chapter  11
26 Pages

Wisdom Develops From Experiences That Transcend the Self

ByHoward C. Nusbaum

Wisdom has been defined in many ways by different disciplines. But, in recent scientific research on wisdom, much of the focus has been derived from Aristotle’s concept of practical decision-making that leads to human flourishing. Human flourishing, in this context, is not taken as simple personal well-being, but as a positive state of being that depends on the well-being of others, as well as oneself. In this respect, then, wisdom is considered as more than social expertise or emotional intelligence, but as a human capacity that has intrinsic moral dimensions. By connecting the intellectual virtue of wisdom to moral virtues as providing the value commitments that frame wise decisions, wisdom can be thought of as a prosocial force in human life, albeit not necessarily at personal cost, for wise decisions must balance a number of goods. But in being guided by goods beyond narrow self-interest, wisdom must be understood as a human capacity quite apart from intelligence or cleverness or creativity. This means that wisdom depends on understanding people deeply (a kind of expertise), understanding relevant aspects of the world deeply (another kind of expertise), but also being attuned to other people’s needs and concerns and values and being able to control one’s own needs and concerns in evaluating a situation. Understanding these human capacities scientifically depends on behavioral, psychological, and neuroscience research as expertise, social skill, and social and emotional sensitivity are all complex aspects of human psychology and neurobiology. The traditional idea that wisdom develops with age is problematic because we know not everyone who is older is wise, and some young people are wise. It is important to understand how experience can give rise to the importance of virtues as value commitments. Further, it is important to understand the kinds of experiences that can lead to adoption of those value commitments. Here we consider the kind of experiences that lead to wisdom and the mechanisms of human psychology and neurobiology necessary to learn self-transcendent values from these experiences.