Practical Wisdom: Aristotle meets Positive Psychology

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

References

  1. M. Argyle (1999) ‘Causes and correlates of happiness’ D. Kahneman E. Diener N. Schwarz (Eds) Well-being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology Russell Sage Foundation New York 353–373

    Google Scholar 

  2. Aristotle (1999) Nicomachean Ethics (M. Ostwald, Trans.) Prentice Hall Upper Saddle River, NJ

    Google Scholar 

  3. P.B. Baltes J. Smith (1990) ‘The psychology of wisdom and its ontogenesis’ R.J. Sternberg (Eds) Wisdom: Its Nature, Origins, and Development Cambridge University Press New York 87–120

    Google Scholar 

  4. P.B. Baltes U.M. Staudinger (1993) ArticleTitle‘The search for a psychology of wisdom’ Current Directions in Psychological Science 2 75–80 Occurrence Handle10.1111/1467-8721.ep10770914

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Baltes, P.B. and U.M. Staudinger: 1998, Wisdom. in: H. Friedman (ed.), Encyclopedia of Mental Health, Vol. 3 (Academic Press, San Diego, CA) pp. 699–706

  6. P.B. Baltes U.M. Staudinger (2000) ArticleTitle‘Wisdom: A metaheuristic (pragmatic) to orchestrate mind and virtue toward excellence’ American Psychologist 55 122–136 Occurrence Handle10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.122

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. J. Baron (1986) ArticleTitle‘Tradeoffs among reasons for action’ Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior 16 173–195

    Google Scholar 

  8. Cameron K.S. J.E. Dutton J.E. Quinn (Eds) (2003) Positive Organizational Scholarship Berrett-Koehler San Francisco

    Google Scholar 

  9. P.M. Churchland (1996) ‘The neural representation of the social world’ L. May M. Friedman A. Clark (Eds) Mind and Morals MIT Press Cambridge, MA 91–108

    Google Scholar 

  10. J. Dewey (1960) The Theory of the Moral Life Holt, Rinehart and Winston New York

    Google Scholar 

  11. O. Flanagan (1996) ‘Ethics naturalized: Ethics as human ecology’ L. May M. Friedman A. Clark (Eds) Mind and Morals MIT Press Cambridge, MA 19–44

    Google Scholar 

  12. B.S. Frey F. Oberholzer-Gee (1997) ArticleTitle‘The cost of price incentives: An empirical analysis of motivation crowding-out’ American Economic Review 87 746–755

    Google Scholar 

  13. M. Gladwell (2005) Blink Little Brown New York

    Google Scholar 

  14. J. Haidt (2001) ArticleTitle‘The emotional dog and its rational tail: A social intuitionist approach to moral judgment’ Psychological Review 108 814–834 Occurrence Handle10.1037/0033-295X.108.4.814

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. M.L. Johnson (1993) Moral Imagination University of Chicago Press Chicago

    Google Scholar 

  16. M.L. Johnson (1996) ‘How moral psychology changes moral theory’ L. May M. Friedman A. Clark (Eds) Mind and Morals MIT Press Cambridge, MA 45–68

    Google Scholar 

  17. D. Kahneman (2003) ArticleTitle‘A perspective on judgment and choice’ American Psychologist 58 697–720 Occurrence Handle10.1037/0003-066X.58.9.697

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. D. Kahneman E. Diener N. Schwarz (Eds) (1999) Well-being: The Foundations of Hedonic Psychology Russell Sage Foundation New York

    Google Scholar 

  19. D. Kahneman S. Frederick (2002) ‘Representativeness revisited: Attribute substitution in intuitive judgment’ T. Gilovich D. Griffin D. Kahneman (Eds) Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment Cambridge University Press New York 49–81

    Google Scholar 

  20. M.R. Lepper D. Greene (Eds) (1978) The Hidden Costs of Reward Lawrence Erlbaum Hillsdale, NJ

    Google Scholar 

  21. L. May M. Friedman A. Clark (Eds) (1996) Mind and Morals MIT Press Cambridge, MA

    Google Scholar 

  22. J. McClelland D. Rummelhart (1986) Parallel Distributed Processing: Explorations in the Microstructure of Cognition (2 vols) MIT Press Cambridge, MA

    Google Scholar 

  23. M.C. Nussbaum (1995) Poetic Justice Beacon Press Boston

    Google Scholar 

  24. Nussbaum, M.C.: 2004, Positive psychology and ancient Greek virtue ethics. Unpublished manuscript. University of Chicago

  25. C. Peterson M.E.P. Seligman (2004) Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification Oxford University Press New York

    Google Scholar 

  26. A.E. Rorty (1991) Mind in Action: Essays in the Philosophy of Mind Beacon Press Boston

    Google Scholar 

  27. E. Rosch (1975) ArticleTitle‘Cognitive representations of semantic categories’ Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 104 192–233 Occurrence Handle10.1037/0096-3445.104.3.192

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. E. Rosch B.B. Lloyd (Eds) (1978) Cognition and Categorization Lawrence Erlbaum Hillsdale, NJ

    Google Scholar 

  29. B. Schwartz (1994) The Costs of Living: How Market Freedom Erodes the Best Things in Life W. W. Norton New York

    Google Scholar 

  30. N. Schwarz (2002) ‘Feelings as information: Moods influence judgments and processing strategies’ T. Gilovich D. Griffin D. Kahneman (Eds) Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment Cambridge University Press New York 534–547

    Google Scholar 

  31. M.E.P. Seligman (2002) Authentic Happiness Free Press New York

    Google Scholar 

  32. M.E.P. Seligman M. Csikszentmihalyi (2000) ArticleTitle‘Positive psychology: An introduction’ American Psychologist 55 5–14 Occurrence Handle10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.5

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. S.A. Sloman (2002) ‘Two systems of reasoning’ T. Gilovich D. Griffin D. Kahneman (Eds) Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment Cambridge University Press New York 379–396

    Google Scholar 

  34. P. Slovic M. Finucane E. Peters D.C. MacGregor (2002) ‘The affect heuristic’ T. Gilovich D. Griffin D. Kahneman (Eds) Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment Cambridge University Press New York 397–420

    Google Scholar 

  35. Staudinger, U.M. and P.B. Baltes: 1994, ‘Psychology of wisdom’. in R.J. Sternberg (ed.), Encyclopedia of Intelligence, Vol. 1 (Macmillan, New York) pp. 143–152

  36. U.M. Staudinger P.B. Baltes (1996) ArticleTitle‘Interactive minds: A facilitative setting for wisdom-related performance?’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 71 746–762 Occurrence Handle10.1037/0022-3514.71.4.746

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. R.J. Sternberg (1998) ArticleTitle‘A balance theory of wisdom’ Review of General Psychology 2 347–365 Occurrence Handle10.1037/1089-2680.2.4.347

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. J.D. Wallace (1988) Moral Relevance and Moral Conflict Cornell Ithaca, N.Y

    Google Scholar 

  39. L. Wittgenstein (1953) Philosophical Investigations (translated by G.E.M. Anscombe) Macmillan New York

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Barry Schwartz.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Schwartz, B., Sharpe, K.E. Practical Wisdom: Aristotle meets Positive Psychology. J Happiness Stud 7, 377–395 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-005-3651-y

Download citation

Keywords

  • character strengths
  • positive psychology
  • practical wisdom
  • virtues