In This Issue
Editorial: A Theory of Wisdom (Part I) by Tom Lombardo
Online Course on the Virtues: Temperance
Book Review: Mind and Cosmos by Thomas Nagel
New Essay: Toward a Global Perspective by Leland Beaumont
New Book: Imagining the University
Wisdom Research: Univ of Chicago
Sajid Khan on Wisdom and Selflessness
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
March, 2013

This Month's Highlights  





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

  • Editorial: A Theory of Wisdom (Part I) by Tom Lombardo   
  • Online Course on the Virtues: Temperance  
  • Book Review - Mind and Cosmos by Thomas Nagel - Reviewed by Tom Lombardo
  • New Essay: Toward a Global Perspective: Seeing Through Illusion by Leland Beaumont
  • New Book: Imagining the University by Ronald Barnett 
  • Wisdom Research at the University of Chicago - Financial Wisdom   
  • Update on Sajid Khan's Views on Wisdom and Selflessness   
  • Wisdom Page and Futurodyssey Archives 


A Theory of Wisdom (Part I)
Tom Lombardo 


The last two issues of the Wisdom Page Updates have included guest editorials by Leland Beaumont and Nick Maxwell, each of whom presented some of their ideas on the nature and importance of wisdom. In earlier editorials I presented some of my ideas, but I thought it would be a good exercise to succinctly pull together my overall theory of wisdom. Perhaps it will provoke some interesting discussion with Lee, Nick, and readers of the Wisdom Page Updates.

The reader should understand that these are my views on wisdom, and do not necessarily represent the views of other advisory board members, or of course, wisdom writers in general. As always, the policy of the Wisdom Page is to encourage thoughtful and diverse perspectives on wisdom - to foster dialogue and mutual enrichment.

*  *  *  *  *

Throughout human history and across human cultures there have been a host of different theories of wisdom, often selectively highlighting certain key human traits and capacities. Reviewing this literature, which is very extensive, one can nonetheless identify certain common themes, as well as certain recurring issues and differences of opinion. Copthorne Macdonald identified forty-eight human qualities that have been connected with wisdom; Robert Sternberg (as editor of a number of books on wisdom) provided various comparative lists and tables of approaches to wisdom, identifying key ideas associated with each approach; and Richard Trowbridge created a thoroughly researched review of historical theories of wisdom, including a good deal of comparative analysis. Finally, Leland Beaumont has an online course on wisdom in which he identifies key qualities of wisdom. Hence, there is a rich data pool, including integrative studies, from which to synthesize a general theory of wisdom.

Approaching wisdom as a psychologist, an educator, and a futurist, I find myself drawn to certain key ideas, though I should quickly add that as a philosopher I am always attempting to pull it all together and to be balanced and comprehensive in the process. Based on my ongoing study of wisdom writings and resources, such as those mentioned above, my present working definition of wisdom is the following:

"Wisdom is the highest expression of self-development and future consciousness. It is the continually evolving understanding of and fascination with the big picture of life, of what is important, ethical, and meaningful, and the desire and creative capacity to apply this understanding to enhance the well-being of life, both for oneself and others."

Right off the bat I want to highlight that I see wisdom as having a future-focused dimension. Wisdom needs to face forward. Wisdom works toward creating a positive future. As I have phrased it, "Wisdom connects the heritage and lessons of the past with the thoughtfulness, openness, and creativity needed for the future. Wisdom involves an expansive synthesis of temporal consciousness--the big picture of time--combating the excessive narrow "presentism" of today." (In this sense, I probably disagree with those who emphasize the idea that wisdom focuses on the present.) (See my essays "The Wisdom of Future Consciousness" and "Wisdom Facing Forward." )

Along with the future focus of wisdom, there is the question of how one defines "well-being," for isn't this is what wisdom seeks and attempts to realize? And further, is well-being equivalent to the good life? Can we define the good in terms of well-being?  Leland Beaumont raised these questions in a previous editorial. The view I have recently come to is that what defines both well-being and the good life is "to flourish." Linking well-being with flourishing provides us with a dynamic, growth-oriented, future-focused concept of the good.

So how does one realize (more correctly pursue and develop) this general capacity of wisdom, at least as I have defined it? It seems to me that one can identify a core set of capacities and character virtues that, when taken together, constitute the main features of wisdom. These capacities and virtues facilitate flourishing now and into the future, both for oneself and others. And these capacities and virtues can be developed.

I have distilled down the list to roughly fifteen items. Here are the first ones:

1) Self-responsibility and self-control: The wise person takes responsibility for his or her life; the wise person actively initiates and pursues the development of wisdom; the wise person develops the capacity to control his or her consciousness and behavior. All character virtues, including wisdom, are accomplishments, and without the belief that one can purposefully and constructively influence one's life and character, one can't develop any of the character virtues. Self-responsibility, indeed, is the cardinal virtue. Since wisdom is an accomplishment--not a given--it requires for its development the belief in self-responsibility and the exercise of self-control. Wisdom is realized through being actively pursued.

2) Curiosity and the love of learning: The wise person is curious, experiencing a sense of wonder and fascination with reality. The wise person loves knowledge and learning. In particular, the wise person pursues deep learning and understanding, acquiring knowledge that penetrates to the essence or fundamentals of reality, and that penetrates into the core of their being, transforming their personal identity. All wise people (as recounted in "wisdom narratives") have grown and been transformed through deeply meaningful experiences in life. Deep learning, fueled by a love of learning, is a necessary foundation for the growth of wisdom, fueling the spirit and enlightening the mind.

3) Big picture of reality--broad temporal consciousness: Wisdom pursues and realizes a "big picture" understanding of reality. Wisdom searches for the cosmic whole and looks for the global perspective. Wisdom extends itself into the past and into the future, realizing and forever developing a broad and integrative temporal consciousness of things. The opposite of being wise is to be narrow in one's perspective on reality.

4) Contemporary knowledge: Knowledge grows; knowledge evolves; and reality doesn't stand still. Wisdom, due to its passion for learning and fascination with reality, stays abreast of current developments in ideas and thinking. Wisdom locked into the past is no longer wisdom. Wisdom exults in the ongoing growth of knowledge. Just as the individual mind grows, so does our collective understanding. The wise person stays a-tuned. Further, wisdom needs to have application to contemporary issues and challenges. What's going on? What are the problems? What do we think? And what can we do about it?  

5) Openness and the spirit of adventure: Following from the last point, wisdom embraces adventure. Our knowledge is uncertain; reality shifts around on us, with an irreducible element of unpredictability regarding the future. Wisdom possesses courage and indeed even joy in the face of these uncertainties. Wisdom is not arrogant and closed off, but rather open to the new, the surprising, the different. Wisdom carries with it an acknowledgement that the journey is not over, that there is more to learn, and it is okay to make mistakes. Wisdom pulls together and balances conviction and doubt. It is this open attitude that allows wisdom to grow and realize itself. One cannot realistically approach the future without the spirit of adventure.

To be Continued Next Month


Online Course on the Virtues: Temperance

Continuing our online course on the virtues, this month we study  Temperance,  the virtue of moderation. We can choose our pleasures rather than indulging mindlessly in limitless excess. We can choose to enjoy what we have rather than succumbing to an unending quest for all that we do not have.  Exercise temperance every day as you find a healthy and gratifying balance between deprivation and indulgence.

*  *  *  *

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.

Leland Beaumont

Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False by Thomas Nagel - Reviewed by Tom Lombardo


A thoughtful and thought-provoking short philosophy book on the challenge of explaining consciousness, rationality, and values within scientific theories of the evolution of the physical world.

Thomas Nagel is an internationally recognized professor of philosophy at New York University. Mind and Cosmos, a short one hundred and thirty page book, was published this last year (2012) by Oxford University Press.

I found Mind and Cosmos fascinating and intellectually stimulating. It raises more scientific and philosophical questions and challenges than it answers or constructively addresses, but this is a plus. Nagel wants to highlight what he takes to be the big puzzles still facing science and philosophy.

Read Complete Book Review

New Essay: Toward a Global Perspective: Seeing Through Illusion by Leland Beaumont
"It is difficult to see through the illusion that what we see is all there is, but humans have been making some progress....Overcoming obvious conclusions based on local perspective has required centuries of work, and is still ongoing." An essay on moving beyond the narrow and the egocentric to a more global and cosmic perspective on reality. Part of Leland's course on "Global Perspective."

Read the entire essay.

New Book: Imagining the University by Ronald Barnett (Emeritus Professor of Higher Education, University of London

"Around the world, what it is to be a university is a matter of much debate. The range of ideas of the university in public circulation is, however, exceedingly narrow and is dominated by the idea of the entrepreneurial university. As a consequence, the debate is hopelessly impoverished. Lurking in the literature, there is a broad and even imaginative array of ideas of the university, but those ideas are seldom heard. We need, consequently, not just more ideas of the university but better ideas.

Imagining the University forensically examines this situation, critically interrogating many of the current ideas of the university. Imagining the University argues for imaginative ideas that are critical, sensitive to the deep structures underlying universities and are yet optimistic, in short feasible utopias of the university. The case is pressed for one such idea, that of the ecological university. The book concludes by offering a vision of the imagining university, a university that has the capacity continually to re-imagine itself."

From the Book Flyer

Wisdom Research: University of Chicago

Essays and research reports in this month's issue of Wisdom Research at the University of Chicago focus on financial wisdom.  One can read the articles and subscribe to the regular newsletter on the website.


Update on Sajid Khan's Views on Wisdom and Selflessness

We have updated our link to Sajid Khan's essays on wisdom. His newest essay calls for a revolution in education based on his view that the essence or core of wisdom is selflessness. To quote from his latest essay,

"A Challenge to the Secretary of Education: Wisdom is Selflessness. Either Prove us Wrong or Take Action"

"Most research on wisdom is stuck at and has stopped at trying to identify and define wisdom. The reason wisdom cannot be identified is because wisdom is the wealth of intelligence and just as wealth is nothing on its own, wisdom too is nothing on its own and it only exists in its attributes. All the attributes at closer examination reveal themselves as selflessness. The experts have understood selflessness as one of the attributes of wisdom. Selflessness is much more than just one of the attributes of wisdom; it is the very material that all the other attributes of wisdom are made from. Thus selflessness is not one of the ingredients of wisdom, selflessness is the one and only ingredient that generates wisdom. Selflessness is wisdom and it is the factor that transforms every attribute of wisdom into wisdom.

Selflessness is much more than being unselfish and having no concern for one's own self. Selflessness means/is having no selfish self identity. Selflessness is what Will Durant said about wisdom; selflessness is about seeing things in view of the whole; seeing one's own self as part of the whole. Where the self identity is merged in the group identity just like a drop of water is part of an ocean.

When there is no selfish self identity there is no jealousy, greed, fear of others, no desire to get ahead of the pack, no rivalry. There is common love and concern for one and all including one's own self. It is group love rather than self love and as love contains in itself respect, trust, sacrifice, confidence etc. one feels all the attributes of love toward one's own self as part of the whole. Loving one's own self becomes a reflection of loving everyone else...."

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: A future-focused theory of wisdom, the virtue of temperance, a review of Mind and Cosmos, a new essay on developing a global perspective, a new book on Imagining the University, research on financial wisdom, and a theory of wisdom and selflessness.
Tom Lombardo