Wisdom models and their connections to research on professional expertise

The concept of wisdom is multi-dimensional and complex, and it may be analysed according to components with different criteria. The concept of wisdom holds a long-standing status among the ideas of history, philosophy (which means “lone of wisdom”, literally), science, and all of the world’s major religions and cultures (Curnow, 1999, 2010, 2015), and there is not a single discipline that could claim exclusivity for it. In general, wisdom can be defined as the ideal aim of advanced human development and learning, in the study of ontogeny (Swartwood & Tiberius, 2019). There are many definitions of wisdom, and also approaches, methods, and disciplines that focus on it.

Regarding the current scientific wisdom research, there have been many conceptualisation attempts (Bangen, Meeks, & Jeste, 2013). We focus here mainly on those components of wisdom that are in some way linked to the main topics of this chapter: adult integrative cognitive development, Baltes and Staudinger’s (2000) and Sternberg’s (1998) models of wisdom and their connection to expertise, the role of emotions and practical action, plus the idea of eudaimonia, meaning “good life”, as a form of wisdom.

First, as already stated, the neo-Piagetian construct of postformal thinking (i.e., integrative thinking) has been commonly defined as a component of wisdom (Baltes & Staudinger, 2000; Grossmann, 2017; Staudinger & Glück, 2011). In this book, some models of adult cognitive development have already been reviewed, such as the Reflective Judgement model (by King & Kitchener, 1994; see also Chapter 4; and for a general review of the field, Chapter 2; and Sinnott’s Postfonnal model in Chapter 12; and for relativistic-dialectical thinking, see Chapter 13).

Secondly, practical life experience in diverse social situations cumulates wisdom. In the Berlin Wisdom Paradigm (Baltes & Staudinger, 2000), wisdom is described as deep understanding and a general expertise in the fundamental pragmatics of life. In the same vein, Swartwood (2013) defines wisdom as an expert skill including intuitive, deliberative, meta-cognitive, self-regulative, and self-cultivation abilities. Here, expertise refers to the kinds of insights that are only available through practical experience during one’s life span. According to Baltes and Staudinger (2000), expertise and life knowledge, by definition, include the following aspects: rich declarative or factual knowledge, procedural (strategic) knowledge, contextualism, relativism, acceptance, and management of life’s uncertainties. These features are based on experiences that have accumulated during one’s life span, and not just in some specialised field as in one’s profession or work life. Latent, tacit knowledge can be used to satisfactorily solve problematic, complex, ill-defined questions (regarding tacit knowledge, see Chapter 9).

Sternberg (1998) has created a model of practical wisdom (Balance Wisdom model) in which tacit knowledge is the key component. The model is used to figure out how subjects understand and solve complex, difficult, and contradictory problems in different fields. Wise decision-making implies appropriate procedural and specific knowledge. It also takes into account various perspectives, like intra-, inter-, and extra-personal ones, judged against possible short- and long-term consequences. The goal is always for the common good, aiming at a prosocial, positively ethical result that benefits the larger group. Wisdom, thus, refers to the application of balanced judgement in complex problem situations — and also means that one can change one’s judgement according to changes in the circumstances and conditions.

Third, all of these wisdom research models have placed strong emphasis on reflection and cognition. Feelings and emotions are taken into account implicitly, as in tacit knowledge or in adult developmental models integrating emotions and cognition (Labouvie-Vief, 2015). Emotions are also explicitly present in Ardelt’s (2003) Three-Dimensional Wisdom model. In this conceptualisation, wisdom is understood as an integrated whole of three elements of personality: the first component, cognition, is understood as a deep approach, involving seeking knowledge and truth both in oneself and in social spheres; understanding the contextuality and limits of knowledge are also a part of it. The second component of wisdom in this model is reflection: its definition comes close to multiperspective thinking, where one is able to view the relativity of a multitude of viewpoints; at the same time, it incorporates self-understanding regarding one’s own behaviour and mind. Finally, the third component, aflect, refers to emotions like empathy and compassion: a wise person cares for and has positive emotions toward others.

Fourth, Yang (2017) criticises wisdom research for being focused more on thinking and feeling, but not so much on the aspect of doing. She uses the term embodied wisdom or process theory of wisdom to refer to her own three-component wisdom model. She has defined wisdom as an integrative process between thinking, feeling, and acting. Wisdom cannot therefore be just a cognitive capacity. When asking laymen to name a wise person, they tend to nominate persons who have acted out and demonstrated an extraordinary ability. Real-life actions and concrete manifestations of wisdom are thus the major aspects of wisdom, according to Yang (2017).

Similar suggestions regarding the integration of emotion, cognition, and motivation in wisdom have been stated by Staudinger and Glück (2011). “Doing”, as an aspect of wisdom, implies a purposeful aim for the benefit of the common social good as a person actualises his or her positive intentions: it includes carefully considering the ethical prosocial implications of one’s actions for the community at large. Intentions and goals are ethical as it is assumed that the actions are undertaken for the common good and a positive outcome (Staudinger & Glück, 2011).

Law and Staudinger (2016) have analysed wisdom’s close connection to eudai-monia, which is originally an Aristotelian term referring to leading a “good life”. They agree that there are differences between these terms, but add that both constructs refer to high levels of personal growth and human flourishing. Next, we examine the Aristotelian concepts in more detail.

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