Virtues/Wisdom

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Introduction:[edit]

Wisdom is the virtue of good judgement.

Wisdom is an advanced state of personal development that relies on extraordinary knowledge. Wisdom is rooted in perspectives, interpretations, values, and courageous actions. Wisdom extracts meaning and significance from information by understanding interrelationships and their implications. Wisdom is a profound understanding of our existence, the human situation, our possibilities, and especially our limitations. Wisdom is a way of interpreting knowledge by viewing it from a variety of illuminating perspectives and using human values and holistic priorities to make better sense of it. Wisdom applies this knowledge and takes creative and courageous action to solve problems, create opportunities, and increase the well-being of all. Philosopher Nicholas Maxwell defines wisdom as “the capacity, the desire, and the active endeavor to realize what is of value in life, for oneself and others.” Prudence is a close synonym of wisdom.

Values are at the core of wisdom, some say that human values will determine the future. Wise values begin by recognizing the interrelatedness of all things and follow these mutual influences to great length. This leads to openness to experience, widening of personal concerns, and a desire to increase the well-being of all. The foolish values of ignorance, selfishness, hate, greed, envy, and revenge are rejected in favor of empathy, truth, honesty, justice, cooperation, peace, compassion, universal well-being, creativity, courage, and comprehensive knowledge. These promote flourishing—optimal development as part of the whole—of all beings. Subtle and sensitive wisdom appreciates the beauty of nature, living beings, and all stages of life, art, humor, craftsmanship, and remarkable efforts. It also enjoys being in the mysterious cosmos. Wisdom is love—wanting the best for others—and is quite clever and skilled at obtaining it.

We can each intentionally develop and increase our wisdom. Wisdom requires progression in clear thinking, committed action, and emotional regulation. As we develop and increase our learning and maturity our focus can shift from survival, to success, and eventually to transformation. Wisdom emerges from the fusion of thinking, feeling, and acting at their highest levels of maturity. Cognitive skills require an intelligent, knowing, and pragmatic observer. Reflection requires introspection and intuition based on a true and deep understanding of the world and human-based values. Affective skills require a gentle peace, compassion, and understanding based on empathy for others. This deep thought, reflection, and feeling is expressed through action that is always committed, passionate, and generous.

In addition to studying and experiencing life, some practitioners recommend certain psychological and spiritual practices—such as investigative meditation—to help us explore our own psyche, quiet our mind, and make it more receptive to appreciating the laws of our subjective life: ethical understanding, moral behavior, and expanding our circle of caring in space and time. Taken to their limit, meditation, contemplative prayer, and related practices can help people reach the pinnacle of wisdom—an understanding of what is eternal and what is ephemeral, as well as a profound sense of the oneness that pervades all.

Dealing effectively with life’s difficult situations can help develop wisdom. Many wise people have a history of overcoming adversity. Like many others, they have faced great challenges in their lives. But instead of feeling diminished and victimized by their circumstances, they dealt with them in positive ways and grew past them.

The Virtue of Wisdom[edit]

Wisdom is a virtue because folly is not. The deliberation, decision, and action of wisdom guide the other virtues toward the good.[1]

Prudence—knowing what to do—is one of the four classic western cardinal virtues. Aristotle recognized prudence is what makes it possible to decide correctly what is good and what is bad for man. Wisdom tells us what best to do—what we should do—for the good

Wisdom is the good judgment to consider how today’s choices may determine how we confront the future. It is the good sense to go to the dentist today, enduring the brief inconvenience and pain, to avoid more trouble later. Wisdom differentiates action from impulse, and heroes from hotheads. Wisdom seeks to do for our future what memory does for our past.[2]

To Socrates and Plato, philosophy was literally the love of Wisdom (philo-sophia).

Everyday Wisdom[edit]

Practice the virtue of wisdom every day in these various ways:

  • Notice the many decisions you make every day. These might include what to eat, what to buy, whether to save or spend money, what to do, how to spend your time, decisions on health and fitness, and risk taking. Notice if you are using a short-term or a long-term planning horizon in making each decision. Strive to extend the planning horizon for these decisions.
  • Identify the next big decision you expect to make. This might be:
    • Deciding what classes to take in school
    • Deciding what to do after graduation--more education, choosing a college, or perhaps a job.
    • Deciding on a job opportunity or choosing a career.
    • Deciding to change jobs, buy a house, or move.
    • Deciding who to spend time with, who are your friends.
    • Deciding to get a tattoo or body piercing.
    • Deciding how to spend money, how to save and invest money.
    • Deciding on romantic relationships, who to become close to, who to move away from.
    • Deciding to stop smoking, reduce drinking, drive sober, or stop other risky behavior.
    • Family planning.
Consider the various alternatives for each. Imagine how each is likely to turn out 1, 5, 10, or more years from now. The wisest choice is probably the one with the best long-term outlook. Make the wise choice.
  • Write a short story describing what your life is like 5 or 10 years from now. Be optimistic without abandoning reality. Describe your family and home life, your job, what you like to do, and how you spend your time. Now, what decisions do you have to make now, each day, and in the future to make this possibility a reality? Make those decisions wisely as they become timely.
  • Take time each day to reflect quietly on:
    • Your recent experiences; what did you learn?
    • Your recent decisions, what were the wise ones? What did you learn from the others?
    • What contributes to your flourishing? What detracts from it?
    • What risks are you facing? How can they be reduced?
    • What opportunities are available? How can you best develop them?
    • Reviewing your own Character Strengths and Virtues. How can you best apply them to solving problems and developing opportunities?
    • What do you want to have happen in the near, intermediate, and distant futures?
    • What decisions are you facing soon?
    • How can you make those decisions most wisely?
    • Are you focusing your time and attention on what matters?
    • What do you need to do next to act wisely?
  • Choose to live wisely.

Assignment[edit]

The goal of this assignment is to understand where you currently are on the path to wisdom, and to move one step closer to wisdom along each of the three tracks.

  1. Study the wise path essay and target diagram.
  2. For each of the three paths described (thinking, feeling, and doing), decide where (at what level of coherence) you are currently living. Note that these paths are largely independent, for example you might find you are at the “factually informed” level of thinking, while only at the “reactive” level of feeling.
  3. For each of these three levels, navigate to the next level (indicated under the “moving on” text in the detailed description of that level, or simply appearing one level closer to the center of the circle.)
  4. Study the “being there” text for each of your next levels.
  5. Carry out the steps described under the “getting there” header of each of these three next levels.
  6. Complete the Wikiversity course on Living Wisely.

References[edit]

  1. Comte-Sponville, André (2002). A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues: The Uses of Philosophy in Everyday Life. Picador. pp. 368. ISBN 978-0805045567. 
  2. Comte-Sponville, André (2002). A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues: The Uses of Philosophy in Everyday Life. Picador. pp. 368. ISBN 978-0805045567. 

Further Reading[edit]

Students interested in learning more about the virtues of wisdom may be interested in the following materials: