Ep. 44 - Awakening from the Meaning Crisis - Theories of Wisdom



my notes

  • Wisdom has to do with generativity, flexibility and efficiency
  • Takes place within the frame of bounded rationality - rationality that takes place within the constraints of ill-definedness and combinatorial explosion
  • Highly complex sets of information about the meaning and conduct of life - reduced quickly to their essentials without being lost in the neverending process of information search that were to occur if wisdom was treated as a case of unbounded rationality
  • Invoking machinery of relevance realization
  • Stoic idea of imagining the sage more effective than thinking on your own
  • Move to take the perspective of other people enhances one’s ability to overcome the bias induction of one’s own perspective
  • Can learn to dialogue with oneself

Balk and Staudenger Criticisms

  • Argue that there is a mistake of omission. We’re getting here a product theory of wisdom. Come up with an account of what wisdom is. Legitimate to do, but omits something important
  • Socrates, Plato, Stoics, Buddha → centrality of transformational change is lost
  • Need process theory: what is foolishness, what is flourishing, how do I avoid foolishness and flourish, by doing that find what wisdom is
  • Look at what wisdom is by looking at how to become wise
  • Seeing through illusion and into reality
  • Process theory gives an account of what self-deception is and how to see through it so can flourish
  • Should be developing a process theory, what foolishness is, how to overcome it, what flourishing is, how to afford it
  • Bring in the developmental and transformative aspects of wisdom

Monica Ardelt

  • Critique of Balts and Staudenger
  • Confuse having theoretical knowledge about wisdom with being a wise person
  • Modal confusion - have knowledge of wisdom but doesn’t make me wise
  • Vervaeke puts himself in that as well - has a lot of theoretical knowledge of wisdom but doesn’t equate that with the claim of being a wise person

(heh, he’s not saying he doesn’t consider himself wise, just that he doesn’t apply that statement to it!)

  • Knowledge might be necessary but not sufficient
  • She’s pointing to the fact that a wise person must realize these theoretical truths within a process of self-transformation
  • People who are wise have gone through a process of self-transformation, achieved a significant kind of self-transcendence that allows them to embody and enact these truths rather than just having them in a propositional fashion

(is there an inconsistency in being wise because one knows what one should do in a given situation even if one does not enact it? Could one have the perspectival and participatory knowing to put themselves in that situation and know what the best move is even if something stops them from doing it?)

  • Pointing to something missing, the importance of the process of development
  • Wisdom is a process of becoming a particular kind of person, living in a particular kind of world - so directly pointing towards participatory knowing

(what if they participate in their head - imaginative play. “Seeing it” “Knowing what should be done.” even if falling short of enacting it. Do we say they are simply less wise though still some-wise? Socrates and Jesus both ended up dead.)

  • Kekes: moral wisdom vis a vis virtue
    • Distinction between descriptive knowledge and interpretive knowledge
    • Wisdom more to do with interpretative knowledge
    • description knowledge more to do with “the cat is a mammal”
    • Interpretative knowledge is your ability to grasp the significance of your descriptive knowledge
    • Theories of understanding and how it differs from knowledge
    • Centrality of understanding to wisdom, grasping the significance has to do with construal and relevance
  • Personality characteristics in the wise person
    • Cognitive:
      • Ability to have comprehension of significance and meaning of information
      • Not just theoretically, for your development, for undergoing a process of self-transcendence
    • Reflective:
      • A person who has been cultivating wisdom is multi-perspectival
      • Capable of self-examination, self-awareness, self-insight
      • Reflection has an existential import
    • Affective:
      • Compassion
      • Agape
      • Helps to overcome ego-centrism
      • Way in which caring about the world, directed to flourishing of other persons
      • Agape gives a way of talking of meaning in life, get that kind of connectedness and caring, grounds meaning in life - have to be transjectively coupled to those things we find inherently valuable because of their connection to meaning making coherence and caring

(not sure I understand this)

* Allows Ardelt to connect meaning in life in a more direct fashion
* Can’t reduce meaning in life to morality
* By bringing in affective component, that we are becoming wise, she is doing more to connect wisdom to meaning in life
  • Critique of Ardelt:
    • Evokes transformational processes but doesn’t really incorporate a theory of transformative experience or an account of it
    • Doesn’t give us a processing theory, points to the need for one.
    • Doesn’t have an independent account of foolishness. Need that for good process theory of wisdom
    • Untapped potential of connecting wisdom to meaning in life


  • Pivotal work: Wisdom: its Nature, Origins, and development, and others
  • Connects psychology of wisdom to pedagogy: Link between wisdom and teaching
  • 1998: balanced theory of wisdom
  • Talks about Sophia, Phronesis, Epistimi
  • Tacit knowledge: procedural abilities, experience intuitively, implicit learning, intuition
  • Tacit understanding
  • Trying to get at the machinery by which we grasp the significance of our knowledge and use it to directly and intuitively cope with the world is a significant component of understanding
  • Tacit understanding is pregnant with aspects of relevance realization
  • Understanding guiding our ability to adapt to situations, to shape them, construe them, and select environments
  • Ability to deal with practical problems
  • Practical problems unformulated or in need of reformulation
  • Reformulation and insight
  • See the RR machinery being invoked
  • Views wisdom as inherent in the interaction between an individual and a situational context
  • Transjective - about fitting. Depends on the fit of a wise solution to its context
  • Optimization (ie: RR)
  • Tacit understanding → balance interests (what you’re interested in: interpersonal, intrapersonal, extrapersonal
  • Connected to yourself, to other people and the world
  • Trying to connect implicitly wisdom to meaning in life
  • Arrows should go both ways, feedback.
  • Feed to the adapting, shaping and selecting
  • Triangles indicate balance.

  • Balance about optimization
  • Balance of response to the environmental context, balancing interests, response
  • Directed towards the common good (at the top) → Vervaeke: agree that within a liberal democratic framework that the common good is an overarching value, not sure if that is universally shared with all people who are deemed wise individuals
  • V thinks what we’re dealing with is virtue and meaning in life
  • Running along side of this is values.

  • Not clear what those value are. Is it meaning in life and the virtues? Perhaps
  • Might be something as basic as the wise person is working normatively, trying to get the best → wisdom is a normative notion so this is almost definitional
  • If wise person has a specific set of values that has to be defended
  • Balance used to adapt, shape and select environments,
  • Balance between coping with novelty and produralization
  • deep connections to meaning in life. Important possible connections between this and virtue and meaning in life.
  • Still a product theory. Not a process theory. Avoids equating wisdom with expertise but could be trivial or much more controversial claim
  • Sternberg needs an independent theory of foolishness. He has a theory of it but not independent.
  • Need one that takes in hand the centrality in seeing through illusion
  • What want to do is try and draw all of these together. Next lecture