The goal of the Defining Wisdom Project was to stimulate new distinctive scientific and scholarly contributions to wisdom research and to foster interdisciplinary collaboration and understanding in service of laying the foundation for a field of Wisdom Science. To this end, the University of Chicago Arete Initiative announced the Defining Wisdom Request for Applications (RFA) in September 2007. From over 600 applicants, twenty-three grantees were selected for both the merit of their individual research and for their potential to introduce broader questions around which a new field of wisdom research could emerge. This project sought to create a science of wisdom through collaboration and discussion among the scholars and scientists in the humanities, and the social, biological, and physical sciences.
The Research page of this website gave periodic updates on the projects of our grantees, and provided media from Wisdom Network Meetings, scheduled for June 2009 and 2010. In terms of research goals, a longer term outcome of the Defining Wisdom RFA was the publication of an edited book that integrated existing wisdom research with new contributions that result from the collaborative efforts of this initiative.
Wisdom Project Descriptions
Read descriptions of the projects below. To watch summary videos of this work, watch the Defining Wisdom & A New Science of Virtue playlist!
Assistant Professor, History
Columbia University, United States
Deborah R. Coen is Assistant Professor of History at Barnard College, Columbia University. She received her PhD in the History of Science from Harvard in 2004 and was subsequently a junior fellow of the Harvard Society of Fellows. She teaches courses in modern European history, the history of science and technology, and women’s studies. Currently, she is researching a history of modern atmospheric science centered on the emergence of concepts of scale among German-speaking climatologists in the patronage of Europe’s continental empires. She is the author of Vienna in the Age of Uncertainty: Science, Liberalism, and Private Life (2007), which won awards including the Susan Abrams Prize for best book in the history of science, and a co-editor of Intimate Universality: Local and Global Themes in the History of Weather and Climate (2006). She is also an advisory editor of Isis, the journal of the History of Science Society.
“Uncertain Ground” has analyzed the development of a paradox: a vernacular, international, scientific language. This language wisely acknowledged the complexity and historicity of geoscientific data such as those collected when earthquakes occurred, which were never fully abstracted from experiential narratives. “Uncertain Ground” argues that the source of this wisdom lay in the sensitivity of Central European researchers to problems of translation—between classes, cultures, and even between species. This research makes it possible to historicize current models of wisdom, particularly of embodied wisdom.
This project studies the scientific investigation of earthquakes in the late nineteenth century as a window onto wisdom’s fate at the dawn of the technocratic age. The period from 1857-1914 was the heyday of observational macroseismology, and yet also, ironically, the moment of a racialized debate over the possibility of sustaining rationality in the face of an earthquake. This constituted a pivotal era in the history of wisdom. Scientists across the disciplines were gathering evidence for evolutionary accounts of human consciousness, cultural variation, and the relationship between civilization and the natural environment. In the earth sciences, an absence of reliable mechanical detectors led central European scientists to cultivate a varied population of lay observers, drawing geology into the fray of comparative psychology. Scientists and laypeople were converging to develop new strategies for generating knowledge, often in the face of fear of a precarious natural world. These strategies of observational macroseismology proved central to the revolution in nineteenth-century geology associated with scholars of the Alps such as Eduard Suess, Rudolf Hoernes, and Albert Heim. Late nineteenth-century earthquake investigations thus illuminate the negotiation of modern forms of wisdom between expert knowledge and common sense. The research centers on the archival records of the pioneering observing networks of the Swiss and Austrian earthquake commissions. These networks provided an induction into scientific observation for thousands of observers with diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. These sources will be used to trace the historical relationship between wisdom and attitudes of scientific observation. “Uncertain Ground” will contribute to the existing wisdom literature by analyzing wisdom’s historical dimension, challenging the assumption that the Enlightenment put an end to wisdom’s evolution by detailing a case of the mutual development of wisdom and empirical science.
Much of the primary research has been completed including archival research, secondary source literature reviews, and consultations with colleagues on the history of macroseismology. Using a research assistant in Zurich and with the cooperation of archives in Switzerland and Austria, Coen has continued to obtain archival material relating to the Swiss and Austrian earthquake commissions. This includes original examples of the questionnaires that scientists collected from lay observers in the aftermath of earthquakes. She can now compare these to scientists’ published reports on these earthquakes, which she has collected from periodicals.
Coen is currently organizing a workshop entitled, “Witness to Disaster: Comparative Histories of Earthquake Science and Response.” This event, to be held in October 2009, will include scholars of North and South America, Europe, China and Japan. It will add a comparative dimension to the project, by elucidating the contextual variability of wisdom under conditions of uncertainty. She has also organized a panel for the History of Science Society on the uses of narrative in the earth sciences, which will contribute to the understanding of expert‐lay communication in high‐risk environments.
Assistant Professor, Psychology
Cornell University, United States
Post Doctorate Researcher, Psychology
Columbia University, United States
Melissa Ferguson received her PhD in social psychology from New York University in 2002. She then moved to Cornell University, where she is currently an associate professor in the psychology department. Her research is social-cognitive in its approach, which means she uses and refers to theories and methods from both social and cognitive psychology. Her interests include the implicit activation and operation of attitudes, goal pursuit and motivation, ideology, and decision making. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Trends in Cognitive Science, Personality and Social Psychological Bulletin, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Her research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the BiNational Science Foundation.
Baruch Eitam received his PhD in psychology (Cum Laude) from the Hebrew University in 2009. He then moved to the United States where he is currently a post doctorate researcher at the psychology departments at Cornell and Columbia Universities. His research is social-cognitive in its approach, which means he uses and refers to theories and methods from both social and cognitive psychology. His interests include the interaction between goal pursuit, motivation and learning, selective attention, and the functional role of implicit attitudes. His work has appeared in Psychological Scienceand in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. His research has been supported by the McClelland Center for Research and Innovation.
There are important similarities between wisdom and insight. Arguably, both wisdom and insight depend on intuitive problem solving. This research tests for the non-conscious processes that lead to solving an intuitive problem. Specifically, this project tests how the cognitive accessibility and affective value of a particular solution to a problem non-consciously increase in the mind as the person is trying to generate that solution. Findings indicate that there may be a non-conscious “a-ha” response to solutions of problems that the mind is occupied with.
When Archimedes and King Solomon Meet: Wisdom as Intuitive Problem Solving
This research addresses the important similarities between wisdom and the process of insight. Both wisdom and insight arguably depend on intuitive (i.e., implicit) problem solving. The current work identifies the mechanics of such an implicit problem solving process by testing the underlying principles of accessibility and implicit value. Specifically, the more accessible and implicitly positive a concept is while a person reasons about a related insight problem, the more likely the person should generate that concept as a solution to the problem. Four experiments test these hypotheses. In the first two experiments, accessibility and implicit positivity will be measured (Experiment 1) or manipulated (Experiment 2), and then regressed onto performance on an intuitive problem solving task (a version of the Remote Associates Task; Mednick, 1962). The next two experiments will use these two principles of accessibility and implicit positivity to examine the related phenomena of incubation (Experiment 3) and nonconscious thought (Experiment 4). The predicted findings would together suggest that the two principles of accessibility and implicit positivity are valid markers of intuitive problem solving performance, and of nonconscious thought processes more generally. More broadly, these findings would reveal the benefits of conceptualizing wisdom as intuitive problem solving.
Thus far, Ferguson has conducted a large-scale pilot study in which normative data were collected on the difficulty of solving a large set of intuition problems. These intuition problems were taken from the Remote Associates Test (RAT), and each one required the respondent to generate a solution word that is related to each of three other clues (all of which are unrelated to each other). These problems require flexible and intuitive thought, and have been traditionally used as a measure of intuitive problem solving.
In the next experiment, the central hypothesis was that the accessibility and positivity of solutions to RAT items, as measured implicitly after a brief (3 sec) initial attempt to solve them, will jointly predict whether participants generate these solutions in a second opportunity to solve the problems. This study generated the surprising finding that the accessibility of the solutions as measured in a lexical decision task was positively related to solving the RAT items in the second attempt. In light of this finding, two additional experiments have been conducted to test the stability of this surprising result. These experiments were modified according to the conclusions from Experiment 1. The data collection is now complete and data analysis is currently underway.
Judith Glück is Professor of Developmental Psychology at Alpen-Adria University Klagenfurt, Austria. She received her diploma (1995, MA-equivalent), doctorate (1999, PhD-equivalent), and Venia legendi (2001, tenure) in Psychology at the University of Vienna, Austria, and then moved to Klagenfurt in 2007. After completing her dissertation, she spent three years as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Max Planck Institute of Human Development in Berlin, where she worked with Paul B. Baltes. Currently, she is head of a research-focused lifespan developmental psychology department. The main focus of her current work is wisdom, including how wisdom develops in the course of individual lives, how wisdom could be measured in an ecologically valid way, gender differences in the development and manifestation of wisdom, and ways to foster wisdom. Her research has been funded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF and the European Commission. She has published in international journals including Psychology and Agingand Memory & Cognition. In 2005, she received the City of Vienna Scientist Award.
"Wisdom and the Life Story" looks at how life events and challenges aid in the development of wisdom. Though the data collection for the project is still underway, it currently has two main findings: 1) Participant scores in multiple measures of wisdom are virtually uncorrelated, so project members are working on a heuristic for deciding which nominees to consider wise; and 2) Individuals nominated on account of being wise tend to have less stereotypical, more reflection-based views of the events of their lives. The current main goal is to develop categories for content-coding of the interview transcripts in order to test predictions concerning the MORE wisdom model. This model predicts wise participants will possess a heightened sense of Mastery, Openness to experience, a Reflective attitude, and Emotion regulation skills.
Wisdom and the Life Story: How Life Experiences Foster Wisdom
Why do certain individuals develop high levels of wisdom in the course of their lives, while others do not? What is the role of life events and challenges in the development of wisdom? Understanding how wisdom emerges in individuals’ lives is critical for refining scholarly theories, but also lays the foundation for engendering wisdom through intervention in educational, healthcare, and business settings. Surprisingly, hardly any empirical studies have investigated how wisdom develops through the challenges one faces as part of the human experience. The current project is the first psychological study of the development of wisdom in the context of individual lives. The theoretical foundation of the study is the MORE Wisdom model that Judith Glück and her collaborator Susan Bluck have derived from a review of the literature on wisdom and related fields such as growth from negative experiences. In short, the model proposes that four personal resources interact with challenging life experience to foster the emergence of wisdom: a sense of Mastery, Openness to experience, a Reflective attitude, and Emotion regulation skills. Wise individuals approach their individual life challenges with higher levels of these resources, and through dealing with challenges wisely, the resources and wisdom itself are developed further. In order to test the MORE Wisdom model empirically, forty individuals will be recruited who fulfill high standards of wisdom; they are nominated by others as wise and score high on standard measures of wisdom. They will be compared to forty age- and gender-matched control participants who perform in the typical range for their age group in wisdom measures. All participants will complete scales measuring the four personal resources and participate in a structured Life Challenges Interview which includes open accounts, specific questions, and rating scales concerning the most important challenges in participants’ lives. Interviews are transcribed and content analyzed. Wise participants are expected to show higher levels of the four MORE resources than control participants in how they describe life challenges, how they have dealt with them, and how they have integrated them in their life stories.
Doctoral student Uwe Redzanowski was hired to help conduct the project in cooperation with a second project entitled, “The Development and Manifestation of Wisdom”, funded by the Austrian research fund, in which two more doctoral students are working. Thus far, scales for assessing (a) most important life events, (b) MORE resources, (c) wisdom (Ardelt, Webster, Levenson scales), and (d) important predictors (intelligence) have been selected and, if necessary, translated into German. A first call for wisdom nomination was issued in the fall of 2008; a second call is being prepared. Those nominators who responded to the first call are being interviewed by telephone about their reasons for nomination and characteristics of the nominee. In preparation for life-story interviews with wisdom nominees, a pilot study of the interview manual is being conducted with elderly individuals (not nominated for wisdom). Recruitment of the control group is still in progress.
Associate Professor, Communication Sciences and Disorders
University of Iowa, United States
Jean K. Gordon, PhD, CCC-SLP is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Iowa, and a Speech-Language Pathologist certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. She obtained her Master of Science, then her doctorate, in Communication Sciences and Disorders at McGill University in Montréal. Before going to Iowa, she completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Cognitive Science at the Beckman Institute under the mentorship of Dr. Gary Dell. Dr. Gordon’s research focuses on the process of word retrieval in non-brain-damaged adults, and how that process can be disrupted by aging or brain damage. To investigate these issues, she uses a combination of behavioral experimentation and computational modeling approaches. The aims of this research are to clarify models of normal language production and the mechanisms of breakdown that occur in adult language disorders. An additional goal is to provide information to guide the treatment of those language disorders. Dr. Gordon teaches courses in communication in aging, and acquired neurogenic language disorders, such as those that result from stroke, traumatic brain injury, and dementia. She also supervises an aphasia support group as part of the Wendell Johnson Speech and Hearing Clinic.
The study “Wisdom in Words” is currently collecting data and coding from speaker participants. Preliminary results support previous research findings of a decline in word retrieval ability with age, particularly after age seventy, and particularly in tasks involving time constraints. However, word knowledge improves or remains stable with age, and is more closely related to participants’ education level than age. Further studies will explore the relationship of these findings to the ways in which listeners’ perceptions of wisdom are influenced by linguistic variables.
Wisdom in Words: The Relationship between Language Use and the Perception of Wisdom
The current study explores the ambiguity of wisdom by focusing on how it is transmitted and perceived. Language is the medium by which wisdom-related knowledge is usually conveyed, and the sophistication of that language is proposed to significantly affect the spirit in which the knowledge is received. If one’s word choice and/or syntactic structure sound clever or profound, one is more likely to be perceived as wise. While wisdom is expected to increase with age, aspects of language use often decline with age. This may be why an age effect has been difficult to obtain in wisdom studies, and why society holds both negative and positive stereotypes of aging. If productive language use declines with age, despite the accrual of knowledge and life experience, then the ability to pass on acquired wisdom is also likely to decline.
To test this hypothesis, a pilot study is underway to establish the extent to which listeners’ perceptions are influenced by linguistic variables. Artificially manipulated language samples differing in grammatical complexity and word choice were created. The samples were written responses to two advice‐giving scenarios, such as what to say to a young girl who wants to run away from home. The study protocol was modified to have “listeners” read the transcripts of these responses, rather than listen to audio‐recorded versions. This was judged to be a more controlled test of the hypothesis, because it factors out vocal characteristics of the speaker which would likely influence perceptions of age and gender, and possibly other factors as well, such as educational level. (A follow‐up study could test these influences by comparing judgments of written and oral samples.) Young adult subjects were asked to read the responses and judge the speakers’ knowledge, judgment, sensitivity, perceptiveness, and ability to communicate ideas, as well as whether or not subjects agree with the advice provided in the responses. Subjects were also asked to estimate the speakers’ age and education levels. These ratings are designed to tap into dimensions of wisdom derived from the literature on explicit and implicit theories of wisdom (e.g. Sternberg, 1985). Gordon and her research team expect that language variables will affect these judgments, over and above the degree to which subjects agree with the response provided.
Assistant Professor, Psychology
Virginia Commonwealth University, United States
Jeffrey D. Green received his BA from Dartmouth College and his PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After graduating from UNC in 2000, he spent five years helping to found a small liberal arts university. He joined the Psychology Department at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia in 2005 for a more traditional academic experience and renewed emphasis on research. Green studies the interplay of affect and the self, such as the influence of affective states on self-views and the role of self-focused attention on moral emotions such as gratitude. He also investigates the processes by which individuals process and remember threatening self-relevant information (the mnemic neglect model), and close relationships, particularly forgiveness (e.g., the “third-party forgiveness effect”) and attachment (e.g., attachment and exploration). Green’s work has been published in journals including the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Self and Identity, Social Cognition,Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, and Psychological Inquiry.
This project has focused on affective forecasting for moral behaviors. The research has found that individuals feel worse after competition and better after cooperation than they would have predicted. For example, members of couples who have sacrificed for their partner report feeling better than they expected. Forecasting errors may lead to choices that make the self and others worse off. This approach to wisdom is consistent with classical Greek and Hebrew approaches that emphasize virtue, as well as recent psychological approaches (e.g., Baltes; Ardelt) that address the pragmatics of living amidst uncertainty. Future research will examine whether accurate forecasters are more likely to choose benevolent behaviors.
Wisdom as Learning from Life Experiences: Affective Forecasting for Benevolent and Selfish Behaviors
Green proposes that wisdom involves an understanding of the moral consequences of our decisions, and applying that knowledge to those decisions. Socrates’ injunction Gnothi seauton (Know Thyself) notwithstanding, social scientists have catalogued the ways in which individuals do not know themselves. Recent work on affective forecasting suggests that individuals are poor emotional time travelers; they tend to overestimate the intensity and duration of their happiness after positive experiences and of their sadness after negative experiences. Almost all affective forecasting research has focused on events that simply happen to people. This research extends affective forecasting research into the realm of moral behavior, and suggests that wisdom includes three components. First, wisdom involves accurate affective forecasts: correctly predicting one’s emotional reactions following one’s moral decisions. Second, wisdom involves accurate interpersonalaffective forecasts: accurately predicting the emotional reactions of others to one’s moral choices. This is an important component of many traditional definitions of wisdom, but has been largely neglected empirically. Third, wisdom involves applying this knowledge: choosing benevolent (over hurtful) actions because they will yield the greatest positive affect both for the self and for others.
This research includes a series of experimental laboratory studies and a six-month longitudinal study of couples designed to investigate the following three questions. Do affective forecasting errors occur for moral decisions? Differences between predicted and actual emotional consequences of benevolent behavior (e.g., forgiving a dating partner) versus hurtful behavior (e.g., retaliating against a dating partner) are examined. Do interpersonal affective forecasting errors occur for moral decisions? Differences between individuals’ predictions about the emotional experiences of others and others’ actual emotional experiences as a consequence of individuals’ benevolent or hurtful behavior are investigated. Finally, who is “wise”? Researchers will attempt to identify the wisest (i.e., most accurate affective forecasters) individuals via a series of personality measures.
With colleagues, Jody Davis, Eli Finkel, and Glenn Lucke, Green refined the method for a series of laboratory experiments. The first experiment involved predicting one’s affect regarding cooperation versus competition. The design was 2 (experiencer vs. forecaster) x 2 (cooperative, competitive) between-subjects. Participants in the experiencer condition were trained in the Prisoners Dilemma Game (PDG), and were told that they were going to play the PDG via computer with another participant in a different room. Individuals made choices very quickly on the PDG and then were given false feedback that they had cooperated with their partner (thus helping the partner win some money) or competed against their partner (thus preventing the partner from winning money). They then reported how they felt. Others simply predicted how they thought they would feel in that scenario, allowing a direct comparison between forecasters and experiencers.
A second lab experiment is underway in which individuals make a series of predictions about a variety of events, and then experience one of those events three weeks later in the lab. They unexpectedly receive $5 and have the option of keeping the money or donating it to charity. Individuals then report how they feel about acting more benevolently or selfishly; those feelings are compared to their predicted feelings.
Assistant Professor, Psychology
Harvard University, United States
Joshua D. Greene is a philosopher, experimental psychologist, and neuroscientist. He received his AB in Philosophy from Harvard University in 1997 and his PhD in Philosophy from Princeton University in 2002. From 2002 to 2006, he trained as a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton’s Department of Psychology and Center for the Study of Brain, Mind, and Behavior. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, where he directs the Moral Cognition Laboratory. His primary research interest is the psychological and neuroscientific study of moral judgment, focusing on the interplay between emotional and “cognitive” processes in moral decision-making. His broader interests cluster around the intersection of philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience. His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the MacArthur Foundation. His publications have appeared in Science, Neuron, Cognition, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Nature Reviews Neuroscience, and the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. He is currently writing a book about the philosophical implications of our emerging scientific understanding of morality.
People consider it worse to actively harm (e.g. drowning a person) than to fail to save (e.g. not throw a drowning person a life preserver). Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) revealed activation of dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) during the judgment of harmful omissions, relatively to harmful actions. This activity was greatest when subjects strongly condemned omissions, and least when subjects weakly condemned omissions. This suggests that the moral condemnation of harmful actions is relatively automatic, while the moral condemnation of harmful omissions requires effort and control, possibly explaining why it is less robust. This may cast doubt on the wisdom of a moral distinction between active and passive harm, depending on one’s assumptions about the relative reliability of automatic versus controlled processes in the context of complex moral decision-making.
The Wisdom of Moral Principles
Moral principles are a cornerstone of human wisdom, enabling the codification and communication of hard-won social knowledge. But where do moral principles come from? And how are they used? Using a combination of behavioral testing and functional neuroimaging, our research constitutes a detailed case study of the generation and application of three moral principles that feature prominently in law, public policy, moral philosophy, and commonsense moral judgment. These are the action/omission principle (harming through action is worse than harming though omission), the means/side-effect principle (harming as a means to an end is worse than harming as a side-effect), and the contact/no contact principle (harming through direct physical contact is worse than harming without contact). This research has three main objectives. The first is to investigate the psychological mechanisms that support moral intuitions, giving rise to consistent patterns of moral judgment that may form the basis of moral principles. More specifically, we test the hypothesis that non-moral assessments of causal responsibility and intention give rise to the moral content of the action/omission and means/side-effect principles. Our second objective is to determine whether people abstract moral principles from consistent patterns of intuitive moral judgment, and to evaluate the role of prefrontal cortical function in this process. Our third objective is to determine how and when such moral principles affect moral judgments. This research speaks directly to current debates concerning the roles played by, and relationship between, intuitive emotional processes and controlled cognitive processes in moral judgment. Additionally, the proposed research may shed light on normative issues of broad significance. By understanding how different moral principles are formed and applied, we stand to choose among them more wisely.
Currently, Greene and collaborator Fiery Cushman continue with the process of stimulus design and pilot testing for Experiment 1: “The Means/Side-Effect and Action/Omission Distinctions in Moral and Non-Moral Scenarios”. Pilot behavioral tests conducted on the stimuli designed during the first quarter revealed effects that, while statistically significant, were insufficiently large to confidently transition into the scanner. Thus, their focus during the second quarter was on redesigning aspects of the experiment and the stimuli to achieve stronger effects. They have also taken steps to ensure rapid fMRI data collection going forward.
Lecturer, Computer Science
Butler University, United States
Ankur Gupta is an Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Software Engineering at Butler University. He finished his PhD from Duke University in 2007 under the guidance of Dean Jeffrey Scott Vitter. Prior to that, he finished a Bachelors in Mathematics, a Bachelors in Computer Science, and a Masters in Computer Science from the University of Texas at Dallas in 2000. His research interests are broadly in the area of design and analysis of algorithms and data structures, with recent application to such topics as data compression, text indexing, and dynamic and streaming data.
The world is drowning in data, yet understanding this data quickly and well presents a serious challenge. This project explores the consequence of describing wisdom in terms of technical notions of data compression, combined with indexing. This has led to several (optimal) data structures for dynamic dictionaries, dynamic selection on unsorted numbers, sorted number compression, and related topics. These sub-problems are critical for more commonly-known applications, such as Google search, GPS applications, and contextualized information (such as recommendations on Amazon). The quantitative measure of wisdom for these results is the compression ratio achieved; the speed of query access is an approach at "in-time" wisdom. Further research on these topics may involve the development of wildcard (approximate) matching and computing on multi-core platforms, which are increasingly end-user machines.
Wisdom Is Compression: Data Compression as a Mathematical Measure of Wisdom
The world is drowning in data, and we are faced with the challenge of understanding it quickly and well. The idea of well-understood varies based on the data we have, but the universal goal is to distill the huge amount of information into its most essential components. This filtration process was considered a practical definition of wisdom by a number of thinkers in the Victorian Age. In their view, wisdom serves as a verifiable process of cognitive thought with respect to the real world. This pragmatic definition corresponds strongly with the nature of information from a computer scientist’s perspective, and in particular, to the task of compression. In an increasingly technical world, it is of critical importance to update our notions of wisdom to incorporate a new information-processing aspect to wisdom. It is no longer sufficient to consider a model where wisdom is dispensed by a human expert to a single individual. Computers can retain huge amounts of information and process it to find the answer to any question contained therein -- why disallow the concept of wisdom in this case? Careful organization of the data may address both the speed issue and the quality of the result; the organization requiring the least amount of memory capacity may be termed as wisdom. In this project, we draw a parallel between the definition of wisdom and compression, which is often achieved by reorganizing data to reduce redundancy.
We pursued a literature survey to define wisdom as applicable to a computing world. The initial thrust focused around developing the idea of in-time wisdom in literature; that is, the notion that wisdom is useless if it is not dispensed in a reasonable time. We study how to incorporate in-time constraints into our evaluation of the value of wisdom. We approached the claim that wisdom is compression with the development of a novel data structure (and algorithms) for the problem of finding items in an unsorted list of numbers, based on their rank (overall position in the sorted sequence) or value. The data structures involved also progressively sort and compress the input. Further improvement of these results is ongoing. The quality of the compression and the speed of access speak to the notion of in-time wisdom. The quantitative measure of wisdom is the compression ratio achieved; the speed of query access is the “in-time" component.
The results of this study are being submitted for publication, and are being disseminated on Butler campus through a pilot course on wisdom and data compression (Spring 2009). This course explains the technical basis for data compression, and its connection to the notion of wisdom. Particular emphasis is placed on how wisdom is distinct from information content.
Assistant Professor, Political Science
Marquette University, United States
Ryan Patrick Hanley is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Marquette University. He received his BA from the University of Pennsylvania, his MPhil from Cambridge University, and his PhD from the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. Prior to arriving at Marquette he was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Yale University’s Whitney Humanities Center. His principal area of research is the political philosophy of the Scottish Enlightenment, and his articles have appeared in the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, Review of Politics, History of Political Thought, European Journal of Political Theory, and several other academic journals and edited volumes. He is the author of Adam Smith and the Character of Virtue (Cambridge University Press, June 2009). With Darrin McMahon, he is editor of The Enlightenment: Critical Concepts in History, forthcoming in October 2009 from Routledge; and editor of the Penguin Classics edition of Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments, also forthcoming in October 2009, featuring an introduction by Amartya Sen. Hanley’s work has been supported by fellowships from the Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The Enlightenment, so far from dismissing wisdom in favor of scientific rationality, in fact actually sought to sustain a traditional conception of wisdom -- a project particularly evident in the Encylopédie and in Rousseau’s writing. Analysis of this concept is being evaluated against the model of sophia presented by Aristotle in the sixth book of the Nicomachean Ethics. Future work will examine the relevance of this concept for Kant's epistemology.
This project’s main claim is that three kinds of love are central to human nature and have been traditionally expressed across cultures: the love of the divine, the love of others, and the love of self. The central project of modernity, in the form that it took in early modern Europe, was to contain the first love and encourage the second. The necessary but tragic consequence of this shift was to reduce the second love to the third. Our challenge today, in the wake of this shift, is to establish a path towards recovery of what is most essential to the first love so that the second can be preserved and the third contained. This argument is advanced through the development of five hypotheses. First, a striking range of classic philosophical, religious and literary texts, Western and non-western, spiritual and secular, share a conception of self-transcendence culminating in other-directedness as the peak of human excellence. Second, this tradition conceives other-directedness neither as a sentiment nor an act, but as a fixed disposition of character best understood as love. Third, this love is best grounded on wisdom understood as the knowledge of the human being’s relationship to social, divine and universal orders, and is vitiated by skepticism, sentimentalism and rationalism. Fourth, wisdom, in making love of others possible, is instrumental to human flourishing. Fifth, recovery of love requires appreciation of elements in our political condition today that can promote it. The broader impact of the project will be felt in several fields. It aims to provide historians with an account of a vibrant world tradition of thinking about love; economists and biologists with an account of the limits of conceiving other-directedness as either act-based altruism or sentimental compassion; political theorists with a reminder of epistemology’s centrality to ethics and politics; and positive psychologists with an account of the relationship of character strengths of humanity to those of transcendence and wisdom. This impact will be made by publishing the results as a book and journal articles, and the incorporation of its findings in presentations and two proposed courses.
Hanley’s wisdom research to date has focused on wisdom in eighteenth-century moral and political philosophy. His specific interest is how this concept shaped the Enlightenment’s understandings of other-directed sentiments, including benevolence, compassion, pity and sympathy. His research in this vein recently led him to the exciting discovery of the entry on wisdom (sagesse) penned by Louis de Jaucourt for the monumental Encyclopédie of Diderot and d’Alembert (1750-62). De Jaucourt’s definition is noteworthy for two reasons. First, it usefully expands our conception of wisdom in a manner well worth recovering today. Far from assuming that wisdom primarily benefits the individual – as definitions of “practical wisdom” and human flourishing often do – its focus is on wisdom’s role in helping us fulfill our duties both to ourselves and to others. Second, in grounding wisdom in transcendent conceptions of divinity and immortality, it calls into question any convenient assumption that the Enlightenment was hostile to theism as a foundation for morality. In addition to writing up his discoveries on this front, Hanley has also completed an article on the epistemological grounds of Hume’s conception of humanity, and is at work on a study of the theological foundations of Rousseau’s conception of pitié.
Associate Professor, History
Columbia University, United States
Matthew L. Jones is an Associate Professor of History at Columbia University. He received his MPhil from University of Cambridge in 1995 and his PhD from Harvard University in 2000. He specializes in the cultural history of science and philosophy in early modern Europe. With the support of the National Science Foundation, he is completing a philosophical, technical and labor history of early-modern calculating machines. His latest project concerns the relationship of wisdom, mathematics, and formal reasoning in the European Enlightenment. His publications include The Good Life in the Scientific Revolution: Descartes, Pascal, Leibniz, and the Cultivation of Virtue (University of Chicago Press, 2006).
“Formalism and Its Discontents” weaves a technical history of the development of calculus and mechanics during the eighteenth century into a rich account of debates over the exact sciences as sources of theoretical and practical wisdom. Enlightenment debates focused on the power of the different sciences for learning to reason in everyday life. These debates provide powerful ways for questioning the gulf between modern theories of wisdom that see it as an expert system (thus primarily intellectual) and those that insist upon the need for the development of a wise personality, in which knowledge plays a necessary but far from sufficient role.
Formalism and Its Discontents:
Mathematics and Wisdom in the European Enlightenment
Great advocates of mathematics, Enlightenment savants worried about the epistemological and moral dangers should mathematics become too disconnected from the real world. Such worries are at the center of major public debates in science, education, philosophy, and aesthetics at the heart of the European Enlightenment. Since these disputes deal with apparently disparate subject matters, such as differential equations, the nature of tonality, the origins of language, and the subjective preconditions for all knowing, they are traditionally, but quite wrongly, segregated into separate histories. “Formalism and its Discontents” pursues a series of focused case studies of Enlightenment disputes over the value of formal reasoning for scientific knowledge, aesthetic standards, and practical moral reasoning. Advocates of new mathematical techniques were seeking less to replace the traditional goals of wisdom than to provide new tools using mathematics to aid the fulfillment of those goals. The tension between new and old tools for gaining wisdom helped animate the production of much new mathematics and physics throughout the eighteenth century. In turn, the production of these tools animated debate about how best to apply them to realizing the good of individuals alongside the common good. To understand the texture of scientific developments during the Enlightenment, the project argues, we need to understand how such developments aided the creation and sustaining of wisdom. The empirical and analytical framework of “Formalism and its Discontents”bridges existing studies from the history of science, organizational research, and psychology concerning the importance of tacit knowledge in the practical wisdom of everyday moral, scientific, and artisanal activity. The project illustrates the dynamic power of tensions between formal and tacit dimensions of wisdom for producing innovative work in science, art, politics, and craft alike.
Stretching from Leibniz to Kant, and considering philosophy, mathematical practice, and aesthetic debates, the project shows how seriously mathematicians took critiques such as that offered by Denis Diderot: “The subject of the mathematician has no more existence in nature than that of the gamer. Both are just a question of convention.” For mathematics to contribute to developing the new wisdom at the core of the Enlightenment project, it needed to be more than a mere game; this constraint pushed mathematicians to develop new techniques to tie mathematics and formal reasoning to the physical world. Jones examined primarily the technical aspects of musical harmony and the mathematical treatment of vibrating strings; then he focused more on a deeper reexamination of the major philosophical reflections on mathematics and its connections to knowledge during the eighteenth century, especially Kant.
Jones conducted a general survey of the relations between philosophy and mathematics in the eighteenth century for a Routledge encyclopedia of eighteenth-century philosophy. Refracted through the lens of considering mathematics as a form of wisdom, this new concise account of the importance of mathematics for philosophy will serve to illuminate a number of debates and doctrines that have long perplexed students of the period. His study underscores the grounds for the resistance to overly formal methods as a model for philosophical reasoning and thus helps to illuminate the compelling reasons enlightenment thinkers largely eschewed the logical innovations of figures such as Leibniz and Saccheri. Appreciating this resistance will greatly illuminate a key section of one of the most important but refractory texts of the period, the transcendental aesthetic of the Critique of Pure Reason, where Kant insists that mathematics be understood largely as synthetic apriori and therefore not reducible to logic. With this Kant defended the creativity and non-triviality of mathematical reasoning and secured it against denunciations of it as mere formalism. Kant’s perplexing doctrine makes maximal sense only if we take seriously demands that mathematics contribute to enlightenment and thus to the higher forms of wisdom of that enlightenment.
Associate Professor, Medicine
University of Iowa, Carver College of Medicine, United States
Dr. Kaldjian is Director of the Program in Bioethics and Humanities, and Associate Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, at the University of Iowa, Carver College of Medicine. His research interests are in the areas of clinical ethics, physician-patient communication, and the role of philosophical and religious beliefs in clinical decision-making. His current projects focus on surrogate decision-making for patients with dementia towards the end-of- life, the relationship between goals of care and patients’ end-of-life treatment preferences, physician disclosure of medical errors, ethics education, and the integration of personal beliefs and professional ethics in clinical practice. From 2002 to 2006, his research was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as a Generalist Physician Faculty Scholar. Dr. Kaldjian practices general internal medicine at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and in the College of Medicine he directs the Healthcare Ethics, Law and Policy course for second-year medical students. Dr. Kaldjian received his MD from the University of Michigan and a PhD in Ethics from Yale University. His residency (internal medicine) and fellowship (infectious diseases) training were also at Yale.
Using Aristotle’s phronesis and Thomas Aquinas’ prudentia, this project examines the role of practical wisdom in medical practice. It explores the interrelationship and interdependence among virtue ethics, practical wisdom, and conscience, especially when moral agency is understood as requiring moral integrity. Practical wisdom in medicine that draws from phronesis and prudentia relates to the goals that direct medicine and the vision of human flourishing that inspires those goals. The project also explores the extent to which the professional’s conscientious practice should override competing claims from patients or society.
Wisdom, Ethics, and the Medical Professional
Shared decision-making between patients and physicians is influenced by a complex interplay of normative values that arise from the moral commitments and interests of patients, medical professionals, institutions, and society. In order to navigate through the ethical challenges of medical practice, clinicians need practical wisdom that can discern, integrate, and adjudicate between competing moral claims that arise in the highly malleable process of clinical decision-making. Such wisdom entails assessing the value of different ends and determining the best means to achieve them. However, contemporary medical ethics emphasizes deontological principles and consequentialist considerations, de-emphasizes virtue ethics, and struggles to harmonize patient autonomy (patient self-determination) with professional autonomy (conscientious practice) and the professional’s obligations to society. Little is known about how medical professionals integrate contrasting approaches to ethical reasoning and harmonize these approaches with their own conscientious practice and their perceived social obligations. The objective of this proposal is to develop a conceptual framework of practical wisdom for the medical professional that integrates contemporary approaches to medical ethical reasoning, conscientious practice by the professional, and professional obligations to society. This project will result in a 7-chapter manuscript intended for publication as a book. The anticipated impact of this work will be to provide a framework of wisdom for medical professionals that assists education in medical ethics and professionalism, informs approaches to clinical decision-making, speaks to matters of policy in healthcare institutions, and provides a conceptual framework for research investigating how wisdom influences clinical decision-making.
Dr. Kaldjian is reviewing traditional and contemporary literature on practical wisdom and virtue ethics in order to prepare conceptual groundwork for his manuscript project and organize specific content for its first chapter (Medical Practice, Virtue Ethics, and Wisdom). Based on the work related to Chapter 1, Dr. Kaldjian delivered a lecture entitled, “Wisdom, Integrity, and Faith in the Healing Professions”, on April 28, 2009 in New Haven, CT. He has also prepared an application for an Investigator-Initiated Research Grant to the Alzheimer’s Association, entitled “Dementia, Surrogate Decision Making, and Goals of Care.” This new research proposal is directly related to two content areas of his book project: goals of care (relevant to Chapters 1 and 6) and life-sustaining treatments for person with advanced dementia (Chapter 7). Dr. Kaldjian has received initial feedback from a university press about his proposal for a 7-chapter book.
Leipzig University, Germany
Ute Kunzmann is a Professor of Life-span Developmental Psychology at the University of Leipzig, Germany. She received her diploma (1994, MA-equivalent), doctorate (1998, PhD-equivalent), and Venia legendi (2006) in Psychology from the Free University Berlin. Her research interests focus on life-span developmental theory, emotional development throughout the life-span, and the psychology of wisdom. Together with her collaborators she has investigated four realms of psychological functioning: emotional competence (emotional reactivity and regulation), wisdom (expert knowledge about the meaning and conduct of life), social behavior (empathic accuracy and concern), and subjective well-being (the frequent experience of positive emotions and the absence of negative emotions in daily life). The purpose of her research has been to describe and understand age-related gains and losses in each of these four realms of functioning. She is also interested in the ways in which cognitive, emotional, and social competencies interact and together facilitate or hinder growth on the individual and group levels.
This study predicts that wisdom (in this project defined as expert knowledge about real life situations) will be helpful in dealing with social conflicts. New video-based wisdom tasks involving couples discussing a serious conflict in their marriage will allow a third party adviser to assess the situations. These new tasks will be presented together with the more traditional hypothetical text-based wisdom problems to 200 adults between twenty and seventy years old. Future research will address the interactions between wisdom-related knowledge and emotional reactivity in the context of real social conflicts.
Wisdom-Related Knowledge and Behavior during Social Conflict
Classical philosophical conceptions have emphasized that wisdom is inherently tied to the creative solving of serious interpersonal conflicts. Kunzmann’s research attempts to provide empirical evidence for this idea. It is predicted that wisdom-related knowledge, as assessed by the Berlin wisdom paradigm, will contribute to the successful management of serious real-life interpersonal conflicts. Conflict management will be assessed by performance-based measures and under standardized laboratory conditions. Participants will be asked to observe couples as they have a conversation about a serious conflict in their marriage and the accuracy of their perceptions of both spouse’s interests and priorities will be assessed. Participants will also be asked to give advice to the couples as to how they might go about solving their conflict. This advice will be evaluated objectively on the basis of theoretically-developed conflict management categories as well as subjectively by the couples concerned with the conflicts. The pursuit of self-interest arguably is one factor that hinders the application of wisdom-related knowledge to concrete real-life problems. The proposed research project will begin to investigate this by experimental manipulation. Half of the participants will observe one of three couples under the instruction to think of themselves as one of the spouses. It is predicted that this partisan view will make wise people’s conflict management strategies resemble those of people low on wisdom. Adopting a life-span developmental view on wisdom, this research project will also investigate the joint effects of wisdom-related knowledge and age on conflict management. It is predicted that older adults will be better able to apply their wisdom-related knowledge when being confronted with a concrete real-life interpersonal conflict than young adults (i.e., the effects of wisdom-related knowledge on conflict management will be more pronounced in old age than in young adulthood). The broader aim of the proposed research project is to contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the pathways from wisdom-related knowledge to a good life on the individual and social level.
Kunzmann’s group completed the production of 34 videos each depicting a couple having a conversation about a serious conflict in their relationship. In a selection process involving several steps, four videos were chosen for further piloting. These videos were not only evaluated by three independent experts and the spouses themselves, but also by a sample of 60 young and old adults. Analyses of these three sources of data revealed that the four videos are well-suited for the present purposes. There was high consensus that the two couples (a) talk about a long-standing, serious, and complex conflict with unknown solutions, (b) discuss their conflict authentically, (c) experience and express a wide range of negative emotions, and (d) exchange their concerns and interests. Furthermore, the topics discussed by the couples differ in terms of content and structure. In addition to the production and validation of videos, other tasks thus far have included the conduction of interviewer trainings, the development of instructions and answer-formats of newly developed video-based tasks, and the collection of questionnaires to be included in the main study.
Assistant Professor, Theology
Creighton University, United States
Michael Legaspi is a biblical scholar and a historian of biblical interpretation. After earning a degree in Near Eastern studies at Johns Hopkins, Legaspi continued his studies at Harvard, where he received a PhD in Hebrew Bible. There he completed a dissertation on the development of Enlightenment biblical criticism within the context of the German university. His interests include early Jewish and Christian exegesis, eighteenth-century intellectual history, and theologies of scripture. He has written reviews and articles for various series and periodicals, including the Journal of Religion and Society, Journal of Early Modern History, History of Universities, and the Journal of Biblical Literature. He is presently working on a book-length study of the relation between classical philology, biblical studies, and critical theology in the early modern period. This work examines the development of modern biblical criticism as a cultural project oriented toward the transformation of biblical authority in a post-confessional context. Legaspi is Assistant Professor of Theology at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, where he teaches courses on the Old Testament and the history of biblical interpretation.
The Bible operates at two levels in the formation of wisdom: 1) as the authoritative basis for large conceptual frameworks that organize metaphysics, morality, and communal identity; and 2) as a public site for referencing ideas, re-describing beliefs, and evaluating new information in light of practical challenges. This study presents wisdom as a pragmatic, cultural endeavor rooted in social identity, while acknowledging cognitive and intuitive approaches as well as communal and individual understandings of wisdom. Further work is required to understand, in theoretical terms, how the textual and scriptural properties of the Bible mediate knowledge and insight identifiable with wisdom.
Wisdom as Interpretive Skill:
Scriptural Appropriation and the Hermeneutics of Recovery
Wisdom brings practical intelligence into the compass of larger aspirations for human flourishing. It is the skill of living well. But because it is an acquired skill, wisdom has a necessary historical dimension. It seeks contact with what cultural forebears achieved, learned, and desired. A key question in the acquisition of wisdom, then, is how to appropriate knowledge of the past in ways that allow the community to meet new challenges and to use knowledge of the past to secure contemporary moral, social, and intellectual goods. There is, then, an inescapable hermeneutical dimension to the quest for wisdom, a need for the creative appropriation of inherited practices and ideas. The importance of the Bible for Western culture can hardly be overstated. Its status as the repository of wisdom for the greater part of Western history, likewise, can scarcely be refuted. A systematic study of biblical interpretation—with its many ramifications throughout the political, intellectual, and religious life of Europe and the Middle East over the course of two millennia— affords the investigator a unique opportunity to examine manifold efforts to appropriate inherited knowledge in socially, morally, and culturally constructive ways. The purpose of this project is to examine biblical interpretation itself as a strategic, wisdom-seeking activity undertaken in various historical and cultural contexts. It will offer new analytical tools and proposals for the renewal of contemporary scriptural interpretation. An extensive series of formal case studies conducted according to specific criteria lies at the center of this project. Given the distinctively communal character of wisdom, this project will concentrate upon communities of interpretation rather than on renowned individuals (as most histories of interpretation do). It will offer a systematic understanding of groups as such, attending to important factors like social location, significant institutions, linguistic orientation, religious tradition, historical pressures, and cultural aspirations. Using new analytical tools, it will show how interpreters in communities appropriated biblical texts and ideas in order to respond to historical pressures and achieve goals vital to the group. In addition to the creation of new disciplinary tools for the evaluation and historical study of interpretation as a wisdom-seeking activity, this project seeks to harvest insights from the history of interpretation which may inform and renew contemporary practice.
Thus far, Legaspi has examined materials for one of the project’s case studies on biblical interpretation as developed by Pietists and Enlightenment thinkers in eighteenth century German contexts. This case study features a comparison of two distinct but related groups attempting to recover the Bible as wisdom in self-consciously post‐confessional environments. It shows, moreover, a surprising level of continuity between the two groups, especially in the ways that each used forms of historical criticism to create a conceptual separation between the culturally contingent outer “shell” of the biblical traditions and a critically purified inner core believed to be directly relevant to modern culture. The Pietist project was based on a promethean, missionizing vision of world reform. The Enlightenment project included a cultural appropriation of biblical materials motivated, above all, by theologial and political irenicism. In coming to this conclusion, Legaspi has compiled notes on primary and secondary materials, which will form the basis for an article‐length treatment.
Associate Professor, Psychology
University of Memphis, United States
Heidi M. Levitt is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Memphis and the Director of the Clinical Psychology program. After receiving her PhD from York University, she was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Florida. Her research focuses upon processes of personal change and identity development across three areas of investigation: gender identities, domestic violence, and psychotherapy. Her work on psychotherapy has studied processes including silence, curiosity, narrative, and wisdom. She is interested in exploring wisdom as it is shaped by professional activities, such as psychotherapy, as well as multidisciplinary professional structures and identities. She has expertise in conducting and publishing qualitative research, teaches qualitative research methods courses at the graduate level, and serves on the editorial boards of Psychotherapy Research, The Humanistic Psychologist, and Counseling and Psychotherapy Research. In 2005, she was awarded an Early Career Research Award from The University of Memphis and, in 2006, the Carmi Harari Early Career Research Award by Division 32 [Humanistic Psychology] of the American Psychological Association. Her research has been funded by granting agencies such as Le Bonheur Health Systems and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
The study examines wisdom in the context of the judge’s practice of hearing cases and the psychologist’s practice of psychotherapy. Many study-specific findings have recently emerged. However, cross-disciplinary findings suggest that wisdom occurs when actors set aside their own value systems and approach problems, either from within the value system of the other (psychotherapists), or from within a social value system (judges). The professional’s own values are still brought to bear at certain times, but professional training is an acculturative process in which the adoption of another value system becomes a deeply held personal value.
Principles Toward the Development of Professional Wisdom
As wisdom can be understood as a deeper understanding of reality, its identification is based within an ontological position of what is real, and an epistemological position on how knowledge can be developed (e.g., Robinson, 1990). As these positions shift across eras, the meaning of wisdom can change. Where in pre-modernity the enactment of wisdom may have fallen to religious and community leaders, the shepherds in the contemporary quest for wisdom often fall within secular fields separated from one another (e.g., Giddens, 1990). This project studies the development and functioning of professional wisdom within two professional groups: (1) psychotherapists who offer wisdom on questions of self-development via psychotherapy; and (2) judges who offer wisdom via rulings on how people should interact via hearing cases and making decisions. Professionals who are identified as exemplifying wisdom within these two professional practices will be interviewed. The interviews will be analyzed in two sets using grounded theory method (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). A hierarchical model of wisdom will be developed for each profession. By applying a hermeneutic analysis to these two hierarchies, principles then will be developed to show not only how wisdom might be enacted and understood in similar ways across these professional groups, but why it also might adopt different forms at times.
Levitt has been working with her research team to collect nominations of wise professionals from across different forms of practice and perspective across the two professions. Different strategies have been used to reach different professional groups, including sending the call for nominations out to professional groups nationally and regionally, to minority professional organizations in large metropolitan areas, to faculty at universities and judicial colleges, and to journal editorial boards. She has trained three research assistants to process nominations and to create a nomination database. Over 100 nominations of “wise lawyers” and over 250 nominations of “wise psychologists” have been recorded thus far. The nomination database contains information on each nomination (nominators’ professional background, contact information, the basis for their nomination, and the definition of wisdom they used in making their nomination). Also, the database includes data on the nominees (types of law/psychotherapy practiced, and demographic information). The process of inviting and coordinating interviews has begun.
Associate Professor, Classics
Lawrence University, United States
Randall L. B. McNeill received his AB summa cum laude from Harvard University and his PhD from Yale University. He is currently Associate Professor and Chair of Classics at Lawrence University, where he teaches Latin and Greek literature and ancient history. His research focuses on techniques of self-presentation and the depiction of social relationships in Latin poetry of the late Republican and Augustan periods. He is the author of Horace: Image, Identity, and Audience(Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001) and articles on Horace, Catullus, and Classical Greek art. His past awards include a Jacob K. Javits Fellowship, a Robert M. Leylan Fellowship, and the Lawrence University Outstanding Young Teacher Award.
Disparate literary figures constitute the primary focus of this study. Analysis of the choices and actions taken by these characters confirms that none of them can be considered wise participants in their communities. In each case, the character’s apparent “unwisdom" stems from his inability or unwillingness to balance personal desires with civic responsibilities, or allow for the adequate expression of both. All four characters thus serve as negative reflections of the traditional Greek conception of wisdom as being grounded in sophrosyne, a combination of moderation and self-knowledge. Future research questions include the role of empathy in determining an individual’s capacity for positive civic engagement as well as the overall societal health of a given community.
The Price of Wisdom: Community and the Individual in Greek and Roman Poetry
The aim of this investigation is to contribute to the broader interdisciplinary conversation of the Defining Wisdom Project by considering how wisdom pertains to the way in which an individual interacts with his or her surrounding society. Dr. McNeill proposes to explore ancient Greek and Roman conceptions of what might be termed the “civic wisdom” that results when one successfully reconciles one’s personal impulses and desires with the expectations, needs, and demands of one’s community. He plans to undertake an extended study of specific literary representations of individuals who struggle to achieve this form of wisdom, with the expectation that this analysis will help to shed new light on broader Greek and Roman cultural attitudes concerning the relationship of the individual to society. The proposed research project will focus on four characters from Greek and Latin poetry whose personal travails as they participate in or withdraw from the public life of their societies exemplify the tensions that often exist between individual interest and the common good: Achilles in the Iliad of Homer, Oedipus in the Oedipus Rex of Sophocles, Catullus as he presents himself in his poetry, and Aeneas in the Aeneid of Vergil. In different ways, each of these figures offers a vivid illustration of the ethical and psychological challenges inherent in negotiating the conflicting demands of civic duty and personal identity: pride, desire, and one’s sense of self-worth versus the cultural and behavioral imperatives that are imposed by one’s social position or societal role. Ultimately, this investigation is intended to encourage members of the Defining Wisdom Project and others to consider at greater length those issues of individuality and society that must play a role in any discussion of the nature and role of wisdom in the contemporary world. By exploring the cultural attitudes of the ancient Greeks and Romans regarding the proper relationship of the individual to his or her society, we may gain a valuable perspective on what could be required of each of us as we move forward into the 21st century.
McNeill has completed his preliminary investigation of the four literary figures that represent the main subject of his research project: Achilles, Aeneas, Oedipus, and Catullus. His conceptual schema of community engagement has proven very helpful. Dr. McNeill has therefore reorganized the chapters of his book manuscript to reflect the oppositional pairings of this framework: Achilles the warrior versus Aeneas the captain, followed by Oedipus the collaborator versus Catullus the resister. This preserves the implicit contrast between Greek and Roman representations of individuality and civic participation which constitutes one of the interpretive threads of the project. Dr. McNeill is currently considering the possibility that Catullus does not simply uphold established forms of social rivalry in his private affairs, but directly transfers contemporary practices of political competition into his personal relationships, thereby undercutting his claims of civic disengagement.
Research Fellow, Stanford Center on Adolescence
Stanford University, United States
Principal, Institute for Knowledge Design
Stanford University, United States
This research was conducted in response to Baltes’ call to study “wisdom-in-action,” and integrating models of wisdom related to individual competency, social interaction, and systems dynamics. In the course of this research, a computer simulator was built to study how individuals interact with data and with other individuals to make decisions within a complex situation. Mathematical equations were developed that represent the quantitative level of wisdom in the system, both instantaneously and long-term. These equations operationalize important issues in wisdom traditions and research, including the tension between collaboration and competition; long-term sustainability and short-term gains; and an individual’s versus the common good (fairness or distributive justice).
Seana Moran, EdD, holds a Master of Education degree in Mind, Brain and Education and a Master of Business Administration degree. She earned her Doctorate in Human Development and Psychology from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She is currently Research Manager for the Youth Purpose Project at the Stanford Center on Adolescence. Her research examines how individuals contribute to their own, each other’s, and the wider society’s and culture’s development, as well as how aware they are of those contributions. Specific concepts she has explored include creativity, commitment, purpose, entrepreneurship, and self-regulation.
Michael W. Connell, EdD, holds a Master degree in Computer Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Doctorate in Education from Harvard University. He has been a Software Design Engineer at Microsoft Corporation, Sunburst Communications, Inc., and Lexia Learning Systems, Inc.; an Instructor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education; a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Educational Neuroscience program at Dartmouth College; and an educational consultant to schools, non-profit organizations, the federal government, and corporations. Dr. Connell’s work translates insights from brain and cognitive science into useable knowledge for educators.
All the Wiser: Wisdom from a System Dynamics Perspective
Wisdom is a dynamic, situated phenomenon. We view it as an outcome of recognizing the leverage points within a system and making decisions by taking into account the implications for oneself, others, and the greater good. Wisdom occurs from the interaction of individuals’ perceptions, decisions, reflections, and actions over iterations of situations. The implications of this research involve finding and understanding these leverage points, which can be used by one “wise man” person with access and insight into the system, or which can be implemented through the distributed efforts of many people functioning under relatively simple system rules via trust and cooperation. This “All the Wiser” study uses an interactive simulation to test a model of wisdom that incorporates data from three perspectives—self, others, and system. The specific goal of this initial research project is to create, test, and pilot a minimal prototype to determine whether this approach is fruitful for understanding from a systems perspective what wisdom is, how it occurs, and how it can be cultivated. Data collected from the players’ moves in the simulated environment are analyzed with exploratory analyses, principal components analyses, and power analyses. This will enable them to determine the structure of the data, assess data and theory coherence, and determine sufficient sample size for a random-effects multilevel model.
During the fall 2008, Dr. Moran and Dr. Connell focused on simulator dynamics and data analytic strategy. This involved reviews of literature related to wisdom, group cognition, economic games, economics of energy, and educational simulators. The primary task was devising coupled equations for the simulator that determines the dynamics for game play—that is, how the players’ decisions about energy budget create a realistic cascade of effects related to world oil demand and pricing, and related to several other variables of each player’s country (i.e. gross domestic product, standard of living, pollution levels, and citizen “happiness”). In addition, Moran and Connell planned how simulator variables will affect research variables related to wisdom, reasoning, and social interaction.
Their more recent efforts include writing the technical specifications for the user interface and database (that stores information collected during simulator play), continuing to model simulator dynamics, finalizing the data analytic plan, and setting up the internet connection between the simulator and the external measure of wisdom, the Reasoning about Current Issues Test (Kitchener, King, & Wood, 2000). The primary focus was designing the appearance and content of the computer screens, which creates the simulation experience. The second focus was on testing computer models in order to explore how simulator data would interact with drive play. Although it is much more simplified than the real-world experience, the assumptions of the simulator were matched to real‐world parameters to the furthest extent.
Visiting Research Scientist, Center for Adaptive Behavior and Cognition
Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Germany
Shabnam Mousavi has a Ph.D. in economics and one in statistics. Her main research agenda evolves around the ontological nature of uncertainty as faced by humans in the making of their decisions. She pursues a formal framework for operational axiomatization of actual behavior. Along this line of work she is establishing structural mutualities between the science of heuristics and some models of practical wisdom. In another line of work, she develops and refines Markov chain models for correlated data.
Research into heuristic strategies as practically wise decision tools has revealed evidence, for the first time, that “less can be more.” Whereas mainstream empirical wisdom literature has equated wisdom with expert knowledge, these findings suggest that under real life uncertainties, intuitive heuristics can allow for successful navigation of the state of ignorance, which entails partial but effective information. The next step of this project will specify conditions under which this counterintuitive finding is valid, and hence can be used to develop real-world decision aids.
Practical Wisdom as Heuristic Processes
In the literature, wisdom has been considered as a mechanism for uncertainty management. Heuristics are simple rules that are shown to be widely and successfully used by people to make decisions under uncertainty. This project embarks on an unexplored voyage: How can the science of heuristics inform the study of wisdom? A few models of fast and frugal heuristics have been developed and refined in the past decade. For these models, the regions of application have also been specified. The heuristics are classified by type, as well as decomposed into building blocks. Thus, the science of heuristics provides an operational platform for a systematic study of processes and capacities that give rise to practical wisdom. The idea is that where heuristics succeed due to their simplicity, wisdom can be formulated as a mechanism that fine-tunes the choice of heuristics. Wisdom is not simply about knowing more; it is about knowing what to ignore. Moreover, an improved understanding of wisdom might be attained through revealing what heuristics are triggered in a certain situation. These conjectures are formulated as initial hypotheses to be tested by experiments, protocol analyses, computer simulations, and in-depth interviews. We also explore how specific concepts of uncertainty and knowledge can inform our view of practical wisdom formulated as heuristic processes.
This project is based on the conjecture that wisdom and heuristics have structural similarities. So far, a comparative reading has been pursued to (1) juxtapose the Berlin wisdom paradigm (BWP) and the science of heuristics (ScH); (2) find where this structural comparison meets with Monika Ardelt’s version of wisdom and her reflections on BWP; and (3) highlight what ScH has to offer. BWP constructs a theoretical utopian model according to which wisdom can be assessed and “wisdom‐near persons” can be identified. Ardelt maintains an ideal wisdom notion and focuses on three dimensions that allow the wisdom of individuals to be measured. Here, we examine one common ground: Wise action is usually signified by a final outcome that contains a virtue and leads to (or is intended to result in) communal good. When an action is judged wise based on the final effect it brings to those who are affected by its results, the values of the judge lead the making of such a judgment. By extension, there is a significant role for goals in concluding this process of judgment, in the sense that if the outcome agrees with our goals, we consider an act to be wise. Two cases can be distinguished. One is when goals are specifiable and unaffected by the action, and they produce a near‐objective measure for the wisdom of action. However, many interesting situations involve changing goals in the course of action, begging the question: How do human minds, when acting wise, reduce the uncertainty to a level that can be acted upon? ScH’s answer is by building content‐sensitive norms (which satisfies BWP value relativism), extracting and imposing sensible stopping rules, achieving robustness through simplicity led by a ‘feeling’ of rightness. ScH has treated the conception of rationality and its beyond‐human‐ability structure by turning the focus from confirming (or rejecting) one definition of rationality supplied with (endless) amendment, to discovering the fit between strategies and situations. We continue our exploration of wisdom, analogically, by focusing on the structural elements that make a certain action wise in a given situation, and look for general rules that can signify wise actions.
John Dewey’s work offers insight on knowledge in relation to wisdom. Dewey appears keen on holding “the doctrine of the Relativity of Knowledge” as “the sum of all modern wisdom.” Although wisdom is beyond knowledge, it cannot be without knowledge. Wisdom is of the Good. We could have complete knowledge yet not possess wisdom of its use for the Good. To Dewey good and value appear to be synonyms. Values, or deal ends-in-view, are the end and goal of inquiry. That is, we engage in inquiry to secure values. One intriguing idea of Dewey is that values can be judged as true or false; they are not just a matter of taste. This corresponds to content-sensitive norms in the science of heuristics. Another is Dewey’s distinction between immediate desire and the reflectively desirable or the immediately valued and the valuable. Whereas we conjectured at the onset of our project that practical wisdom and heuristic mechanisms share frugality, fastness remains one of our open questions. A third idea is that values and the perceived good may guide inquiry, but to evaluate those very values, we need to admit that “fact” and “value” are inseparable.
Harvard University, United States
Sendhil Mullainathan is a Professor in the Department of Economics at Harvard University. Professor Mullainathan has been actively engaged in the areas of development economics, behavioral economics, and corporate finance. His research interests include executive compensation, the economic role of social networking, racial discrimination in the American marketplace, and choice heuristics and decision-making processes in consumer markets. His empirical methodology and theoretical inquiries integrate concepts across disciplinary boundaries, revealing new perspectives from which to consider traditional economic questions. He is a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, and a Member of the Russell Sage Foundation Behavioral Economics Roundtable. In addition, he is a Founding Member of Poverty Action Lab, and a Board Member of the Bureau of Research in Economic Analysis of Development. Previously, he was a Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His articles have been published in the American Economic Review, the Journal of the European Economic Association, the Journal of Political Economy, the Quarterly Journal of Economics, the RAND Journal of Economics, and the World Bank Economic Review. Recently his work received coverage in The New York Times, Forbes Magazine, Business Week, The Economist, and by CNN, MSNBC, and NPR.
Two experiments have generated results. One study has found that access to personalized prescription drug plans increases the number of individuals selecting cheaper plans without sacrificing quality. Secondly, the research has found that framing retirement decisions in consumption rather than investment terms can change those decisions significantly. These findings indicate that, contrary to the rational choice model, wisdom is not a quality that belongs to an individual, but rather wise choices are influenced by context. Future study will explore whether financial stability reduces material hardship and help to understand what non-financial levers may improve household well-being, if income and assets are held constant.
Wise Choices: The Interaction of Individual and Institutional Wisdom
While central to economics, the assumption of optimal choice contradicts a large body of behavioral research. Our work in behavioral economics integrates insights from psychology and cognitive science into economics while preserving economic insights about competitive interactions. To date, we have been examining choices in the domain of Medicare drug plans, retirement planning, and mortgages. Often, we think of wisdom as a quality that belongs to an individual. Yet our current research program implicitly assumes that wise choices flow from the interaction of the individual and the institutional context and emphasizes the creation of wise institutions (not wise individuals) in order to promote wise choices. For example, we might propose policies that affect the informational environment in order to spur wiser choices on the part of individuals and more socially valuable innovations on the part of competitive firms. This award allows us to expand our current work by placing it within the context of scholarly work on wisdom. We observe that many definitions of wisdom present wisdom not only as a feature of the mind, but also as the manifest ability to act in a wise manner or (for our purposes) to choose well.
We continue to work on three projects studying the effects of the information environment provided by institutions on the financial decision-making of individuals:
Financial Decisions for Retirement
It was previously found that the consumption frame significantly increases the attractiveness of annuities to survey respondents. A field experiment is underway to test the strength of this framing effect on the actual financial products purchased by customers. That is, the effect of framing the decision to purchase an annuity as a retirement planning vehicle in monthly consumption, rather than in long-range investment terms. The field experiment began implementation in December 2008, with the initial data collection beginning in January 2009. Our corporate partner has reported anecdotal evidence from sales agents, who claim the consumption talk path has fundamentally changed the way they interact with customers. Unfortunately, this method has run into a smaller than expected sampling frame as the downturn in the economy has dramatically lowered the number of interactions between potential customers and agents. We are considering steps to take, including expanding the experiment to include agents in more states to boost sample size.
Medicare Prescription Drug Insurance
This project tests the effect of direct provision of simple personalized cost information by a trusted institutional source on individuals selecting a Medicare prescription drug plan. Our research has found that this information leads to novel plan choices and a significant reduction in experienced drug costs. We are continuing to analyze and understand the implications of our results for both insurance companies and the federal government.
Massachusetts Health Insurance
We have continued planning for a new project studying the interaction between institutional structures and individuals choices, focused on the health insurance market in Massachusetts. This new project will test the behavioral factors involved in health insurance enrollment decisions in a different context, where Massachusetts has created a requirement to enroll in insurance plans (with concrete financial penalties) as well as provided some assistance to consumers in selecting plans. We anticipate designing and implementing a field experiment to examine behavioral factors involved in the insurance plan selection process, particularly concerning those who are uninsured and need to purchase a plan individually. We anticipate having a more fully articulated experiment by fall 2009.
Associate Professor, Philosophy, Neuroscience
Georgia State University, United States
Eddy Nahmias is an Associate Professor in the Philosophy Department and the Neuroscience Institute at Georgia State University. He specializes in philosophy of mind and cognitive science, free will, moral psychology, and experimental philosophy. He has published two dozen chapters and articles in these areas and is co-editing a volume titled Moral Psychology: Classic and Contemporary Readings (Wiley-Blackwell). His current research focuses on the study of human agency: what it is, how it is possible, and how it accords with scientific accounts of human nature. His book in progress, Rediscovering Free Will (Oxford University Press), develops a naturalistic theory of free will and examines scientific research that poses relevant challenges to free will, as well as research that helps to explain—rather than explain away—the capacities that allow us to have valuable types of freedom, responsibility, and wisdom.
This inquiry continues to explore the connections between the capacities required for free will and those required for practical wisdom; the ways that psychology and neuroscience can help to explain these capacities; and the ways that these sciences may suggest limitations to humans’ possession of them. The relevance of this scientific research depends crucially on the target conception or theory of free will or wisdom. As a continuation of what conception of free will ordinary people appear to have, future study will explore folk intuitions about wisdom, and consider how they relate to the Aristotelian conception as well as other views of wisdom from philosophy and psychology.
Free Will and Wisdom in the Age of the Mind Sciences
This project has three objectives. The first objective is to complete a book manuscript that develops several novel arguments. In Rediscovering Free Will Nahmias argues for refocusing the philosophical debates about free will away from deadlocked debates about determinism to examine potential threats to freedom, wisdom, and responsibility from various sciences of the mind. He explains why determinism should be distinguished from the ‘bypassing threats’ to free will posed by these sciences. He then develops a theory of free will as a set of cognitive and volitional capacities tied to self-knowledge and wisdom. Like wisdom, agents possess and exercise these capacities to varying degrees. Nahmias then examines how the sciences of the mind bear on questions about free will and wisdom. He discusses research in social psychology and neuroscience that challenges the degree to which we possess the requisite capacities. But he also explores responses to these threats and examines scientific research that helps to explain, rather than explain away, our free will. The book frames the free will debate in a new way, better situating it for empirical investigation. Nahmias’ second objective is to develop and teach a Seminar on the Philosophy and Psychology of Wisdom. The course will cover historical literature from philosophers (e.g., Aristotle, Aquinas, Spinoza) and from religious traditions. It will then consider more recent literature in philosophy and psychology (e.g., on expertise and positive psychology) and discuss connections between the traditional and contemporary accounts of wisdom and potential methods for developing wisdom in individuals and cultures. Students will discuss connections between wisdom and free will and scientific research that threatens them as well as research that helps to explain them. The third objective is to develop experimental studies on people’s conceptions of wisdom. Mapping the various ways people conceive of wisdom is an important step in attempts to systematically study the cognitive and neurobiological systems involved in wisdom and the methods for developing wisdom in individuals and groups.
As Nahmias continues his research on relevant work in neuroscience and psychology, his primary focus has been on his book, Rediscovering Free Will. He completed the Introduction, which sets up the organization of the book and explains why the traditional philosophical debates need to be reconsidered in light of recent scientific challenges to free will. Chapter 1 is in progress and outlines arguments against the incompatibility of free will and determinism. For instance, Nahmias develops an error theory for incompatibilist intuitions based on the common confusion of determinism with the reductionism and epiphenomenalism that are suggested by scientific claims about human decision-making. Nahmias also initiated a new set of studies on people’s intuitions about free will, the results of which will be incorporated into Chapter 2. Last February, Nahmias presented an overview of the book’s central arguments in a talk, “Scientific Challenges to Free Will,” at the American Philosophical Association meeting in Chicago. In addition to his book manuscript, he plans to co-edit (with Valerie Tiberius) a volume tentatively entitled, Wisdom: Readings from Philosophy and Psychology.
Associate Professor, Law
Fordham University, United States
John Pfaff is an Associate Professor of Law at Fordham Law School. Prior to joining Fordham, he was the John M. Olin Fellow at Northwestern University School of Law and a clerk for Judge Stephen F. Williams of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He received his JD in 2003 and his PhD in Economics in 2005, both from the University of Chicago. Pfaff’s research focuses on the proper use of social science and other empirical evidence in the legal system, as well as on more specific empirical questions related to criminal law and sentencing policy. His work on the use of empirical evidence explores how to develop rigorous evidence-based quality guidelines and systematic reviews of studies using non-experimental, observational data; and how to use such reviews in legal settings to assess scientific evidence as an alternative (or at least an ameliorative) to the law’s iconic reliance on dueling partisan experts. His sentencing research examines the forces driving the growth in the U.S. prison population, the relationship between prison growth and crime rates, and the effects of guidelines on sentencing outcomes and behavior.
Many models define wisdom as the ability to draw concise, accurate conclusions from large bodies of information. This project begins to develop rigorous systematic reviews to help the social sciences extract such conclusions from growing masses of empirical claims, and examines how to introduce these reviews into legal settings. Preliminary conclusions indicate that the methodological plurality of social science research makes such reviews challenging to develop, but that history and doctrine suggest they can be incorporated into legal disputes. Future work will continue this project and examine how to reduce the complexity of systematic reviews without weakening their reliability.
Incorporating Systematic Sources of Knowledge into the Social Sciences and the Law
This project consists of two goals. First, it seeks to fundamentally improve how empirical disciplines that rely on observational data determine what they know. It focuses on developing evidence-based systematic reviews for observational work. Such reviews provide substantially more transparent and objective assessments of knowledge than their alternatives, but they are unused in most empirical fields. This part of the project will produce two papers and a conference. The first paper, aimed at legal empiricists, will point out the shortcomings of current methods of assessment and examine the theoretical benefits and practical concerns of systematic reviews. The second will generate such a review, thus demonstrating its feasibility, using empirical work on incarceration’s effect on crime as an illustrative example. This part of the project will culminate with a roundtable conference bringing together researchers from several disciplines who work on evidence synthesis. The conference will establish general protocols for constructing evidence-based systematic reviews of observational studies, and it will lay the groundwork for a more formal institution to advance their use and development in empirical fields more generally.
The second goal is to develop ways to incorporate such reviews into an adversarial legal system. Well-designed systematic reviews emphasize collaboration among independent analysts; the legal system, competition between partisan experts. This part of the project will produce two papers over the period of the grant. The first, a companion paper to the theoretical piece mentioned above, will be aimed at the legal audience, pointing out the epistemic superiority of systematic reviews while discussing legal issues they raise. The second paper will address concerns raised by the fact that legal and scientific fact-finding will never be identical. In particular, it will examine how to reconcile independent systematic reviews with adversarialism. Though lauded for its ability to ferret out knowledge, adversarialism also advances normative goals other than fact-finding, and it is essential to determine ways to incorporate systematic reviews while honoring these values. This article will also focus on pragmatic issues of implementation, such as funding and the selection of reviewers. This project begins a larger effort to reform how empirical disciplines and the law determine knowledge. The current, inferior methods are firmly entrenched in both law and the sciences. Displacing and reforming them will require the substantial efforts of numerous actors in both areas, but the payoff will be a profoundly deeper understanding of what we in fact know.
The first paper under this grant is complete, and will soon be submitted to a peer-reviewed law journal by the end of summer 2009. This paper lays out the basic problems with how the social sciences currently produce knowledge, explains the key benefits of a systematic approach, and points out the key challenges of adopting such methods in the social sciences. The groundwork for two more papers is underway. The second paper begins to consider how to incorporate systematic reviews into the US legal system, and the third starts to develop prototype quality guidelines for producing systematic reviews of observational studies. An early draft of the legal paper was presented at a faculty workshop at Fordham in May.
Associate Professor, Psychology
Bates College, United States
Michael J. Sargent received his PhD in Social Psychology from the Ohio State University in 1999. Since then, he has been on the faculty in the Psychology Department at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, a department that he has chaired since 2007. During the 2006-2007 academic year, he was a Visiting Scholar at the University of Chicago. All of Sargent’s research interests involve social judgment—judgments about self and others. He is particularly interested in the impact of race and other social categories on judgment. For instance, much of his recent work has examined the ways in which threat detection can be influenced by the social category membership of others. Here, he builds on the work of colleagues who first demonstrated that objects that are not weapons are often misperceived as weapons when they appear in close physical proximity or temporal succession to images of Black males. Much of Sargent’s work has potential relevance to the law, including a new line of work he is developing that focuses on the conditions that must be met for individuals’ judgments (including legal judgments) to be deduced from neutral principles and minimally influenced by potentially biasing factors, such as race or gender.
This research work addresses one question: under what conditions are people’s judgments and decisions organized around the same principles that they consciously endorse? To the extent that existing models of wisdom suggest generally applicable principles of wisdom, this work may help indicate the conditions under which individuals can consciously apply those principles. Preliminary conclusions suggest that it is often difficult to resolve the discrepancies between principles that individuals consciously endorse and the principles they actually apply. Future research will strive to better understand how context can promote principled reasoning, as well as the conditions under which such principled reasoning is adaptive.
D*A*R*IA: Testing a Model of Principled Reasoning
The focus of Sargent’s project is explicit principled reasoning, by which he means reasoning that is driven by principles that individuals can articulate. Intuitionist models of judgment assert that such reasoning is rare, if not impossible. Instead, such models assume that the language of principle is invoked post hoc to justify judgments that are in fact driven by intuition, which itself may be a product of affect and/or partisan preferences. The purpose of Sargent’s work is to test a theoretical model that describes the necessary conditions for explicit principled reasoning. In short, it asks what must be true for genuine rationalism to prevail? At its core, Sargent’s model assumes that explicit principled reasoning can occur when (a) principles are well-defined in advance of encountering any cases to which they would be applied, (b) such principles come to mind at the time of a judgment, (c) those principles are deemed relevant, and (d) the person rendering the judgment is sufficiently motivated to act consistently that he or she feels bound by their prior definition. Sargent proposes a series of experiments to test this model, including two with nationally representative samples. The goal is to show that when these conditions hold, individuals’ judgments are influenced by considerations relevant to the principles that they endorse, and that their judgments are not influenced by factors irrelevant to those principles. The theoretical promise lies in its potential to suggest why genuine explicit principled reasoning is so rare by default (i.e., the necessary conditions are too numerous). Its practical promise lies in its potential to suggest concrete steps real-world decision-makers might take to promote such reasoning.
Thus far, two online experiments on explicit principled reasoning have begun. The focus of each study is the application of the principle of deterrence in punitive decision-making. Previous work has identified a discrepancy between individuals’ endorsement and application of deterrence. They generally endorse it as a rationale for punishing criminals, but their levels of support for criminals in specific instances are largely insensitive to factors that should matter according to deterrence theory. Because these previous studies have relied on undergraduate samples, it is likely the case that participants’ understanding of the principle of deterrence is less well defined than among legal experts. The purpose of the first study is to replicate some of the prior deterrence studies with legal experts, such as attorneys and judges. The second study is a test of perspective-taking as a moderator of the effects of deterrence-relevant factors. The central question here is whether asking participants to mentally simulate the perspective of a criminal—considering the factors that would enter into a decision to commit a crime or not—will increase participants’ sensitivity to deterrence-relevant factors. Sargent and his research assistants are finalizing the materials for this study and preparing to publish it to the web.
Associate Professor, Philosophy
University of Minnesota, United States
Valerie Tiberius is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Minnesota. She has published numerous articles on the topics of practical reasoning, prudential virtues, and well-being. She is also interested in the relationship between empirical psychology and philosophical questions about well-being and the good life. Her recent book, The Reflective Life: Living Wisely with Our Limits (Oxford 2008), explores how we ought to think about practical wisdom and living a good life given what we now know about ourselves from empirical psychology.
The articulation of an interdisciplinary methodology for defining wisdom is the most important result of this project. The proposed methodology begins with psychological research on the folk theory of wisdom. The folk theory is elaborated in light of theoretical desiderata and further empirical research on human rational capacities. This methodology is an updated version of Aristotle’s method for arriving at ethical conclusions and the resulting theory of practical wisdom is Aristotelian in spirit, though not in detail. A central question for future research is about the relationship between values and wisdom. Aristotle could presume widely shared agreement about some values. What should contemporary wisdom theorists do if such a presumption is no longer warranted?
The Psychological Foundations of Reflective Wisdom
To define wisdom, we need both philosophical and empirical (specifically psychological) methods. In particular, we need a kind of thinking that draws out the implications of our evaluative commitments and weaves them together into a coherent story or normative theory. We need this kind of thinking in the case of wisdom because wisdom must turn out to be something worth having, something we have good reason to try to develop in ourselves, and something that contributes to living a flourishing life in a deep sense. This project develops a definition of wisdom by using psychological research on the implicit theories of wisdom together with philosophical reflection on the underlying assumptions behind these theories. Through analysis of the empirical work and sustained collaborative conversation with psychologists, a refined understanding of wisdom will emerge. The goals of this project are then twofold: first, it aims to develop, refine and elaborate a conception of wisdom and its psychological foundations; and second, it aims to explore the ways in which philosophical and empirical methods of inquiry can be usefully brought together by using wisdom as a case study.
Tiberius began her work with two graduate students to investigate psychological research relevant to philosophical conceptions of wisdom that emphasize reasons and reflection. One student, Jason Swartwood read and summarized key articles on value clarification, values‐as‐truisms, dumbfounding, debiasing, and implicit theories of wisdom. The other student, MaryEllen VanDerHeyden, read and summarized work on mindfulness, cognitive behavior therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and emotional intelligence. This team effort has resulted in a reconceptualization of the project’s methodology, and a recognition that writing a paper on the methodology philosophers interested in defining wisdom ought to use must be a priority. Tiberius and Swartwood have begun work on this paper, which will be presented during the summer 2009 at a conference in Bled, Slovenia. Tiberius and VanDerHeyden have begun work on a paper on wisdom and emotion, which they will complete over the summer as well. In addition to these team efforts, Tiberius presented her paper, “Wisdom and Work”, at Colorado College, Macalester College and at Fordham University’s Wisdom Workshop in April 2009. She also plans to co‐edit (with Eddy Nahmias) a volume tentatively entitled, Wisdom: Readings from Philosophy and Psychology.
Assistant Professor, Environmental Science, Policy and Management
University of California Berkeley, United States
Neil D. Tsutsui is an evolutionary biologist and behavioral ecologist at the University of California-Berkeley. He received his BA from Boston University in Biology (Marine Science) and his PhD in Ecology, Evolution and Behavior from University of California-San Diego. He conducted post-doctoral research at University of California-Davis, and was an Assistant Professor at University of California-Irvine from 2003-2007. Dr. Tsutsui’s research focuses on understanding individual behaviors, forms of social organization, and patterns of evolution. Previous work has applied genetic and biochemical tools to understanding how an introduced ant (the Argentine ant, Linepithema humile) has become ecologically dominant in its introduced range. These ants possess a fascinating social structure, characterized by the formation of geographically massive “supercolonies” in their introduced range. Colonies in the native range (South America) are much smaller and are not ecologically dominant. In recent years, Dr. Tsutsui has been studying how individuals recognize each other as partners or foes. In ants, this process involves various types of learning and memory, as well as the expression and detection of specific chemical odors on each other’s exoskeletons. Future research will focus on applying approaches from genetics, genomics, chemistry and field ecology to understanding how the behaviors of individuals dictate the structure of complex and cooperative social groups.
This project has 1) identified, synthesized and tested the chemical cues that ants use to identify colony mates; 2) shown that individual ants remember aggressive social interactions and alter their future behaviors accordingly; and 3) initiated a series of laboratory experiments to test hypotheses about how the social environment of young ants shapes their behavior as adults. These findings show that, like humans, ants accumulate knowledge through personal experience during their lifetime and use this body of wisdom to direct future decision-making. In future studies, genetic, genomic and neurophysiological approaches should be used to rigorously test hypotheses regarding the development of individual wisdom.
The Wisdom of the Ant: The Role of Experience in Sociality and Aggression
One form of wisdom is the accumulation of knowledge, often through personal experience, during the course of a lifetime or across multiple generations. Although wisdom is often perceived as a human trait, many other organisms also accumulate knowledge through time, often through real-life experiences, and use this wisdom to modify their future behaviors. This research will focus on how social interactions and experiences among ant workers affect their future behaviors and permit the formation of cohesive, cooperative societies. In Argentine ants (Linepithema humile), there is preliminary evidence that the social experiences of individual ants are crucial for the formation of these insect societies. During two stages of life, in particular, behavioral interactions appear to provide experiences that subsequently define the size and membership of ant colonies as well as the levels of aggressive behavior displayed by individuals. The first of these experiences occurs at the very beginning of an ant’s adult life, as it imprints on the odors of others in the colony, thus forming an internal, neural concept of the types of odors that define colonymates. Then, later in life, adult workers appear to learn from agonistic encounters with other ants, and adaptively alter their future behaviors (sensitization). Three experiments will be performed. Experiment 1 will focus on imprinting by young ants, and will test hypotheses regarding the behavioral consequences of manipulating early social experiences. Experiments 2 and 3 focus on sensitization in adults by providing workers with various stimuli and quantifying the frequency, severity, and specificity of later aggressive behaviors. This research will illuminate how individual experiences can modify future social behaviors. In particular, by selectively presenting colony odor stimuli to individual ants during critical periods of development, these experiments will reveal how first-hand experience is translated into a body of wisdom for future decision-making. These data will provide insights into the rate that experience-based wisdom is accumulated, and may reveal biological limitations or constraints on this process.
Steady progress has been made on the proposed research. In Experiment 1, Tsutsui has conducted fieldwork in northern California, collecting large Argentine ant colony fragments. Several million workers have been collected, along with thousands of queens, males, larvae, and pupae. Replicate laboratory colonies have been constructed and are being maintained in a climate-controlled insectary. The experimental manipulations will begin soon. Experiment 2 is complete, and these data have been analyzed. A manuscript has been written and submitted to the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. Tsutsui and colleagues have demonstrated that Argentine ants use information from agonistic encounters to inform their future decision-making. Specifically, they have shown that these ants can remember aggressive encounters with other ants, and consequently become more aggressive in future encounters (compared to control ants). Surprisingly, even a single aggressive encounter alters the behavior of ants up to one week later, and probably longer (one week was the maximum time examined). Fieldwork and laboratory preparations have been completed for Experiment 3 (as described for Experiment 1). Tsutsui and colleagues have acquired some of the synthetic cuticular hydrocarbons necessary for the proposed research, and synthesis of others is nearly complete.
Adjunct Asst. Professor, Center on Wealth and Philanthropy
Boston College, United States
Keith Whitaker serves as Director of Family Dynamics at Calibre, a division of Wachovia Wealth Management. He advises families on communication, governance, and legacy, using a comprehensive consultation process to foster family strengths. Dr. Whitaker helps families develop and reach shared goals in a variety of enterprises, including family business, wealth management, and philanthropy. Prior to joining Calibre, Dr. Whitaker was a philosophy professor at Boston College, focusing on political philosophy and ethics. For over a decade, he also served as trustee for a variety of personal and charitable trusts, facilitated family meetings, and served as president of a private foundation. Dr. Whitaker remains a Research Fellow at Boston College’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy, and his work has appeared in Philanthropy Magazine, the Journal of Financial Planning, and The Wall Street Journal. In 2008, he and Center Director Paul Schervish will be publishing a book on spirituality and philanthropy. Dr. Whitaker holds a PhD in Social Thought from the University of Chicago and a BA and MA in Classics and Philosophy from Boston University. He is a graduate of the National Trust School and is a Certified Trust and Financial Advisor (CTFA). He is also a member of the Institute of Certified Bankers.
Scholars, business leaders, wealth-holders, philanthropists, advisors, and others have shown intense interest in our core questions: What is wise counsel? How can one find it? And how best can one give it? The interviews in this study (inspired by Aristotle’s vision of practical wisdom and Socrates’ manner of inquiry) detail answers within the field of wealth advising. The historical component of the research offers examples from literature, religion, and business. This study has also created a strong community, based at www.wisecounselresearch.org. In the future, this inquiry seeks to explore additional questions, including: What is the role of wisdom in the professions that give counsel? Can one speak about wisdom “professionally?” And what role does love, including love of wisdom, have within a profession?
Wisdom at Work: An Inquiry into Wealth Counseling as a Form of Practical Wisdom
This Project seeks wisdom in a new field known as “wealth counseling,” which involves consulting to individuals and families around their experience and use of material riches in their lives. Wealth counseling has grown up as a variant of the distinctly contemporary business of consulting. Though consulting does not tend to make claims about wisdom, if it were to do so, its wisdom would most closely resemble the kind known to earlier traditions as “practical wisdom” or phronesis, which involves deliberating well about the human good with a view towards action. This study hypothesizes that wealth counseling can act as an important form of practical wisdom. This Project will test its fundamental hypothesis in a number of ways: (1) by surveying wealth counseling’s activities and some of its outcomes as expressed in its own literature and self-descriptions; (2) through soliciting input from practitioners through a website that will also update the field on the Project’s work and help foster community within this new practice; and (3) by studying wealth counseling’s intellectual roots, in psychology and in moral philosophy. It will result in the production of five essays: (1) “What is wealth counseling?”; (2) “What is its wisdom?”; (3) “What is the intellectual history of the wisdom of wealth?”; (4) “Does wealth counseling meet its own goals?”; (5) “Is it wisdom?”. While focused on wealth counseling, this Project will benefit not only this field (and its many practitioners and clients) but also broadly diverse intellectual enterprises such as psychology, philosophy, and wisdom research. It will pursue novel insights in a novel field while connecting it with the traditional sources of wisdom. It will employ methods as old as textual analysis and as new as online social networking. It will respect the complexity of this interdisciplinary subject while producing specific outcomes of relevance to specialists and generalists. By doing so, it will produce results highly relevant to the understanding of wisdom in our contemporary world while also respecting and reflecting practical wisdom itself.