Journal of Happiness Studies

, Volume 7, Issue 3, pp 377–395 | Cite as

Practical Wisdom: Aristotle meets Positive Psychology

  • Barry SchwartzEmail author
  • Kenneth E. Sharpe


The strengths and virtues identified by positive psychology are treated as logically independent, and it is recommended that people identify their “signature” strengths and cultivate them, because more of a strength is better [Peterson and Seligman: 2004, Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification (Oxford University Press, New York); Seligman: 2002, Authentic Happiness (Free Press, New York)]. The present paper contrasts that view with the Aristotelian view that virtues are interdependent, that happiness (eudaimonia) requires all the virtues, and that more of a virtue is not always better than less. We argue that practical wisdom is the master virtue essential to solving problems of specificity, relevance, and conflict that inevitably arise whenever character strengths must be translated into action in concrete situations. We also argue that practical wisdom is becoming increasingly difficult to nurture and display in modern society, so that attention must be paid to reshaping social institutions to encourage the use of practical wisdom rather than inhibiting it.


character strengths positive psychology practical wisdom virtues 


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Copyright information

© Springer 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologySwarthmore CollegeSwarthmoreUSA

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