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Wisdom, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is defined as the "1 a: Accumulated philosophic or scientific learning-knowledge; b: Ability to discern inner qualities and relationships-insight; c: Good sense-judgment d: Generally accepted belief <challenges what has become accepted wisdom among many historians — Robert Darnton>. 2: A wise attitude, belief, or course of action. 3: The teachings of the ancient wise men"[1].

Most psychologists regard wisdom as distinct from the cognitive abilities measured by standardized intelligence tests. Wisdom is often considered to be a trait that can be developed by experience, but not taught. When applied to practical matters, the term wisdom is synonymous with prudence. Some see wisdom as a quality that even a child, otherwise immature, may possess independent of experience or complete knowledge. The status of wisdom or prudence as a virtue is recognized in cultural, philosophical and religious sources. Some define wisdom in a utilitarian sense, as foreseeing consequences and acting to maximize the long-term common good.Template:Fact

As such, in general, wisdom is looked at his/her ideals and principles that govern all actions and decisions. Applications of personal wisdom include one's ethical and social guidelines in life that determines one’s unique style of personality, the particular nature of short and long-term goal(s) pursued in life (spiritual or materialistic for example), perspective on life, social attitudes, etc.

Philosophical perspectives

A standard philosophical definition says that wisdom consists of making the best use of available knowledge. As with any decision, a wise decision may be made with incomplete informationTemplate:Fact. The technical philosophical term for the opposite of wisdom is folly.Template:Fact

In his Metaphysics, Aristotle defines wisdom as knowledge of causes: why things exist in a particular fashion.

In addition to experience there are a variety of other avenues to gaining wisdom. For example, Freethinkers and others believe that wisdom may come from pure reason and perhaps experience, while others believe that it comes from intuition or spirituality.Template:Fact

Beginning with the ancient Greeks, European culture associates wisdom with virtue. Metis and Athene are associated with wisdom from earliest times. For example, many philosophers talk about the virtue of wisdom in relation to courage and moderation, and in the Roman Catholic church, wisdom (Prudence) stands with justice, fortitude and moderation as one of the four cardinal virtues. Plato's dialogues mention the virtue of wisdom, as knowledge about the Good and the courage to act accordingly. The Good would be about the right relations between all that exists. The Good, as a Platonic Form, would involve the perfect ideas of good government, love, friendship, community, and a right relation to the Divine. Perhaps the search or love of wisdom is more important than any proven claim. Socrates only claimed to know that he did not know, but this he was very certain of, and he showed the many contradictions in the claims of his fellow citizensTemplate:Fact.

Holists believe that wise people sense, work with and align themselves and others to life. In this view, wise people help others appreciate the fundamental interconnectedness of lifeTemplate:Fact.

Thoreau believed that “it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate thingsTemplate:Fact.”

Nicholas Maxwell, a modern philosopher, argued that the basic aim of academic inquiry ought to be to seek and promote wisdom — wisdom being construed to be the capacity to realize what is of value in life for oneself and others, wisdom thus including knowledge and technological know-how, but much else besides.[2]

Scientific perspectives

Some may find the scientific method[3] to be a satisfactory path to a goal of gaining wisdom.

Psychological perspectives

Psychologists have gathered data on commonly held beliefs or folk theories about wisdom.[4] These analyzes indicate that although "there is an overlap of the implicit theory of wisdom with intelligence, perceptiveness, spirituality and shrewdness, it is evident that wisdom is a distinct term and not a composite of other terms."[5]

Personality theorist Erik Erikson related wisdom to the last stage of his eight-stage theory of psychosocial development. Erikson's theory spans the entire lifespan and frames each stage in the form of internally-generated questions or tensions. Erikson claimed that in the last stage of human development, from approximately 65 years to death, individuals must resolve a psychological conflict between integrity and despair. He proposed that attaining wisdom is a favorable resolution and product of this conflict.

“Strength here takes the form of that detached yet active concern with life bounded by death, which we call wisdom… Not that each man can evolve wisdom for himself… To whatever abyss ultimate concerns may lead individual men, man as a psychological creature will face, toward the end of his life, a new edition of the identity crisis which we may state by the words 'I am what survives me'.”[6]

Thus, within Eriksonian theory, wisdom universally surfaces as an optimal potential outcome of the human experience.

In the 1970s, Vivian Clayton pioneered the academic study of wisdom. Clayton "is generally recognized as the first psychologist to ask, in even faintly scientific terms, 'What does wisdom mean, and how does age affect it?'"[7] Clayton's work caught the attention of Paul Baltes, who later founded the Berlin Wisdom Project at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Germany. Another wisdom researcher, sociologist Monika Ardelt, has developed a "Three-Dimensional Wisdom Scale", a test that individuals can take for a numerical assessment of their wisdom on a scale of one to five. The number of academic publications about wisdom increased significantly from 1984 to 2000. Nevertheless, according to Jacqui Smith, one of Baltes's collaborators, the subject is not completely accepted in academia.[8]

Religious perspectives

Template:Wikiquote Some religions have specific teachings relating to wisdom. In Mesopotamian Religion and Mythology Enki, also known as Ea, was the God of wisdom and intelligence. Wisdom was achieved by restoring balance.

In Islam, according to the Qur'an Prophet Muhammed was chosen by God to represent his wisdom. The Prophet Muhammad said that: "Fearing God in your actions and intentions, and knowing that Almighty God is watching you wherever and whenever you are is the head/peak of wisdom"Template:Fact. In addition, Islam also mentions that a wise man with the name of Luqman once told his son to: "Sit with the learned men and keep close to them. Allah gives life to the hearts with the light of wisdom as Allah gives life to the dead earth with the abundant rain of the sky"[1].

In the Christian Bible, the magi (or "wise men") are sent by God to give the newly born Jesus three types of gifts. Wisdom is also represented by the sense of justice of the lawful and wise king Solomon, who asks God for wisdom in 1 Kings 3. Proverbs 9:10 says: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," and 8:13 "To fear the Lord is to hate evil;". The Catholic and Orthodox deuterocanonical books of the Bible include the Book of Wisdom (Wisdom of Solomon).

There is an oppositional element in Christian thought between secular wisdom and Godly wisdom. The apostle Paul states that worldly wisdom thinks the claims of Christ to be foolishness. However, to those who are being saved Christ represents the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:17-31) Also, Wisdom is one of the Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The seventh verse of the first chapter of the Jewish Proverbs states "Fear of God is the beginning of Wisdom" (Proverbs 1:7). The beginning of fear of God is hating evil, the ways of evil, arrogance, pride and a duplicitous mouth (Proverbs).

Confucius stated that wisdom can be learned by three methods: Reflection (the noblest), imitation (the easiest) and experience (the bitterest). According to "Doctrine of the Mean," Confucius also said, "Love of learning is akin to wisdom. To practice with vigor is akin to humanity. To know to be shameful is akin to courage (zhi,ren,yi..three of Mengzi's sprouts of virtue)." Compare this with the beginning of the Confucian classic "Great Learning" which begins with "The Way of learning to be great consists in manifesting the clear character, loving the people, and abiding in the highest good" one can clearly see the correlation with the Roman virtue "prudence," especially if one transliterates clear character as clear conscience. (Quotes from Chan's Sources of Chinese Philosophy).

Buddha taught that a wise person is endowed with good bodily conduct, good verbal conduct & good mental conduct (AN3:2) and a wise person does actions that are unpleasant to do but give good results and doesn’t do actions that are pleasant to do but give bad results (AN4:115). This is called karma. The Buddha has much to say on the subject of wisdom including:

  • He who arbitrates a case by force does not thereby become just (established in Dhamma). But the wise man is he who carefully discriminates between right and wrong.[9]
  • He who leads others by nonviolence, righteously and equitably, is indeed a guardian of justice, wise and righteous.[10]
  • One is not wise merely because he talks much. But he who is calm, free from hatred and fear, is verily called a wise man.[11]
  • By quietude alone one does not become a sage (muni) if he is foolish and ignorant. But he who, as if holding a pair of scales, takes the good and shuns the evil, is a wise man; he is indeed a muni by that very reason. He who understands both good and evil as they really are, is called a true sage.[12]

In Taoism Practical Wisdom may be described as knowing what to say and when to say it.

Wisdom as a gaming/RPG ability stat

Originally appearing in the grandfather of all RPGs (Role Playing Games) "Dungeons & Dragons", Wisdom was a statistical attribute of significant importance to Priestly characters - such as Clerics, Druids, and Paladins. Unlike conventional wisdom, which encompasses age & experience, Wisdom as a stat in D&D describes a character's will, judgment, guile, enlightenment, insight, and in later editions perception as well. It influences a priest's mystical powers/spells and any character's will-based saving throws (such as against mental attacks by charms, phantasms, etc.) Wisdom and Will as a character stat would later appear in many other book/dice and computer/console RPGs (Role Playing Games).

Quotations about wisdom

"Wise men say nothing in dangerous times." ― Aesop

"When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years." ― Mark Twain

"I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us, that the less we use our power the greater it will be." ― Thomas Jefferson

"Patience is the companion of wisdom." ― St. Augustine

"Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something." ― Plato

"Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers." ― Alfred Lord Tennyson

"It requires wisdom to understand wisdom: the music is nothing if the audience is deaf." ― Walter Lippmann


  1. Wisdom, Merriam-Webſter.
  2. MAXWELL, Nicholas.
  3. William Stanley Jevons (1873, 1877) The Principles of Science: a treatise on logic and scientific method Dover edition, with a new preface by Ernest Nagel (1958)
  4. Sternberg, R. J. (1985). Implicit theories of intelligence, creativity, and wisdom. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 49, 607–62.
  5. Brown, S. C., & Greene, J. A. (2006). The Wisdom Development Scale: Translating the conceptual to the concrete. Journal of College Student Development, 47, 1–19.
  6. Erikson, E. (1968). Identity: Youth and crisis (pp. 140–41). New York: Norton.
  7. Template:Citation
  8. Template:Citation
  9. Dhammapada v.256
  10. Dhammapada v.257
  11. Dhammapada v.258
  12. Dhammapada v.268-9

See also

External links