Sunday, April 13, 2014

Quantifying Wisdom

Photo by jinterwas.
Wisdom is an elusive trait.

It's easier to provide examples of wise people than it is to provide an abstract definition of this characteristic.

Nevertheless, scholars have tried defining wisdom.

For example, Paul Baltes and and other experts from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Germany have been pursing a more empirically based definition of wisdom.

Their project is termed The Berlin Wisdom Paradigm.

According to their research, the following list describes the primary characteristics of wise people.  These traits are easily recognized when manifested, although difficult to achieve and to specify.
  • They address important and difficult questions and strategies about the conduct and meaning of life. 
  • They include knowledge about the limits of knowledge and the uncertainties of the world.
  • They represent a truly superior level of knowledge, judgment, and advice.
  • They possess knowledge with extraordinary scope, depth, measure, and balance.
  • They display a perfect synergy of mind and character--that is, an orchestration of knowledge and virtues.
  • They use knowledge for the good or well-being of oneself and that of others.  
I have to admit that pondering wisdom leaves me with more questions than answers: 

Do the people you identify as wise display these characteristics?  Is it possible to pursue wisdom directly, or is it more easily achieved indirectly through life experience?  Are there other traits you would add to this list? 

Does wisdom correlate with age?  Or is it possible for some to be young and wise and others to be old and foolish? 

[Source: Lemme, Barbara Hansen. Development in Adulthood. 4th Edition. Boston: Pearson. 2006.]



  1. Good stuff! I think the idea of recognizing limits of knowledge & uncertainties is a must for wisdom!

  2. I'm unfortunately not all that wise. (Though my husband — and adult kids — do call me a wise ass now and then.) I possess few of those traits you've listed but I do try my best with this one: "They use knowledge for the good or well-being of oneself and that of others." What I don't know myself I can find. I may not be wise but I'm a pretty darn good researcher.

    Thank you for getting my brain in gear this morning. Something worth thinking about...!

  3. I call these kind of people SMART ! And while I don't always pursue these types of questions, they are my favorite types of conversations. Fortunately my husband likes to talk about them too!

  4. I believe absolute wisdom comes only with age. Younger people can make wise decisions based on knowledge and common sense some are blessed with more than others but absolute wisdom comes from years of experience.