Wisdom Proverb
Edouard Machery,  Wisdom

Wisdom: Open Questions

WISDOM is the last of the three concepts under examination in the Geography of Philosophy Project (GPP). There is a substantial amount of work on how to measure wisdom, improve wise choices, cultivate wisdom as a trait, and the consequences of wisdom for one’s life, but there is much less empirical, including ethnographic, work on the concept of wisdom in linguistics, psychology, and experimental philosophy. A fortiori, there is little cross-cultural work on the concept of wisdom.

GPP advisor Igor Grossman has been a leader in the psychological research on wisdom itself (as opposed to the concept of wisdom), and we will benefit from his expertise and collaboration. There is also lot of work in comparative philosophy on how various philosophical and intellectual traditions understand wisdom, and we will use this work to inform our hypotheses about both universals and cross-cultural variation in the concept of wisdom.

In this blog post, I review some of the past results and open questions we intend to examine in the coming months. Our focus will be on both the concept of wisdom and on wisdom itself.

“wisdom” and its translations
To my knowledge, it is unknown whether “wisdom” has natural translations in many languages. Accordingly, we will start by examining whether there are words that can be used to translate “wisdom” in the many languages we will be working with. We will also examine the frequency of use of these words as well as their semantic (e.g., their relation to other concepts) and syntactic properties across languages.

What is the relation between wisdom and understanding and wisdom and knowledge?

The prototypical wise person
What are the characteristics of the prototypical wise person and do they vary across cultures? Differences across cultures in the importance of social relations for identity as well as differences in the appraisal or valuation of emotions suggest that the prototypical characteristics of wise people may vary across cultures.

Wisdom and advice
Do people use perceived wisdom or actual wisdom (as measured by wisdom scales) as a cue for advice seeking? Do wise people or people recognized as wise feel entitled to give advice? Is there any variation across cultures in those respects?

The dark side of wisdom
Is there a personal cost to being wise? Perhaps wise people are lonelier? Also, is there a cost to others? Perhaps wise people are less altruistic? Is there any variation across cultures in those respects?

Are wise people’s reasoning less biased
What are the advantages of wisdom? Are wise people’s thinking less likely to be biased? In which respects?

Wise people’s orientation toward others
Are wise people focused on social relations or on improving themselves? Is there cultural variation in this respect?

Further reading on the core GPP concepts:

Knowledge Ascriptions: Open Questions

Understanding: Open Questions

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