In This Issue
Editorial: Wisdom and the Pursuit of Well-Being
Online Course on the Virtues: Fidelity
New Essay: Wisdom and War
New Essay: Wisdom in Perlman's Binocular Vision
New Essay: Philosophy of Death and Dying
New Essay: The Fourth Planet
Book Review: Well Being
Wisdom Page & Futurodyssey Archives
Quick Links
Tom Lombardo
Director of The Wisdom Page & the Center for Future Consciousness 

Join Our Mailing List
View Previous
Wisdom Page Updates
Wisdom Page Updates
December, 2012

This Month's Highlights  





Included in this month's issue of the Wisdom Page Updates are:  


  • Editorial on Wisdom and the Pursuit of Well-Being   
  • Online Course on the Virtues: Fidelity 
  • New Essay: Wisdom and War    
  • New Essay: Wisdom in Edith Pearlman's Binocular Vision 
  • New Essay: Issues for the Philosophy of Death and Dying
  • New Essay: The Fourth Planet 
  • Book Review - Well Being: The Five Essential Elements  
  • Wisdom Page and Futurodyssey Archives      


Wisdom and the Pursuit of Well-Being

Guest Editorial by Leland Beaumont

Is there more to wisdom than the pursuit of well-being?  The new Oxford American dictionary defines well-being as the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy. Philosopher Nicholas Maxwell defines wisdom as "the capacity, the desire, and the active endeavor to realize what is of value in life, for oneself and others." Perhaps "capacity, desire, and active endeavor" describe a more active commitment than "pursuit," and perhaps well-being is a bit mundane compared to "what is of value in life," but it does seem we are off to a pretty good start.

Not long ago "health" was thought of as the absence of disease. Now it is thought of more broadly as a vitality and exuberance that can extend throughout an ever-increasing lifespan. Perhaps we can allow similar headroom for the concept of well-being. Authors Tom Rath and Jim Harter take a step in that direction in their recent book on well-being when they define well-being as all the things that are important to how we think about and experience our lives.

If we decide to pursue well-being, it raises three study questions:

1) What is well-being?  What are the conditions and events that increase (and those that diminish) well-being? Philosophers have long been concerned with well-being. In Aristotle's works, eudaimonia was used as the term for the highest human good, and so it is the aim of practical philosophy to consider (and also experience) what it really is, and how it can be achieved. Abraham Maslow studied peoples' peak experiences and developed the hierarchy of needs, along with the being-values. The universal declaration of human rights establishes the minimum political conditions to enable individual pursuit of well-being. Positive psychology now studies positive human functioning. Three books recently reviewed on the Wisdom Page directly address well-being. In The Moral Landscape, San Harris argues that there are scientific truths to be known about well-being. In Flourish, Martin Seligman identifies five elements that increase flourishing. In Wellbeing, Tom Rath and Jim Harter identify five other factors that contribute to well-being. My own course on What Matters identifies 34 topics important to well-being. These first 2,400 years of study have yet to provide us with a well-accepted and comprehensive model describing the factors that comprise well-being.

2) How can well-being be attained? What decisions should I make and what actions should I take to apply what is learned from studying the previous question? For example, could we predict whether taking that new job across town that increases your salary by 20% but adds 40 minutes to your commute will increase your well-being? Can we even analyze the alternatives in any meaningful way? End states that contribute to well-being and practical means to those ends would be explored. For example, flourishing requires positive emotions, but what can we do each day to attain those positive emotions? A complete model of well-being space might identify well-being factors that are universal, cultural, or individual along one axis. Factors that span the range from eliminating deficiencies to delighting with peak experiences are on a second axis, and finally development-stage related factors ranging from toddler to young adult, middle age, through senior citizen are on a third axis.

3) Well-being for whom?  In what ways can my pursuit of well-being complement or diminish your well-being, now and in the future? This can become a fascinating study of boundaries, generosity, protection of the commons, long-term planning, and the role of government. Can principles like the golden rule, various theories of justice, sustainability, or simply recognizing that your freedom ends where mine begins form the basis for a well-being calculus?

Each of these questions seems to be rich areas for both research and application.

Leland Beaumont


Online Course on the Virtues: Fidelity 

Continuing our online course on the virtues, this month we study Fidelity, the virtue of consistency. Fidelity provides the stable basis for reliable thought, reason, morality, trust, and loyalty.  Strive to practice fidelity every day, and then complete the two-part assignment.
The course includes Instructions for contacting the instructor. In addition, the Wikiversity platform encourages your participation in improving the course.  Comments on each page are welcome on the accompanying "Talk" page, accessed via the "Discuss" tab.

We want to hear from you.

If you are interested in participating in a forum of active students to discuss assignments and share your thoughts, please let us know and we will work to provide a space for that. Also, we would like to be able to provide conscientious students a completion certificate at the end of the course, but we have not yet decided how best to assess completion. What are your ideas?

We certainly hope you continue to enjoy this tour of the virtues.

Leeland Beaumont

Wisdom and War: From Homer's Trojan Horse to Spielberg's War Horse
by Walter Moss

"In Steven Spielberg's film War Horse (2011) there is a scene in which Joey, the star horse of the film, is entangled in barbed wire in the no-man's-land between WWI German and English trenches. A British soldier hoists a white flag and goes out to disentangle Joey. He is eventually joined by a German soldier who brings wire cutters,
and the two men free Joey, exchange first names and friendly words, and then decide who will take Joey back with them by a flip of a German coin.

The scene moves us because amidst all the horrific and senseless killing of WWI, we see a glimmer of human cooperation and decency that transcends national boundaries...."

Read the complete essay--another thoughtful, scholarly, and personally moving article by our advisory board member, Walter Moss.       

New Essay: Wisdom in Edith Pearlman's Binocular Vision
by Walter Moss
"Last year Edith Pearlman received much acclaim after her fourth collection of stories, Binocular Vision: New & Selected Stories, won the National Book Critics Circle Award in fiction. Before then many learned people had never heard of her. By now, however, many other writers and literary critics have commented on the craftsmanship of the 34 stories (some new, some old) appearing in her latest book. Therefore, there is no need here to stress her skill as a writer. But there is no doubt that it contributes to the appreciation of what I will emphasize: the wisdom contained in her stories.

Wisdom involves not only thought and behavior, but also feeling. No one is completely wise, and some researchers have suggested that wise women tend to emphasize more than do wise men the affective traits of compassion, empathy, and sympathy. These, plus other wisdom values such as love, tolerance, humility, a sense of humor, courage, self- discipline, an appreciation of goodness, truth, and beauty, and what the French call joie de vivre (or delight in life), permeate Pearlman's stories...."

Read the complete essay.

New Essay: Issues for the Philosophy of Death and Dying
by Don Sanborn

"What happens to a human being's consciousness and memories at death is a great mystery. However, there is no shortage of beliefs old and new about the final fate of a person's inner life...the problem I take up in this paper is how those without religious belief might best prepare for death and dying...I hope that the personal issues I raise may be of interest to others, as they seek to articulate concerns of their own about facing death and dying."

Don Sanborn is a new contributor to The Wisdom Page. He is Associate Professor Emeritus, Philosophy and Humanities, Harold Washington College, Chicago, Illinois.


New Essay: The Fourth Planet by Chris Thomson

"We sometimes wonder whether there is intelligent life in other parts of the universe. We even have a long-term project looking for it - SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. It has been looking since 1961, but without success. Perhaps it is looking for the wrong things in the wrong ways. This begs the question: would we recognize other kinds of intelligence if we encountered it, particularly if it is much higher than ours? Given the state of the world today, perhaps a more useful question would be: is there intelligent life on our own planet? Here is that question seen through very different eyes."

Read the complete essay.

Book Review - Well Being: The Five Essential Elements by By  Tom Rath and Jim Harter - Reviewed by Leland Beaumont

Many definitions of wisdom focus on judgment and actions that increase well-being. With well-being central to the concept of wisdom, it becomes important to know what it is and how it can be improved.

Authors Tom Rath and Jim Harter marshaled the considerable resources of the Gallup organization to identify the elements of well-being. They began by defining well-being as all the things that are important to how we think about and experience our lives. They then used carefully constructed survey methods to gather data from more than 350,000 adults in 150 countries, representing 98% of the world's adult population.

Their findings are grouped into these five distinct statistical factors that describe important aspects of our lives that we can do something about:
  • Career or occupational Well-being:  how people occupy their time during the day and whether it is fulfilling. Do you like what you do each day?
  • Social Well-being:  the quality of relationships in people's lives
  • Financial Well-being:  the degree of financial security people have
  • Physical Well-being:  the extent to which people can do what they want to free of pain
  • Community Well-being:  the extent to which people feel safe and are involved in giving to their community
For each of these five areas, they describe the detailed research findings followed by three actionable recommendations for improving your well-being in that area.

Their research highlights the importance of balance; while a majority of people are doing well in at least one of these five areas, only 7% are thriving in all five.  They also stress the importance of finding short-term incentives that are consistent with our long-term objectives.

These results are remarkable because they are so unremarkable. Your grandmother may have given you similar advice, and that is good news! Absent from the list are the extremist ideologies used to justify so many wars. Trendy fashions, religious fundamentalism, and Joe Camel did not make the list.

The main text is quite short; however the book includes several informative and data-rich appendices.

The book purchase includes an access code to unlock an on-line program including the well-being finder and daily tracker intended to measure and help manage your well-being. These tools can help identify conditions that limit or contribute to your own well-being, and suggest changes that can increase your well-being.

This book takes one more step towards establishing a broadly accepted standard for assessing and achieving well-being. It takes a scientific approach to discovering what humans value most and helps bring us toward a consensus on this essential issue.

Wisdom Page Location

Futurodyssey & Wisdom Page Updates: Newsletters and Archives

Beginning this fall, 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 Wisdom Page Updates on The Wisdom Page Contact Page; the reader can subscribe to the Futurodyssey newsletter by going to the CFC website.  

That's it for this month. Our appreciation to Leland Beaumont, Walter Moss, Don Sanborn, and Chris Thomson for their contributions. Have an enlightening and enjoyable Holiday season and see you in 2013. Thanks for your interest in The Wisdom Page.
Tom Lombardo