Philosophical Foundations of Wisdom

In Robert Sternberg & Judith Gluek (eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Wisdom. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 10-39 (2019)
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Abstract
Practical wisdom (hereafter simply ‘wisdom’), which is the understanding required to make reliably good decisions about how we ought to live, is something we all have reason to care about. The importance of wisdom gives rise to questions about its nature: what kind of state is wisdom, how can we develop it, and what is a wise person like? These questions about the nature of wisdom give rise to further questions about proper methods for studying wisdom. Is the study of wisdom the proper subject of philosophy or psychology? How, exactly, can we determine what wisdom is and how we can get it? In this chapter, we give an overview of some prominent philosophical answers to these questions. We begin by distinguishing practical wisdom from theoretical wisdom and wisdom as epistemic humility. Once we have a clearer sense of the target, we address questions of method and argue that producing a plausible and complete account of wisdom will require the tools of both philosophy and empirical psychology. We also discuss the implications this has for prominent wisdom research methods in empirical psychology. We then survey prominent philosophical accounts of the nature of wisdom and end with reflections on the prospects for further interdisciplinary research.
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