Age, experience, and the beginning of wisdom

Ardelt, M. (2010). Age, experience, and the beginning of wisdom. In D. Dannefer & C. Phillipson (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of social gerontology (pp. 306-316). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

What wisdom is and what it encompasses has been variously defined across the ages, starting with the earliest ‘wisdom literature' among the ancient Sumerians in 3000 B.C. (Birren and Svensson, 2005). Distinctions between wisdom as knowledge of the material and social world (episteme or scientia), as the pursuit of timeless, universal truths (sophia or sapientia), or as good and prudent behavior (phronesis or practical wisdom) can be found, for example, in the wisdom writings of the Ancient Greek philosophers, the 4th century philosopher and theologian St. Augustine, and the French Renaissance statesman and scholar Montaigne (Birren and Svensson, 2005; Robinson, 1990). The discussion of whether wisdom consists of intellectual knowledge of the world and the human condition or is a quality that ‘transcends the intellect' (Naranjo, 1972: 225) and whose characteristics are timeless and universal (Ardelt, 2000b) continues until this day. In this chapter, I first distinguish between Western and Eastern approaches to wisdom before I introduce culturally inclusive definitions of wisdom. I then discuss the hypothetical and empirical relation between wisdom and age and address the role of crises and hardships in the development of wisdom. The chapter concludes with speculations about the promotion of wisdom in everyday life and the benefits of wisdom, particularly for older adults.


(My publication)Posted:Jan 31 2010, 11:00 PM by ardelt
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