Wisdom, Knowledge and Rationality

Abstract

After surveying the strengths and weaknesses of several well-known approaches to wisdom, I argue for a new theory of wisdom that focuses on being epistemically, practically, and morally rational. My theory of wisdom, The Deep Rationality Theory of Wisdom, claims that a wise person is a person who is rational and who is deeply committed to increasing his or her level of rationality. This theory is a departure from theories of wisdom that demand practical and/or theoretical knowledge. The Deep Rationality Theory salvages all that is attractive, and avoids all that is problematic, about theories of wisdom that require wise people to be knowledgeable.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    As a stage of development, Jean Piaget’s and Erik Erickson’s works are good examples. As a kind of intelligence, Robert Sternberg’s work is a good example.

  2. 2.

    For example, see Nicholas Maxwell From Knowledge to Wisdom (Maxwell, 1984); Copthorne MacDonald “Wisdom: The Highest Aim of Life and Higher Education,” on The Wisdom Page http://www.wisdompage; Robert Sternberg’s “Why Schools Should Teach for Wisdom: The Balance Theory of Wisdom in Educational Settings,” Educational Psychologist 36/4: 227-245 (2001) and “What is Wisdom and How Can We Develop It?” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 591: 164-174 (January 2004); and Andrew Norman (1996) “Teaching Wisdom” in Knowledge, Teaching, and Wisdom eds. Lehrer, Lum, Slichta, and Smith, 253-265 (Lehrer, et al., 1996).

  3. 3.

    See “The Deep Rationality Theory of Wisdom” forthcoming in The Continuum Companion to Epistemology ed. Andrew Cullison (Ryan, 2011) for an earlier statement of this theory.

  4. 4.

    Defended in discussion and developed in Sharon Ryan, “What is Wisdom?” Philosophical Studies (93): 119-139.

  5. 5.

    A refreshing consequence of Markosian’s theory is that philosophers have a nice advantage in the quest for wisdom.

  6. 6.

    I am not suggesting that one must learn in a traditional school environment, but one must be exposed to, and understand, the big ideas and questions.

  7. 7.

    This objection was raised in my 2010 Theory of Knowledge class at West Virginia University.

  8. 8.

    Fred Feldman (1978) makes this point in his chapter about moral relativism in his Introductory Ethics, Prentice-Hall (1978) pp. 160-172.

  9. 9.

    In discussion in my Theory of Knowledge class at West Virginia University in May 2010.

  10. 10.

    Of course, I am not claiming that all poets, politicians, and craftsmen are unwise. I am only claiming that those poets, politicians, craftsmen, …philosophers, astronauts, and anyone else who lacks epistemic humility, because they have a lot of unjustified beliefs, is unwise.

  11. 11.

    By ‘available’ I mean to include both evidence one explicitly has “in his head” and also evidence that a person is personally unaware of but could become aware of it with a diligent investigation.

  12. 12.

    In discussion at the Summer 2011 Wisdom conference in Bled, Slovenia.

  13. 13.

    I am grateful to Michael Blumenthal, the students in my 2010 and 2011 Theory of Knowledge classes at West Virginia University, the students in my Wisdom seminar at WVU, and the participants at the 2011 Wisdom, Knowledge, and Understanding conference in Bled, Slovenia, for helpful comments on this paper.

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Correspondence to Sharon Ryan.

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Ryan, S. Wisdom, Knowledge and Rationality. Acta Anal 27, 99–112 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12136-012-0160-6

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Keywords

  • Wisdom
  • Knowledge
  • Rationality
  • Epistemic humility
  • Epistemic virtue