Fall 2010 Wisdom Course Class Notes

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Return to Wisdom

September 1, 2010

  • First Class - About 1/2 of the class will be taken up with introductory information and questions.
  • Preliminary Discussion of Wisdom:

Here are a number of claims that you typically hear when the topic of wisdom comes up. In reading them, try to notice if you initially believe the claim or not. Then, in your discussion, consider reasons for believing or being skeptical of these claims.

  • People used to be wiser a long long time ago.
  • Wisdom is a special kind of knowledge.
  • Wisdom comes with old age.
  • Wise people lead better (happier or more meaningful) lives.

September 8, 2010

  • Hall, Chapters 1 and 2: "What is Wisdom?" and "The Wisest Man in the World"
  • Sternberg, "Understanding Wisdom"
  • Robinson, "Wisdom Through the Ages" (Sternberg)
  • Discussion of Philosophical Method

Hall, Chapters 1 and 2: "What is Wisdom?" and "The Wisest Man in the World"

-opening story, point about wisdom
-his approach, p. 16 - definition of wisdom, bot. 17 --
-Hall's initial theoretical definition: bot 18 -- read & note
-Ch. 2: Socrates & Axial Age
-Axial Age Hypothesis, 23 -- for more on this, see the wiki page, "Axial Age" beyond this (optional): read something about Max Weber, who influenced Jaspers. A respected popular historian, Karen Armstrong, wrote The Great Transformationfrom an "axial age" standpoint. Jaspers himself points to sociological conditions that might account for the "pivot" he and others observe in ancient cultures from 800-200 bc. We'll talk about it more at the end of the course where cultural accounts come into play.
-Contrast between Pericles and Socrates, p. 28

Sternberg, "Understanding Wisdom"

This is mostly an overview of the book, so there's nothing too remarkable for us to discuss, unless you all have questions.

Robinson, "Wisdom Through the Ages"

This one of several mini-histories of wisdom we'll look at.

-note on Homeric concept --- p. 13-14: Greek concept of soul/nous
-distinctions among sophia, phronesis, episteme
-Aristotle's concept of wisdom. idion ergon/ prohaireseis / hexeis
-comment on his gloss of stoics.
-Christian split (influences): Aristotelean vs. Platonic
-Aquinas: quote on p. 20 -- "perspective shift" is a common theme in wisdom accounts
-Scientific revolution as challenge to ancient conceptions of wisdom and divinity

Discussion of Philosophical Method

We need to start talking about what it means to do philosophy. We'll start today with a quick review of argument theory and then introduce more philosophical methods over the next few classes.

September 13, 2010

Initial Discussion of Method

We'll review some terms and concepts from argument theory and note a few of the other philosophical methods on our list.

Socrates' personal quest for wisdom in the Apology

-follow the biographical story Socrates tells about the Oracle at Delphi
-note Socrates' practice, described as a "relgious duty"
-Socrates' realization:

Plato, Phaedo -- Wisdom as disemodiment

-note discussion tying the soul to the transcendent world of forms and ideas
-connection between wisdom and purity -- philosophical practice as preparation for death.

Osbeck and Robinson, Philosophical Wisdom

-claim there is a natural connection between wisdom and realism. Explore a bit.
-key additions to understanding of Aristotle: distinction between "science" and "calculative"; 5 ways to find truth, wisdom as a kind of "making"
-picture of Aritotle emerging: wants both a "situational" or "practical" view and still acknoweldges that complete theoretical knowledge might trump phronesis.

Notes on Labouvie-Vief

September 20, 2010

  • Reminds on method. Quick tips for groups
  • Look at each other. Help each other do philosophy (Be midwives to each other.)
  • Ask for clarifications, pose questions
  • Regulate focus
  • Track results
  • Are you giving/hearing rationales? Justification (argument) or Explanation? Or are you just exploring possibilities or making claims?
  • Labouvie-Vief's interpretation and critique of Classical Greek thought on wisdom.
  • Hall Chapter 3:
  • Vivian Clayton
  • Baltes and the Berlin Paradigm
  • Carstensen and Adelt
  • Hall Chapter 4:
Emotional Regulation and Time Horizon - Carstensen
  • Clayton and Birren
  • focus on positive aspects of aging
  • sources of wisdom:
  • education for elites
  • family - religion [interesting differences for your theories]
  • Greeks - adds some detail
  • East -- not the same emphsis on cognition -- read 109
  • ["invitational"] aspect of some eastern philosophies
  • Meaning of Wisdom study -
  • MDS
  • Inferences form cohort differences
  • Wisdom and models of development: Erikson, Kohlberg, and Piaget (background)
  • Birren and Swenson -- This article mostly adds detail to the historical picture. It includes some of the first detailed discussion of proverbs and religious wisdom, but it also has a great collection of defintions of wisdom.

September 22, 2010

Aristotle, Metaphysics

  • Distinction between experience and art (techne)
  • The practitioner of the art is wiser than the person with just experience. Therefore wisdom involves knowledge.
  • Hierarchy of wisdom
  • Wisdom as divine

Aristotle, Books 1 and 6 of Nichomachean Ethics

Book 1 -- Defining the good as happiness

  • hierarchy of arts, politics on top
  • What is the good? can't be pleasure, honor, rather contemplation. Why? Idion Ergon (proper function)
  • Happiness as activity of the soul in accordance with virtue
  • Aristotle's rational psychology -- rational vs. irrational. Within the irrational, desire "can be persuaded"

Book 6 -- Turns from excellence of character (Bks 2-5) to excellence of thought (dianoia)

  • hexis - stable disposition of the soul that produce truth
  • art (techne)
  • science (episteme)
  • practical wisdom (phronesis or prudentia)
  • philosophical wisdom (sophia)
  • intuitive reason
Features of Practical Wisdom
  • about life, not specific tasks
  • not art or science
  • involves deliberation
  • defined: "Practical wisodm ... must be a reasoned and true state of capacity to act with regard to human goods."
  • it's a virtue not art --
  • requires experience

September 27, 2010

RE-focusing Aristotle's view

Two main features of wisdom for Aristotle:

  • Wisdom is fundamentally in the service of the human good. Maybe not surprising, but it has implications for your theories. What view of the human good do you hold? Is the good objective? What elements, if any, of a "health model" or a "peak performance" enter your view of the human good?
  • Wisdom is an activity which, if practiced well, will put you in a state of excellence. Wisdom is a virtue (excellence) of the person.

Baltes & Smith on the Berlin Paradigm

  • Motivations for the Berlin Paradigm's research: study of peak performance, positive aspects of aging, work on intelligence that reflects a concern with context and life pragmatics, Baltes & Smith p. 87
  • Explaining "age of onset" of wisdom
  • as optimization of cognitive mechanics and pragmatics (suggests it can't be too old).
  • from Kunzman and Baltes: "... the period of late adolescence and early adulthood is the primary age window for a first foundation of wisdom-related edge to emerge." p. 122 for details.
  • from Baltes and Smith, p.110. research on old/young, normative/nonnormative, target age of problem. Suggests that older are not the optimal performance group when considering the different conditions the research looked at.
  • from later reading -- Baltes & Freund, "... we know that the body of knowledge and cognitive skills associated with wisdom has its largest rate of change gradient in late adolescence and young adulthood (Pasupathi & Bakes,2000; Staudinger, 1999a). St). Subsequent age changes are a result of specific circumstances of life and nonintellectual attributes. For instance, the development of wisdom-related knowledge during adulthood is more conditioned by personality, cognitive style, and life experience than by psychometric intelligence (Staudinger, Maciel, Smith, & Bakes, 1998). "
  • Unpacking basic terms in the Berlin Pardigm definition:
  • "strategies of judgement"
  • "life planning, life management, life review"
  • "life pragmatics"
  • Holliday and Chandler 1986 - p. 107 -- distinction between "understanding" and "judgment and communication" -- What skills / aptitudes are involved in each
  • Heckhausen research p. 107-108 -- what does the chart tell us about the age of onset issue?
Narratives and "Think Alouds" -- Berlin Pardigm research method.
Do old people really have wisdom about the problems of younger people? - research by Smith and Baltes suggests no.

Kunzman and Baltes

  • p. 112 - source for distinction between implicit and explicit.
  • three types of explicit theories: 1) personality development (Erikson); 2) post-formal thinking (gisela); 3) form of intelligence and expertise (Baltes)
  • clearer explanation (than Baltes and Smith) of "cognitive mechanics" vs. "cognitive pragmatics" -- p. 116
  • Research issue (for later in semester) - Are the wise concerned about others? [For now, how does Aristotle's view answer this?]
  • p. 122 more age of onset research (Pasupathi, Staudinger, et. al.)
  • p. 122 -- evidence that development of wisdom beyond adult level requires attention to cognitive social style.

Group Discussion

On the Baltes paradigm, or any other, is wisdom boring?

September 29, 2010

Baltes & Freund, "Wisdom as Meta-Heuristic and SOC"

-Selection, Optimization, and Compensation is a collection of behavioral strategies for managing life pragmatics.

-Wisdom thought of as a collection of meta-heuristics might also be thought of as such a collection.

-Therefore, it might be interesting to bring these two theoretical paradigms together.

-Good review of Baltes (Berlin) Paradigm

-Wisdom as Meta-heuristic. Definition p. 255.


  • Selection -- of goals -- can be either elective selection or loss selection.
  • Optimization -- of means
  • Compensation -- response to loss of means.

-Proverbs as heuristics -- study found that SOC strategies were selected more often and faster than non-SOC strategies.

-Study showing SOC associated with "positive functioning" (NOTE: This relates to the "hard problem" of wisdom. Figuring out whether wisdom really "works".)

October 4, 2010

Taking Stock of Wisdom Theory

The Cognitive Deliberative Model of Wisdom


  • defined: "Wisdom as a characteristic of a well-functioning decision making system." (Life as an optimization problem.)
  • acknowledge truth in this.
  • partly result of use of explicit theory in Baltes. Reads Aristotle.
  • How Aristotle's thinking supports this model.

Problems with the Cognitive Deliberative Model of Wisdom

  1. Wisdom includes 1st person experience of wisdom. This dimension is not really accounted for in CD
  2. Treatment of uncertainty might be an example. Reduction of uncertainty quantity in decision making, yet we inhabit uncertainty.
  3. Wisdom might include "getting yourself into a position that makes wise choice more likely" or "creating and sustaining a disposition of openness" about problems and challenges.
  4. How does the CD model account for culture? Should it?

Epistemic Status of Wisdom