Fall 2010 Wisdom Course Class Notes2

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October 11, 2010

Hall, Chapter 6 Moral Reasoning

(One question to ask while thinking about this chapter: Do wise people regulate their emotions and does that make for better moral and non-moral decision-making?)

-Evidence of emotional and automatic cognition in moral responses.

-Background: Marc Hauser and the Trolley Problem (106)

-Joshua Greene, fMRIs of people doing the Trolley Problem. Seems to capture moments of emo/cog conflict. Fits with Damasio's research with lesion patients. Some can't factor in emotion.

So, conclusions? inferences? Might sound good to say that wise people train their emotions, but in relation to what?

Haidt, Emo Dog

This article takes us further into a scientific view that claims that cognition is rarely "causal" in moral decision-making. (The rational tail on the emotional dog.)

-"social intuitionist model" --

-Humean emotivism - "moral sense"

-Kohlberg still a model for rationalist psychology. [1]

-contrast of Intuitive and reasoning systems.

1. Dual Processing - literature on automatic assessment, close to perception, automatic judgement, attitude formation (820), very scary.

2. Motivated Reasoning Problem -- reasoning more like a lawyer and scientist. biases: relatedness -- favors harmony and agreement. coherence -- "the desire to hold attitudes and beliefs that are congruent with existing self-definitional attitudes and beliefs" 821 other biases

3. The Post Hoc Problem -- Nisbett and Wilson 77 - experiments, such as placebo study which solicits post hoc and ad hoc reasoning, split brain patients (Gazzaniga... confabulation)

4. The Action Problem -- weak link bt. moral reasoning and moral action. Mischel marshmallow research 823.

--Theoretical possibilities for theory of wisdom: 1. Can you change responses? 2. In what ways? (again, the problem of criteria)

Hadot, Philosopy as a Way of Life

Opening quote from Philo of Alexandria - mix of stoic thought. wise are joyous.

-thesis: Philosophy was a way of life. Discusses Symposium as model.

-Wisdom sought also because it brings peace of mind (ataraxia) and inner freedom (autarkeia)

-Philosopy as therapeutic.

"Philosophy presented itself as a method for achieving independence andinner freedom {autarkeia), that state in which the ego depends only uponitself. We encounter this theme in Socrates, among the Cynics, in Aristotle for whom only the contemplative life is independent - in Epicurus," among the Stoics." Although their methodologies differ, we find in allphilosophical schools the same awareness of the power of the human self tofree itself from everything which is alien to it, even if, as in the case of theSkeptics, it does so via the mere refusal to make any decision." 266

-Hadot claims there was a big distinction between "discourse" on philosophy and doing philosophy. The task of philosophy was living wisely. Anecdote about the carpenter (267). read par. top of 268, "Does the philosophical life..."

-Ancients sought for integration.

-269: Thesis: "From its very beginnings - that is, from the second century AD on - Christianity had presented itself as a philosophy: the Christian way of life. Indeed, the very fact that Christianity was able to present itself as a philosophy confirms the assertion that philosophy was conceived in antiquity as a way of life. If to do philosophy was to live in conformity with the law of reason, so the argument went, the Christian was a philosopher, since he lived in conformity with the law of the Logos - divine reason. In order to present itself as a philosophy, Christianity was obliged to integrate elements borrowed from ancient philosophy. It had to make the Logos of the gospel according to John coincide withStoic cosmic reason, and subsequently also with the Aristotelian or Platonicintellect. It also had to integrate philosophical spiritual exercises into Christian life. The phenomenon of integration appears very clearly in Clement of Alexandria, and was intensely developed in the monastic movement, where we find the Stoico/Platonic exercises of attention to oneself (prosoche), meditation, examination of conscience, and the training for death. We also re-encounter the high value accorded to peace of mind and impassibility."

-claims this tradition lapse in medieval period. Revived by Ignatius.

Is there a particular type of state of mind that a wise person should seek?

October 13, 2010

Feuerstein Chapter 1 & Some Miller

Some major concepts we'll fill in during lecture:

  • samadhi - the goal of the spiritual practice of yoga; ecstasy, union; a mystical experience of enlightenment
  • Yoga, defined in various ways, also in relation to Vedanta narrative. dualism and monism in yogic thought.
  • 3 periods pre-classical (or Vedanta), classical (Patanjali 2nd cent. CE), and post-classical (ex. Shankara, 8th cent). Important that Patanjali's period represents a dualist approach. Purusa / Prakrati. Spirit / Nature, roughly.
  • Teacher/disciple model.

From Miller, p 6 and following:

  • Yoga found in ancient Indian (Hindu) thought. Meditative figures on coins from 3,000 bc. Rig Veda has image of a yogi who, by achieving physical control through asanas (poses) and physical austerities (fasting, meditation, etc.), achieves access to a "deeper realm" of insights about reality.
  • Note comparison with Buddhism. See Tables below. Yoga older, but co-development interesting.
  • Yoga in Bhagvad Gita: Arjuna, warrior, locked in battle with his own kin. Important conversation with Krishna. (Pre-classical)
  • note p. 11, Axial Age transition from warrior to moral culture. Sage's powers become moral and lead to personal fulfillment and enlightenment.

  • From Feuerstein and Miller you should gather a general picture of the cultural and historical milleu of Yogic thought and practice.

Miller, Yoga: Discipline of Freedom, Introduction

This is an introduction to her edition / translation of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.

"The aim of yoga is to eliminate the control that material nature exerts over the human spirit, to rediscover through introspective practice what the poet T. S. Eliot called the "still point of the turning world." " This is a state of perfect equilibrium and absolute spiritual calm, an interior refuge in the chaos of worldly existence. In the view of Patanjali, yogic practice can break habitual ways of thinking and acting that bind one to the corruptions of everyday life."

In Patanjali:

  • First, there's a process of "unenlightenment" -- Purusa becomes bound to prakrati. Enlightenment is about undoing the this entanglement.

(from Farhi)

Five Kleshas in Patanjali:

  • 1. Avidha: Ignorance of our eternal nature
  • 2. Asmita: Seeing oneself as separate and divided from the rest ofthe world
  • 3. Raga: Attraction and attachment to impermanent things
  • 4. Dvesha: Aversion to the unpleasant
  • 5. Abhinivesha: Clinging to life because we fail to perceive theseamless continuity of consciousness, which cannot be brokenby death (Yoga-Sutra 13)

  • Ashtanga Yoga -- eight fold program (from wikipedia):

Sanskrit English
Yama moral codes
Niyama self-purification and study
Asana posture
Pranayama breath control
Pratyahara sense control
Dharana intention
Dhyana meditation
Samadhi contemplation

Division Eightfold Path factors Acquired factors
Wisdom (Sanskrit: prajñā, Pāli: paññā) 1. Right view 9. Superior right knowledge
2. Right intention 10. Superior right liberation
Ethical conduct (Sanskrit: śīla, Pāli: sīla) 3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
Concentration (Sanskrit and Pāli: samādhi) 6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration

Fahri, The Four Brahmavihara

The Brahmavihara are four attittudes Patanjali recommends developing:

  • 1. Friendliness toward the joyful
  • 2. Compassion for those who are sufferuig
  • 3. Celebrating the good in others
  • 4. Remaining impartial to the faults and imperfections of others(Yoga-Sutra 1.33)
  • Note Fahri's more "social" focus.
  • Follow, in some detail, her discussion of each Brahmavihara. Importance of cultivating empathy
  • Note how this stands philosophical wisdom on it's head.

October 20, 2010

Hall, Chapters 7 & 8: Compassion & Humility


"By compassion is meant not only the willingness to share another person's pain and suffering; in a larger sense, it refers to a transcendent ability to step outside the moat of one's own self-interest to understand the point of view of another; in a still larger sense, it may take this "feeling for" to the level of mind reading, for the theory of mind—one of the most powerfiil implements that evolution placed in the human cognitive tool kit—requires us to understand the way another person's feelings inform his or her intentions and actions." 116
Matthieu Ricard and Richard Davidson studies. (no overarching theory here, but note Davidson on p. 121) Davidson believes in poss of "training" toward increased well being.
Ricard makes the case, on 122, that direct cultivation of compassion could aid in promoting wisdom. follow his view.
general point: importance in this research of thinking of compassion as having a neural substrate.
126: mirror neurons and empathy.


puzzle about humility. can't be a major mark of wisdom, since you could be humble about the fact that you're not wise. [Still, if you can be wise, perhaps you must be humble? or not?]
in religion -- piety and obedience to God. 137
narcissism among CEOs. correlates with white collar crime. inverse of humility. best CEOs blend humility with strong will.

Introduction to Buddhism

  • The Four Noble Truths
1 There is suffering.
2 There is the origination of suffering: suffering comes into existence in dependence on causes.
3 There is the cessation of suffering: all future suffering can be prevented by becoming aware of our ignorance and undoing the effects of it.
4 There is a path to the cessation of suffering.
8 fold path. (see above and in Feuerstein.)

Holder, The Greater Discourse on the Destruction of Craving

The Greater Discourse on the Destruction of Craving starts with the "bad" monk, Sati, who thinks that reincarnation might involve the same consciousness (and so the survival of the self after death). The other bhikkhus rat him out to the Buddha, who calls him out over the issue (in a gentle Buddha way) and goes on to describe both the process of "devolution" by which ignorance leads us to craving (65) and the process of purification that brings about a reversal (66) of the process. Prior to following the eightfold path, our experience (seeing, hearing, etc.) entails an unhealthy attachment. After, we presumably have the same kinds of experiences, but without unhealthy attachment.

Matthieu Ricard, "Alchemy of Suffering" and "The Veils of the Ego"

Just a few points:

  • follow his dicussion of suffering. including the story of woman who begged the Buddha to restore her dead son. the possibility of learning from suffering (so, buddhists are not saying that all suffering is "pointless;" just something we can in fact overcome. 72)
  • Notice the "exercises" in this kinds of writing. Again, endorsing idea of direct training of emotional response. Challenging to some views of the emotions.
  • From "Veils of the Ego" -- the concern in this chapter is with the status of the ego in buddhism. Seems like "annihilation" is the protocol, but Ricard makes some important distinctions here.
  • "The ego, writes Buddhist philosopher Han de Wit, "is also an affective reaction to our field of experience, a mental withdrawl based on fear." Out of fear of the world and of others, out of dread of suffering, out of anxiety about living and dying, we imagine that by hiding inside a bubble — the ego — we will be protected. We create the illusion of being separate from the world, hoping thereby to avert suffering. In fact, what happens is just the opposite, since ego-grasping and self-importance are the best magnets to attract suffering." 82
  • example of how perspective dependent the possessive ego is: Notice in different reactions to breaking of the vase. 84.
  • 86: Ricard reconstructs a challenge to Buddhist line of thought. Aren't egos great? Ricard claims, in response, that a higher level of self-confidence is possible through egoless involvement in the world.
  • "The notion of the person is valid and healthy so long as we consider it simply as con-noting the overall relationship between the consciousness, thebody, and the environment. It becomes inappropriate and un-healthy when we consider it to be an autonomous entity." 91

A General Syllogism for Connecting Wisdom with Cultivation of Dispositional States

1. Wisdom involves seeing and feeling problems from multiple perspectives.

2. The direct cultivation of dispositional states such as mindfulness, compassion, egolessness, humility etc. can improve one's ability to enter affectively into multiple perspectives.

C. The direct cultivation of dispositional states might promote wisdom.

October 25, 2010

Hall Chapter 5 - Decision Making

  • Glimcher -- studies neurology of discounting behavior. Heavy influence of reinforcement learning. Valuation inherently subjective.
  • importance of dopamine cycle -- diminishing returns -- read p. 85
  • "Success breeds habit, failure breeds learning"
  • 87: Interesting point about both the physiology of decision making and the description of valuation as requiring a common scale of comparison.
  • 92: phenomenon of attentional blink -- suggests there can be "overfocus" as well as lack of focus or attention.

Gilbert, Mistaken Expectations

[Students: Someone please post a summary of the Gilbert video here.]

Stanovich and Sternberg


  • Interested in both implicit and explicit theories that bring out the relationship of wisdom, intelligence, and creativity.
  • Behavioral ratings experiment (similar to MDS study in Clayton and Birren) [Interesting details on Philosophy and Business Professors!]
  • 2nd and 3rd experiments confirm closer association of wisdon and intelligence vs. wisdom and creativity.
  • Implications of implicit research, p. 150.
  • Explicit research: discuss matrix at 152. note on automatization. mixing of characteristics of intelligence and creativity in wisdom.
  • Conclusion: read p. 157.


  • Reference to a literature on teaching of wisdom (good topic for further research).
  • notes that IQ tests don't typically track cognitive styles, thinking dispositions, and wisdom. 247
  • distinction between rationality of belief and rationality of action, 248. dictionary def of wisdom seems to include both.
  • Elster's distinction between thin and broad theories of rationality. mere instrumental reasoning is "thin" thin theories don't evaluate emotions much, but the difficulty of broad theories is that they require us to make a normative assessment of our desires.
  • Sternberg's view of rationality is broader still, since he includes balancing of perspectives of self and others. Notes other broad theories of rationality like Hargreaves Heap (!) who critiques instrumental theories as ignoring "expressive rationality" -- making sense of the self.
  • Note conclusion: the logic of teaching for wisdom: If teaching wisdom is about more than promoting intelligence, if it's also about changing thinking dispositions, then you have to justify it in terms of a broader notion of rationality than just intelligence. Normative conceptions of rationality could play a role in such a justification.

October 27, 2010

Stoicism Basics

  • Stoic View of the Self and Virtue -- the "hegemonikon" in us
  • Stoic View of God and Nature -- pantheism and rationality
  • Stoic Psychology
  • Rationality and the goal of tranquility
  • Analysis of suffering as "mismatch" between reality and our desires

Two Problems in Stoicism

Negative Visualization

  • Negative Visualization as a technique in cultivating Stoic Wisdom.
  1. Helps prevent neg outcome
  2. Helps lessen impact of neg event
  3. Forestalls/Reverses hedonic adaptation.
  • Is Negative Visualization a bad idea?
  • Could increase desire for good things and hence disappointment at loss.
  • Could neg. visualization increase pessimism?
  • Projective Visualization - p.79

Stoic Control

  • Dichotomy and Trichotomy of Control
  • Need to account for mixed cases -- some control
  • Need to internalize goals -- goal is playing best game (working) vs. winning (getting a grade, a job). Good advice?
  • Is the Stoic focus on things under our control a counsel of withdrawl?
  • Is the Stoic focus on "wanting what you can get vs. getting what you want" a low standard?

November 1, 2010

Youth, Adversity, and Wisdom (Hall 12)

  • Story of the scientist, Capechhi.
  • Parker (Stanford) research on squirrel monkeys.
  • In theorizing about this, we need to acknowledge, as Hall does, that abnormal stress can also cause psychopathologies.
  • Note competing theory: Maternal support causes resilience. McGill researcher Michael Meaney.

Getting deeper into the "age of onset" question

  • Fredda Blancard-Fields -- on how people of different ages respond to stressful situations. shows that older adults have measureable gains in social knowledge and emotional judgement, increasing problem solving skills. Both she and Carstensen have found evidence of comparatively better performance among older people when it comes to devising strategies for solving problems, precisely because older people tend to process emotion differently. (232)
  • Decay of the brain (230)
  • Background: reminder that Baltes didn't find older were wiser.
  • Need for longitudinal study to see connection bt wisdom and age. Vaillant's secondary research on the Harvard longitudinal study, The Grant Study of Adult Development.
  • Hall tries to push through the Fredian rhetoric of Vaillant's "Adaptation to Life" -- finds older people use "productive tricks" (234) and strategies: "1? Vaillant, echoing Anna Freud, came around to the view that successfully mature adults displayed such emotional strategies as "altruism, humor, suppression, anticipation.and sublimation." (Glosses "sublimation" as "emotional regulation")
  • Ardelt worked with Vaillant on follow studies with this data: "Her preliminary analysis has turned up a strong correlation between those same mature defense mechanisms identified by Vaillant and a more charitable, compassionate pattern of behavior. This other-centeredness was independent of wealth, she found; some well-to-do Harvard men were especially effective in their charitable donations and activities, while others came from more modest backgrounds." 237
  • 238: research on older adults. note that if this hypothesis is correct, then research on college aged students is of limited value in filling in the whole picture.

Ardelt, Wisdom and Satisfaction in Old Age

  • three tiered theory of wisdom: wisdom occurs on cognitive, reflective and affective levels.
  • note bottom of first page. busting out of cog/delib model (from September).
  • "the domain of wisdom-related knowledge is interpretative knowledge, or the rediscovery of the significance of old truths through a deeper and more profound understanding of phenomena and events." 16
  • associates wisdom of old with decentered self - awareness of limitations liberating.
  • working with population from the Berkeley Guidance Study. administered a life satisfaction instrument "satisfaction with different areas of life, satisfaction with one's lot in life, and congruence between desired and achieved goals." 17
  • note how research works - 18
  • results p. 22-- pos. correlation for both men and women, but stronger for men.