoted effort to wisdom is called for: listening to them and examining them.
Ways for research to be transdisciplinary, drawing on insights from philosophy, psychology, and theology/spirituality could be worked out. Such transdisciplinarity is often recommended, but has yet to be implemented.
* * *
Staudinger & Baltes (1994:1147) write that “The least developed domain of work in the field [of wisdom studies] is research and theory on the development of wisdom across the life span.” They mention Erikson and Jung as of critical importance in this regard. Baltes & Staudinger (2000:127) write that “like any expertise, the acquisition and refinement of wisdom involves an extended and intense process of learning, practice, as well as the motivation to strive toward excellence.” To expect that such expertise will result by accident, or as a side-effect of involvement in counseling, therapeutic practice, or human-service work, or through any other constellation of life experience, without the same explicit focus, study and practice as any other expertise, is wishful thinking. It certainly will not be the most effective way to develop wisdom.
Since global conflicts are unabating, it might be advisable for psychologists to “take much more seriously the measurement of wisdom and the formulation of theories and theory-based measures of wisdom” and even attempts at helping people become wise, such as has been done for “guiding people to develop their intelligence” (Sternberg 1998:361). The results of Sternberg’s (2001a) efforts teaching wisdom to middle school children have not yet been published.
Following successful operationalization of wisdom, or wisdom-related performance, in the late 1980s, “the question arose whether it was possible to modify this performance or, more specifically, to increase wisdom-related knowledge and judgment”, Staudinger (2001:1062) writes. As of that writing, she is aware of three such studies: one is an experiment in raising the level of reflective judgment in adolescents, and two studies by the MPI group: Staudinger & Baltes (1996), in which the effects of consultation with another person (either physically present or in thought) on wisdom-related performance were tested, and an unpublished study in which highly dogmatic older individuals were able to improve performance on the Berlin wisdom paradigm criterion Value relativism by thinking about life problems from the perspective of different regions of the world. Sternberg’s project of teaching wisdom had not been announced at that time.
Sternberg (2001a:232) expresses his belief that it is necessary to study and measure wisdom, and that “In measuring wisdom, we need to focus on the processes of thinking—the extent to which they take into account the common good, balancing of responses to the environment, balancing of long- and short-term interests of self, others, and institutions.” The processes, he writes, are similar to the “metacomponents” of thought (Sternberg 1997, 1999). He writes (2001a:236, and see 2003a:396) that he and his colleagues have devised and are testing the validity of 24 problems for measuring the wisdom of a response.
Many researchers have mentioned the possibilities of advances in human development with great enthusiasm. G. Stanley Hall’s faith in the possibilities of “a new and higher and more complete humanity” (1922:427) has been mentioned. Baltes, Smith, & Staudinger (1991:127-8) write that “It is possible. . . that the present-day cultural construction of human aging is akin to that of an underdeveloped, relatively ‘illiterate’ society” and that contemporary developmental scientists may have only a slight idea of what the possibilities for development in old age might be.
There are many visionaries of a new, global spirituality. They include psychologists such as Csikszentmihalyi & Rathunde (1990:131) who write of a new “universal truth” that may be coming forth, suggesting that it may be “a systematic ecological consciousness in which the consequences of events and actions are understood to be causally related and to have long-term effects for the survival of human life and for the environment that sustains it.” In the Larousse Dictionary of Beliefs and Religions, Rosemary Goring (1994:499) states that “it appears that a new spirituality which integrates the material, the humane and the translucent—nature, humans and God—is beginning to emerge in the conditions of our time.” The interest of researchers in moral and spiritual development (e.g., Colby & Damon, 1992; Fowler, 1995; Gilligan, 1982; Kohlberg, 1981) may be indications of such development.
Economist Kenneth Boulding (1965:124) called our time “the second great transition in the history of mankind,” the first being the transition from the Paleolithic era with the development of agriculture and urban civilization. He claimed that the “deliberate investment in the human resource is the main key to the transition from civilized to postcivilized society.” To Lewis Mumford (1956), humanity is currently undertaking its sixth “transformation,” the first being from prehuman to human. Paul H. Ray (2000), in his and Sherry Anderson’s demographic studies of the surprisingly large numbers of “cultural creatives”, people committed to bringing about a healthy planet, refers to a possible “wisdom culture” coming into existence.
In light of the research it might be concluded that integration of practical and transcendent wisdom is desirable but not necessary, at least not a pressing concern. The lack of the research findings that point to a connection between divine or metaphysical wisdom and practical wisdom should not be misleading. The renascent interest in wisdom is not separate from the spiritual reformation said to be occurring; and until the modern loss of interest in wisdom, a religious, spiritual, or metaphysical view of wisdom was very much present in the discussion of this “ultimate possible achievement” (Pascual-Leone 1990:245).
The construct of practical wisdom, such as that studied by the MPI group, is able to maintain a secular independence from spirituality. Wisdom might allow a way to avoid clashes of dogma among different religions, a way of working toward optimal choices that recognizes the validity of transcendent interests (either from conviction or from awareness of the role such interests have in the lives of many people and their salubrious influence) without having to take sides, or introduce a new spiritual-religious statement for our time. Such a new statement may come, and it may be that it will spread quickly and relatively peacefully, among “cultural creatives” and their fellow travelers. Wisdom will of course still be needed, and while I have discussed the possibility of religion co-opting wisdom entirely as in the formulations of Sts. Paul and Augustine, and the need for establishing wisdom’s autonomy, in fact a secular wisdom has always existed and it would be most difficult for religion to subsume wisdom in toto. It is not mainly as a defense against Pauline kidnapping that wisdom needs to find its place in a philosophy of existence but because, without it, we are back to “the liberal idea of rights, dispensing with any definition of the common good. . .” (Dupré 1993:701) or any basis for claims of good; and value relativism becomes inescapable. There must be something between relying on supernatural commandments for morality and everybody doing his or her own thing. Here is where MacIntyre, Aristotle, and the telos of eudaimonia or flourishing reappear. The spirituality, or wisdom, resulting is one that a person chooses rationally, with reiterated, dialectical correction from the unconscious.
Or perhaps not. Possibly wisdom could succeed without any seal of approval from God, or natural law, or harmonious agreement with the unus mundus. It might thrive simply as an ongoing discussion regarding what is the best thing to do, or the wise thing. Instead of a solid anchoring in the Absolute, a floating buoy on the ever-restless sea of human perspectives. That is, a person, or a community, recognizes “wisdom” as a placeholder for “the best possible choice”, whatever that may be. And the person or group looks to that standard, believing that there is no higher. Particular decisions made according to it will certainly change with time. After all, we have formed rough consensus agreement that Homo sapiens is still immature mentally and spiritually, still prone to dreadful error and evil. Perhaps we always will be so prone, but right now we certainly are. Furthermore there are strong disagreements about basic values and religious truths that easily lead to odium religiosum, horror tales of which history regales us in plenty. We recognize there is a strong tendency toward these hatreds, and toward abuses of power, and build in checks against them. . . One can see how this might be developed.
Goring’s (1994) “new spirituality” will of necessity have particular content that will eventually become outmoded and need to be replaced by a newer spirituality, whereas by going to “the best possible choice” right from the beginning, recognizing that our understanding of what this is will change in different places and times, we have a standard by which to negotiate all differences, for example disagreements between Paul and the Jews and Greeks.
Originally, in Shuruppak’s time, wisdom appears to have been a straightforward pattern for successful coping in a relatively static agricultural society. It became identified with God or the way of nature. For the Greeks it was linked with the Good, and parsed into a) knowledge of first principles and what follows from them, and b) the best decision possible. Soon thereafter it was made an icon of perfection, and then by the Christians taken away from proud humans and given to God (personified in Christ) and sapientia turned into pietas. Fifteen hundred years later, it struggled to free itself as purely moral judgment and before you know it, the Enlightenment made it disappear.[3] The scientistic, rational grip of the Enlightenment soon weakened, and wisdom is reborn into an empirical household where it now passes its tender years. Now it has the opportunity to avoid the errors of its past. . . not that they were mistakes in their time, mind you, but there was a lack of historical awareness, a naivete that mistook truth-in-context for ultimate-truth. But now:
Recently, psychologists have explored the so-called higher cognitive functions: problem-solving, problem-finding, planning, reflecting, creativity, deeper understanding. And they have also called attention to the emerging capacity to think about one’s own mind—to reflect on one’s own memory (metamnemonic capacities), one’s own thinking (metacognitive capacities), and even one’s own representations (metarepresentational capacities). ¶ Thinking explicitly about one’s own mind, about one’s own thinking, may be a relatively new phenomenon, except among philosophers. (Gardner 1999:74)

(And I’m not too sure that many philosophers grasped this ability for reflecting on and relativizing the productions of their own mind.) A rather new metacognitive ability on the part of humans enables wisdom to step forth as an ideal standard without leading to belief in a separate realm of ideal reality independent of the thinker. We don’t need to fall for that one again. Wisdom can float as a cipher for “the best possible choice” in explicit recognition that what is best for you is not necessarily best for me, and what our society thinks of as best may not be best for another society, and it is more or less guaranteed that it will not always be best for our society. “The flower faded and the grass withered, but the word of the Lord remains forever” (Isaiah 40:8). But remains as metalogos.

To return to the abovementioned enthusiastic visions of human possibilities. Baltes, Smith, & Staudinger (1991:128) write that “what we, as today’s scientists, observe as ‘the’ nature of aging may be but a weak image of what could be true for old age if societal conditions were different.” The same writers (Staudinger, Smith, & Baltes 1992:280) suggest that using life review scenarios may be a way for helping people develop knowledge about life and “acquisition of wisdom-related knowledge about others and oneself.”
Members of the MPI group have also repeatedly stressed that contemporary society does not offer optimal opportunities for full development of older people. Smith, Staudinger, & Baltes (1994:991), for example, write that “at least in contemporary western societies, a cultural setting that supports and accepts optimal functioning in old age has yet to evolve.” Staudinger (1999:642) observes that, although in the studies of the MPI group wisdom has not been found to increase after around the age of twenty-five, “it may still be possible that under certain conditions higher age not only contributes to the attainment of wisdom but is also necessary for it.”
From the early days of their wisdom research (e.g., Baltes & Smith 1990), the MPI group has speculated on the conditions facilitative of wisdom development. Certain professions, certain life experiences, might be particularly facilitative, but only if they are reflected on and kept in memory. Mentors may be of great importance, a different group of researchers, Montgomery, Barber, & McKee (2002), propose.
Staudinger & Baltes (1996) point out that their paradigm of wisdom “offers entirely concrete, operationalizable criteria, that permit the planning and evaluation of interventions that are directed toward the development of competence in general life situations” (auf den Ausbau allgemeiner Lebensgestaltungskompetenzen gerichtet sind). This is of lasting importance. Some researchers (Lyster, as reported in Kramer, 2000; or Helson & Srivastava, 2002) have taken up the MPI group’s method for assessing wisdom, asking participants to respond to hypothetical difficult situations. Such assessment is much more time-consuming and expensive to score than a questionnaire such as Ardelt’s (2003) 3D-WS which has 39 statements to respond to on a five-point strongly agree/strongly disagree scale. Both measures have some advantages and some limitations. It is the operationalizing in itself that may be most important, as if empiric researchers have at last gotten a grip on wisdom, however feeble, and can search for ways now to measure it better. We have a way to make wisdom visible to empirical science.
Wisdom is famous for being difficult of attainment. Spinoza’s conclusion to the Ethics, that the road to wisdom is very hard, “But all things excellent are as difficult as they are rare” is a check to too light-hearted optimism regarding efforts to cultivate wisdom in the general populace. I do not see a preferable alternative. In a democratic age, the challenge to the citizen is to rule hirself capably and to take responsibility for the government of the community. We have waited a long time for wisdom to return. It has a still-tenuous existence, and one hovers anxiously around to try to assist its survival. But it always seems to turn out that larger forces are in play in such instances: when the time is right, the teacher appears. The learning of wisdom seems an almost superhuman attainment, as the learning of language or of walking upright might have seemed to our ancestors if they were capable of visualizing that step. Can Homo sapiens become wise?
Staudinger (1989:164) describes a simple program for the development of wisdom, beginning with the acquisition of knowledge of the “fundamental life pragmatics” and reflecting on them. One learns about the difficult and basic life situations, the behavior patterns of others and what happens in interrelations. A person meanwhile is learning about hirself: strengths and weaknesses, motivations and emotions, and “finally, he/she may be able to abstract knowledge about social rules and the make-up of society surrounding him/her.” Progress is not likely to be quite so linear, and the curriculum can be laid out in more detail, but this is a reasonable starting point. In this work Staudinger writes of the value of life review for learning about fundamental life pragmatics.
Staudinger, Smith, & Baltes (1992:280) conclude their report of a test of a life-review task for measuring wisdom-related knowledge with the suggestion that it might be possible to use life review scenarios for helping people develop wisdom-related knowledge, and that such an approach might also help clarify the relation between personality development and wisdom-related knowledge. Finding a how to cultivate wisdom will not be nearly as difficult as finding a why, finding and nurturing the motivation. Hall (1922) pointed out the almost epochal new opportunities for a higher level of existing that have become available with increased lifespan. The technological aids, the knowledge explosion, the possibility of increased leisure too, all add to possibilities for continued psychosocial development toward wisdom. But the path is hard, and to traverse it requires will, dedication, motivation. Fortunately the path can be trod a step at a time. This is not a commitment for a single lifetime!
Baltes speaks of wisdom as providing “fast and frugal heuristics” for coming to an optimal decision. Through following a simple model, it would not be correct to say that any fool can act wisely, but it would be correct to say that any fool can act more wisely, and a model can be developed, tested, and improved, by which people can ask the questions regarding, and guide their choices toward, the goal of optimal outcomes. The concept of wisdom helps provide some direction—wise decisions are not matters of personal preference, any more than health or intelligence are. Some restrictions wisdom places upon candidates for optimal choices are
1. They must attempt to answer the question, What is important for humans? Any choice with pretensions to wisdom has this inescapable exigency. Call this, “Falling into the hands of the living God.” Whether or not God is dead, the question, What is most important? remains, and one ignores it at hir peril. A wisdom choice must strive to align with that which is most important.
2. They must take into account the limits of human knowledge, including the limits of possibilities for human knowledge (and the difficulty of communicating extremely advanced insights to average people in a democratic society).
3. They must take into account all aspects of human existence. These can be categorized as physical, mental, social, and spiritual. At least reasons must be provided for slighting any of these.
4. They must take into account the interests of all the beings involved, including future beings. At least reasons must be provided for slighting the interests of those who will be affected.

Such a “Best Possible Choice” model can also be used to supplement decisions made through other methods. Given the circumstances, decisions might be made according to other models; for example, through the influence of single-issue pressure groups or constraining emergencies. In this case, a wisdom model can be used for comparison, as a check on the course that has been chosen.
A wisdom model can be a reminder of the possibilities, of the possibility and desirability of wisdom, and provide a stimulus to making wise choices. Humans have only begun to recognize wisdom’s value and import. Wisdom can be an organizing and directing principle of action. Flavell (1979:907) demonstrates that “it is possible to acquire metacognitive strategies as well as cognitive ones”, and wisdom strategies should in principle be no less acquirable.
Returning to Sternberg’s statement (1990:ix) that scientific work in a field of knowledge goes through four stages, and that empirical research into wisdom is currently in the second, marked by an enthusiastic setting forth of paradigms, the models so far put forth do not by any stretch of the imagination encompass the totality of the concept of wisdom. By finding ways to operationalize wisdom and legitimize its study in academia, psychologists have performed an important service, comparable to the empirical studies of spirituality, wellness, and positive psychology in general. These too are recently initiated. In relation to what could be done, they are a bare beginning. Carl-Friedrich Geyer (1989:55-6) quotes M. Machovec: “So long as high intellect goes down the path of decline, and overshadows wisdom, so also goes the entire civilization down the certain and very unwise path to total self-destruction.” Yang (2001:677) writes that “In the last analysis, individual actualization of conceptions of wisdom in real life, and the positive impact of these wise decisions and actions, may be the vehicle of the advance of human civilizations.” There is something uniquely valuable to be gained from achieving clear understanding of wisdom and taking a wisdom approach to living—especially at this time.


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[1] See Kunzmann & Baltes (2005:118), which appeared after this dissertation was sent to committee.
[2] Sternberg’s seven criteria are 1. Demonstration of attempt to reach a common good, 2. Balancing of intrapersonal, interpersonal, and extrapersonal interests, 3. Taking into account both short- and long-term factors, 4. Justification for adaptation to, shaping of, and selection of environments, 5. Mindful use of values, 6. Overall quality (wisdom) of process of solution, 7. Overall quality (wisdom) of the solution itself.
The Baltes group’s five criteria are 1. Rich factual knowledge, 2. Rich procedural knowledge, 3. Lifespan contextualism, 4. Relativism (“knowledge about differences in individual and cultural goals, values, and priorities”, 5. Uncertainty (“knowledge about the relative indeterminacy and unpredictability of life.”)
[3] Perhaps the strong emphasis on wisdom by Masons, Rosicrucians, and other followers of esoteric/personal transformation paths was responsible in part for the abandonment of wisdom by the new empiric, objective science. This possibility has not been raised, to my knowledge.

Studies listed in all applicable categories
with reports included in all applicable categories

Implicit theories (Common opinions) 16
Longitudinal 4
Measurement 21
Cross-cultural 4
Personality-mental correlates/antecedents 15
Life experience, profession, and wisdom 9
Age differences in wisdom 12
Wisdom and old age 10
Wisdom, deliberation, and consultation 1
Gender 16
Religious/transcendental wisdom 8
Phenomenological 5
Adolescence 5
Wisdom in work organizations 1
Study of people considered to be wise 1

Table 3. Published research studies on wisdom according to all types of approach, with multiple listings if applicable

Kinds of studies
The psychological studies of wisdom to date can be classified into six different types (there are other ways, no doubt). Several of the studies fall into more than one category; this table lists only the main one.

Implicit theories (Common opinions) 15
Wisdom as expertise (Berlin paradigm ) 12
Longitudinal 3
Measurement 3
Cross-cultural 1
Phenomenological 1
Perception of age as influence on
perceived wisdom 1

Table 2. Published research studies on wisdom according to main type of approach.

Number of published research studies on wisdom by decade

Total MPI group
1980s 5 2
1990s 15 7
2000s 17 4

Table 1. Number of studies on wisdom by decade of publication.