Thursday, December 9, 2010

Wisdom and Abstract Thought

In my previous post I expressed exasperation with Stephen S. Hall's new book Wisdom. There are a few references in his book that seem to be worth following up.

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Wisdom: Its Nature, Origins, and Development, edited by Robert J. Sternberg. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Part I. Approaches to the Study of Wisdom:
1. Understanding wisdom R. J. Sternberg
Part II. Approaches Informed by Philosophical Conceptions of Wisdom:
2. Wisdom through the ages D. N. Robinson
3. The psychology of wisdom: an evolutionary interpretation M. Csikszentmihalyi and K. Rathunde
4. Wisdom as integrated thought: historical and developmental perspectives G. Labouvie-Vief
Part III. Approaches Informed by Folk Conceptions of Wisdom:
5. Toward a psychology of wisdom and its ontogenesis P. Baltes and J. Smith
6. Wisdom in a post-apocalyptic age M. J. Chandler and S. Holliday
7. Wisdom and its relations to intelligence and creativity R. J. Sternberg
8. Wisdom and the study of wise persons L. Orwoll and M. Parlmutter
Part IV. Approaches Informed by Psychodevelopmental Conceptions of Wisdom:
9. The loss of wisdom J. A. Meacham
10. Wisdom and reflective judgment: knowing in the face of uncertainty K. S. Kitchener and H. G. Brenner
11. Wisdom: the art of problem finding P. K. Arlin
12. An essay on wisdom: towards symbolic processes that make it possible J. Pascual-Leone
13. Conceptualising wisdom: the primacy of affect-cognition relations D. Kramer
Part V. Integration of Approaches and Viewpoints:
14. Integration J. E. Birren
Author index
Subject index.

"This authoritative volume represents the only complete collection of psychological views on wisdom currently available. Considered an elusive psychological construct until recently, wisdom is currently attracting interest as an independent field. The acclaimed psychologist Robert Sternberg perceived the need to document the progress made in the field, and to point the way for future theory and progress. The resulting book introduces the concept of wisdom, considers philosophical issues and developmental approaches, and covers folk conceptions of the topic. The final chapter presents an integration of the fascinating and comprehensive material."

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Paul B. Baltes (1939–2006) appears to be the leading researcher on wisdom. See also the Paul B. Baltes Wisdom Page. And lest we forget, Wikipedia. And here is the book referenced by Hall, available online:

Wisdom as Orchestration of Mind and Virtue by Paul B. Baltes. Berlin: Max Planck Institute for Human Development, 2004.

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The Wisdom Page "is a website dedicated to helping us better understand wisdom — that vitally important but poorly understood pinnacle of human functioning." This site is chock full of resources on the subject.

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In December 2003 I approached this question not from what is usually thought of as practical wisdom, but in its historical dimension, linked with the development of the human intellect along with society. See my essay Wisdom and Abstract Thought, which I wrote for discussion with a local philosophy group. Unsurprisingly, it fell on deaf ears.

My point of departure was an aspect of what I found salvageable in Soviet philosophy, namely a correlation of philosophical development with the evolution of the scientific-technological basis of society and social organization. This was a fundamental approach of specialized Soviet philosophy quite different from the way philosophy is taught in these parts, where the best we can do as an alternative to traditional teaching and the wasteland of analytical philosophy is this duplicitous ideological category misnamed "continental philosophy". Though I've cogitated about the relation between wisdom and abstract thinking for years, I decided to pursue the topic after chancing upon Theodore Oizerman's Problem of Wisdom as a Real Problem, a subchapter in Oizerman's Problems of the History of Philosophy. Oizerman is subject to criticism on other grounds, but here is a complement to the ahistorical approach of people like Hall.

Incidentally, the most influential Soviet Marxist developmental psychologist continues to be Lev Vygotsky. Attempts have been made to fold his socially oriented perspective into cognitive science (see my blog entry on this subject), notably:

Frawley, William. Vygotsky and Cognitive Science: Language and the Unification of the Social and Computational Mind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.

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