In This Issue
Book Reviews & New Book Review Page
New Article: Barack Obama & Political Wisdom by Walter Moss
Wisdom Research at the University of Chicago
Review: Power of Habit
Review: Evolutionaries
Review: The Art of Worldly Wisdom
Wisdom University
Wisdom Page & Futurodyssey Archives
Website: Teilhard de Chardin
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Tom Lombardo
Director of The Wisdom Page & the Center for Future Consciousness 

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Wisdom Page Updates
October, 2012

Virtue and Wisdom 



"Happiness is not the reward of virtue, but virtue itself."


 "The spectacle of virtue inspires the feeling of elevation..." Gretchen Rubin

"A virtue manifests itself in 'behavior showing high moral standards'...a virtue is a quality considered morally good or desirable in a person.' A virtue is a positive value lived."
Tom Lombardo

"It takes a brave person to pursue virtues such as justice, truth, and honor--and the wiser one becomes, the clearer they become."  

Jason A. Merchey  


There are many different theories of wisdom. There are many different ways in which wisdom, at a concrete level, is practiced and manifested in everyday life--perhaps as many different ways as there are "wise people" in the world, each of whom brings a unique personal color to this capacity of the human mind. But since one way to define wisdom is the ongoing distillation of order, meaning, and value out of the chaos and noise of life, it seems to me that we should try to get the "big picture" of the nature of wisdom--to pull together the theories, ideas, and examples of wisdom and see if we can, as realistically as possible, distill out its essence. Can we get wise about wisdom?


One approach that I've taken is to view wisdom as an integrated set of other human virtues (link). Wisdom synthesizes such virtues as compassion, a love of learning and thinking, humility, and self-understanding. Taking this approach to understanding the nature of wisdom, in the dynamic banner that runs across the top of The Wisdom Page website, Copthorne Macdonald included roughly fifty different traits or virtues that have been associated with wisdom. Wisdom is the "queen of virtues," pulling together under one umbrella numerous other human virtues. Hence, to understand wisdom we need to understand all the individual virtues that come together in creating it.

In this spirit, beginning with this issue of the Wisdom Page Updates, we will be showcasing an online course on human virtues, anchoring to Leland Beaumont's "Virtues Course" on Wikiversity. This first month is introductory, examining the nature of virtue with a link to Lee's introductory lesson on virtues. Each succeeding month we will highlight one virtue in depth, linking to Lee's lesson on that virtue.

But we will also be including other references and links, as appropriate, regarding human virtues. For example, this month we have included a new article by Walter Moss examining the various virtues connected with political wisdom and posing the question of whether or not President Obama practices and evinces these virtues. Last month we included Walter's introductory article on "Reflections on Wisdom and Politics." We will also be highlighting material from Jason Merchey's excellent book Building a Life of Value: a compilation of quotes and short essays (link) organized around fourteen key clusters of virtues and values connected to wisdom.

It seems to me that, more than anything else, the pursuit, practice, and ongoing development of character virtues is the key to happiness, success, and personal growth in life (Tom Lombardo's "Ethical Character Development and Academic and Professional Excellence"). It is the key to a positive future and an improved quality of life. To understand "the good" in terms of character virtues anchors ethics to the behavior and psychology of concrete human beings. (The good is not an abstraction independent of good people.) It seems to me that education, rather than focusing on just facts and skills, should pivot on virtues education. The purpose of education is to facilitate the development of virtuous human beings, which, in turn, would facilitate the development of good relationships, virtuous organizations, and ethically evolved societies.

Understanding the most esteemed human virtues--such as courage, temperance, discipline, and fair-mindedness--is an essential step toward such educational and social ends and one that guides us toward the development of wisdom, pulling together the individual virtues in wise individuals.

Tom Lombardo


Book Reviews and New Book Review Page


With the moving and recreation of The Wisdom Page this last month, some of the pieces of the whole were lost in the process. One of the sections that did not make it to the new site was the Book Review Page. Hence, we are recreating it. In fact, were there are lemons one should always attempt to make lemonade, and in this spirit, what we are going to do is consolidate and pull together all of the book reviews that are presently distributed throughout the many pages of The Wisdom Page site and put them all in one spot: The new Book Review Page.

This first month, we have located and moved quite a few reviews to this new location - as well as adding a few new ones. All of these reviews can be found on our new  Book Review Page:
  • An Age of Progress? by Walter Moss - Reviewed by Cop Macdonald
  • Flourish by Martin Seligman - Reviewed by Lee Beaumont
  • Leading with Wisdom by Mike Thompson and Jochanan Eynikel - Reviewed by Walter Moss
  • Practical Wisdom by Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe - Reviewed by Walter Moss
  • Prosperity Without Growth by Tim Jackson - Reviewed by Lee Beaumont
  • The End of Growth by Richard Heinberg - Reviewed by Lee Beaumont
  • The Man Who Planted Trees by Jim Robbins - Reviewed by Lee Beaumont
  • The Monk and the Philosopher by Jean-Francois Revel and Matthieu Ricard - Reviewed by Lee Beaumont
  • The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris and Flourish by Martin Seligman - A Comparative Review by Tom Lombardo
  • The Power of Collective Wisdom and the Trap of Collective Folly by Alan Briskin, Sheryl Erickson, John Ott, and Tom Callanan - Reviewed by Lee Beaumont
  • The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal - Reviewed by Lee Beaumont
  • Whole Earth Discipline by Stewart Brand - Reviewed by Lee Beaumont
There will be many more book reviews being pulled together and added to the new Book Review Page in coming months. And if you wish to submit a new book review, please do so.


New Article: "Barack Obama and Political Wisdom"  by Walter Moss
As Walter Moss states in the opening of this new article by him, "As President Obama prepares to seek reelection later this year, it is fitting to examine to what extent he manifests political wisdom." In this  well-researched and thoughtful article, Walter Moss continues to explore the topic of "political wisdom." In this case, Moss considers the degree to which President Obama, in both concrete word and deed, expresses and demonstrates a variety of virtues and values associated with political wisdom. Based on his previous article "Reflections on Wisdom and Politics", where Moss lists and describes the virtues and values of political wisdom, he examines President Obama on his idealism and realism, empathy and compassion, his humor and humility, tolerance and capacity to compromise, temperance and self-discipline, passion, courage, and creativity, and support for freedom and justice.

Walter Moss, Ph.D., is a careful and clear, and well-informed and scholarly thinker and writer. Further he is very systematic in his approach and evaluation of President Obama. I would say that this article provides more valuable information and food for thought on President Obama's record, his character and values, and his plans and vision for the future than a hundred mass media political ads and news bites on TV and the Internet.

Wisdom Research at the University of Chicago

After a short period of research inactivity, the Wisdom Research Network at the University of Chicago is active again. As stated on the website, "Supported with [recent] funding from the John Templeton Foundation, six research projects led by University of Chicago faculty...will investigate big questions in the field that have the greatest potential of influencing research, education, policy, and professions: What is the relationship between expertise and wisdom? How does experience increase wisdom? What is the relationship between cognitive, social, and emotional processes mediating wisdom?"

Readers can subscribe to the new Wisdom Research Network newsletter on the home page of the website. Also, of special note, the website has an extensive bibliography of articles, abstracts, and book reviews on wisdom related topics. See Wisdom Publications.

Book Review: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
The Power of Habit provides a general theory of the nature of habits. Though rather simple and streamlined in form, it illustrates, through numerous and diverse examples, how habits structure and determine our lives, both individually and collectively. (Just as people do, organizations have habits too). Finally, the book offers varied examples and practical activities for gaining control over our habits and changing them.

In fact, for Charles Duhigg, habit is a universalist idea: In his view, it appears that all of individual human psychology and all of social and collective behavior can be understood as nothing but sets of habits. Given this mindset, at times it seems that he is trying to forcefully squeeze or confusedly jam all manner of elements and nuances of human life into this one model, stretching the model beyond credibility.

After touching on many of these varied illustrations of the expansive nature of habits, when the author comes to the topic of willpower (and if the reader is familiar with Baumeister's and Tierney's book on willpower), he may initially provoke incredulity when he states that willpower is a habit as well. But after deeper consideration, it will hit you that looking at willpower as a habit is enlightening and illuminating. Willpower --through acts of willpower--is something that is practiced and can be exercised and strengthened.

Habit, indeed, as Duhigg argues, is a powerful theoretical concept. It provides an explanation for the stability we observe in human behavior, but it also provides a framework for understanding psychological change: We stay the same by repeating our habits; we change by changing our habits--a simple and direct formula for life. Habits can explain why we are stuck (in the past), but it is also true that the tenacious and repetitive exercise of certain behaviors is the way by which we can realize future goals and change our way of life. Routinely eat well and one gets healthier; exercise regularly and one gets more fit and stronger; read and study on a regular basis and one gets educated (all other things being equal).

In fact, following Aristotle, as well as many contemporary thinkers, one develops character and becomes virtuous by repeatedly expressing (and hence practicing) virtuous acts. One becomes a better person by doing virtuous acts--by living the life of virtue. The good is a habit. (As Gretchen Rubin points out, it's what you do everyday--and not just once in a while--that is really important.)

In contemporary educational theory and practice, repetition has gotten a bad name: As the modern argument goes, students need to develop creative skills and not just engage in rote learning and practice. But without practice, without the repetitious and often exhausting exercise of skills and capacities, excellence does not emerge. Moreover, habits become motives: The more something is practiced, the better one gets at it and  the greater the desire to repeat it. The more you learn, the more you want to learn; the more you exercise, the more you want to exercise.

In my opinion, though, the biggest flaw in the book is how oblivious the whole exposition is to the classic history of psychological research on habits. Duhigg cites recent research, but he says nothing about B. F. Skinner, Pavlov, Watson, or almost any other psychologist from earlier times. (Duhigg does discuss William James a bit.) In this regard, it is noteworthy that Duhigg's theory of habits and human motivation, in fact, is essentially a model of operant conditioning (see Skinner and Clark Hull). Skinner and Hull also believed that habits were pretty much everything. But there is no credit given to or discussion of the rich and informative work of these psychologists, among others. Further, Duhigg does not discuss the central importance of "association" psychology and philosophy--the foundation of habits--that runs back over two hundred years.

I don't know whether Duhigg believes he is saying something new in his book, but almost all his basic ideas can be found in earlier psychological research and writings. In fact, he totally misses many central elements and implications pertaining to habits simply because he does not seem to be familiar with the great wealth of information to be found in experimental psychology. As someone interested in the history and evolution of human thought, it is fascinating to me how frequently people believe that they have discovered something new when in fact it has been (often repeatedly) observed or thought out before by others. Such is the ignorance and arrogance of the present relative to the past.

Tom Lombardo

Book Review: Evolutionaries: Unlocking the Spiritual and Cultural Potential of Science's Greatest Idea by Carter Phipps

Evolutionaries is an interesting and informative book--I read through it in a flash. The writing style flows; it held my attention from the opening; I learned a lot, thought a lot along the way; and the book significantly helped me to pull lots of themes together in my mind. The book weaves together narrative and theory, introducing different evolutionary thinkers through stories about them and then describing the essence of their theories. Through the book Phipps delves into the lives and key ideas of around forty or fifty different evolutionary thinkers, from scientists and psychologists to philosophers and spiritual leaders. He includes discussions of Darwin, Teillard de Chardin, Lynn Margulis, Howard Bloom, Sri Aurubindo, Alfred North Whitehead, Ken Wilber, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Robert Wright, and Ray Kurzweil, among others --a rich and wide array of personalities and perspectives.

Phipps' basic argument is that evolution is a cosmic, interdisciplinary world view, including but not limited to the natural or biological sciences. All of existence, from the metaphysical and cosmological to the social, psychological, and spiritual can be subsumed under the framework of evolutionary thought. There are diverse individuals, from diverse disciplines, cultures, and ways of life, actively working toward this integrative (or integral) perspective. That indeed is the main point of the book: To show how evolutionary thinking is being applied across the board to nature, society and culture, technology, human psychology and creativity, and theology and spirituality.

Furthermore, evolution, as a world view, not only informs us regarding the nature of things, it also provides a basis for ethics and morality--a "moral imperative," as Phipps identifies it, to consciously and purposefully further facilitate the ongoing evolution of humanity and the cosmos. Though grounded in a story of our origins, evolution, both factually and ethically, points toward a vision of the future and inspires us on our journey through time.

In fact, as Phipps points out, the evolutionary world view is still in evolution--the pieces of this grand narrative are just coming together; the insights are still arising and taking form. As some have argued, evolution as a natural process is evolving, and our understanding of it likewise is in a state of ongoing development. As Chardin stated, "We are moving," and this applies both to our ontological reality and our evolving knowledge of the world around us.   

Where, I believe, the book suffers is in its treatment of evolutionary theory within the physical and cosmological sciences. It is light and highly selective relative to more humanistic and spiritual evolutionary perspectives. Phipps does include scientific thinkers such as Walter Kauffman, Kevin Kelly, and Elizabet Sahtouris, but there is little, if nothing, on physical and biological evolutionary thought as represented in the works of Lee Smolin, Eric Chaisson, Murrary Gell-Mann, David Loye, Paul Davies, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Dawkins, and Frank Tipler, among others. The evolutionary perspective on physical cosmology and the biological sciences is simply not sufficiently developed.

I also found that though Phipps attempts to provide the big picture of evolutionary thinking, generally he describes each evolutionary thinker and then moves on to the next. He doesn't integrate the ideas and major themes of all the different individuals anywhere near as much as he could.

Yet all in all, I highly recommend this book, especially for readers who have a rather limited biological conception of the idea of evolution. Clearly the book provides an expansive vision of evolutionary thought that goes far beyond biology.

Tom Lombardo

Book Review: The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Baltasar Gracian


The Art of Worldly Wisdom
was written by a Jesuit priest, Baltasar Gracian, 1601 -1658. He taught and preached in Spain.  By studying the behaviour of nobility for many years he was able to formulate 300 maxims for living a successful life. In this volume he primarily focuses on matters of moral subtlety and the treatment of friends, rivals, and enemies. He often refers to the nobility by name and describes their strategies when confronted with difficult situations and dilemmas.   Schopenhauer, who translated it into German, considered this book "Absolutely unique... a book made for constant use...a companion for life" for "those who wish to prosper in the great world." (Source Wikipedia).

Will Hendrie  (A Wisdom Page Reader)

Read More/Buy the Book
Wisdom University - New Virtual Course: "Fundamentals of Cosmometry" 

"Wisdom University is a graduate school dedicated to catalyzing personal and professional renewal within the context of granting academic degrees. All of our courses are also open to wisdom seekers interested in deepening their learning journey in a global community setting...The University's uniqueness lies in the unusual way it blends intellectual discernment, artistic expression, body movement, and psychological integration, all combined to catalyze the pursuit of wisdom as a way of life."

Recommended by Wisdom Page Advisory Board member, Anne Adams, a new virtual course offered through Wisdom University: "Fundamentals in Cosmometry."

Futurodyssey & Wisdom Page Updates: Newsletters and Archives

Beginning last month, I began publishing two newsletters: the revitalized and redesigned Wisdom Page Updates and  Futurodyssey (the monthly publication of the Center for Future Consciousness).  So readers can view earlier issues, both newsletters now have Archive Pages. View the Wisdom Page Updates Archive Page; view the Futurodyssey Archive Page. The reader can subscribe to the Futurodyssey newsletter by going to the CFC website.  

Featured Website: American Teilhard Association
Teilhard de Chardin has become one of the most
frequently cited twentieth century thinkers, especially in literature on evolution and the future. Identified with such key influential ideas as the "noosphere" and the "Omega Point" theory, Teilhard de Chardin attempted to synthesize his Christian theological education with scientific evolutionary theory.

The featured website states: "The American Teilhard Association, since its foundation in 1967, is committed to making the thought and vision of Teilhard more widely available ...Teilhard's vision of the sequential evolution of
the universe provides a firm and inspiring basis upon  which to envision a sustainable future."
That's it for this month: Virtue and wisdom; the new Book Review Page; Barack Obama and political wisdom; the Wisdom Research Network and the Wisdom University; Teilhard de Chardin; and habits, evolution, and worldly wisdom. Next month, among other things, we will be looking at Richard Trowbridge's new book The Flourishing Earth: A Vision of Humans Who are Wise. Thanks for your interest in The Wisdom Page.
Tom Lombardo