INSIGHTS & INSULTS - A Handbook about the Faults, Failures, Stupidities & Wisdom of Mankind!

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The Upanishads remain today a revered creed. Prince Siddhartha Gautama — b. He left his privileged life at age 29 to search for a higher truth Dyer, His teachings form the basis of Buddhism and he taught through conversations, lectures, and stories. The sutra of the Four Noble Truths is basic to Buddhism: 1 all life is suffering; 2 suffering arises from desire; 3 wisdom lies in stilling all desire; and 4 the eightfold path is the way to the cessation of suffering.

The Buddha focused on conduct rather than theology, ritual, or worship. The exact age of Chinese civilization is unknown but it is estimated to be 7, years old. China is the home of humanistic, nontheological philosophy. Lao-tzu was the greatest of pre-Confucian philosophers. The Tao-Te-Ching, or Book of the Way and Virtue, is attributed to Lao-tzu, but authorship of ancient texts is Wisdom in History 9 considered symbolic rather than historical Cleary, The Tao-TeChing is one of the most important texts of Taoist philosophy.

They seek to have little, and thus are sufficed; they are benevolent without trying, trusted without speaking. Lao-tzu rejected reason and believed intuition and compassion were the path to wisdom Bates, For him, the secret of wisdom was in obedience to nature and refusal to interfere in the natural course of things Durant, Confucius — b. The chaos in China when Confucius lived forced him to focus on morality and right living. Confucianism stood for rationalized social order based on personal cultivation Yutang, The goal was for political order based on individual moral order.

Therefore, wisdom began with the individual rectifying his own heart. From self-development followed social development. The Eastern traditions replaced the focus of wisdom from the physical world to an enlightened understanding of the relationship between the natural world and the Divine.

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It should be added that Asian concepts of wisdom, although well developed, did little to influence the emergence of empirical science in the West and psychology as a field of study. The Renaissance During the Renaissance, the concepts of wisdom and virtue became intertwined. Montaigne — felt that practical wisdom implied that life should be lived in accordance with nature, self-knowledge, knowledge of world, and self-management Brugman, Wisdom included a critical attitude and the truly wise person was always aware of his ignorance.

Francis Bacon — , both a politician and a philosopher, was born in Elizabethan England. In Essays , he wrote short treatises on major issues of life that became the precursor to social psychology 10 James E. Svensson Durant, Bacon is most often remembered for his book Novum Organum, or New Methods, which placed him on the cusp of the modern scientific age Cottingham, He placed science as the point of highest order and introduced the concept of the scientific method.

The Period of Enlightenment Rene Descartes — was the first modern rationalist. He believed the sole basis of knowledge to be self-evident propositions deduced by reason, which arose from a doubting mind Magee, According to Descartes, man should doubt everything until he reached the first principles that could not be doubted. Religious wisdom, however, was based on faith and revelation from God Bates, The English philosopher John Locke — is best known for his book An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, and as the founder of the empirical school of philosophy.

Locke believed that sensory experience is the source for all of our ideas and that knowledge arose from reflection on, and abstraction from, the original sensory input Cottingham, The basis for this understanding rested on the doctrine of primary and secondary qualities. Primary qualities are those that are inseparable from the body and are classified as solidity, extension, figure, motion or rest, and number. Secondary qualities referred to everything else, for example, color, smell, sounds, and so on. Primary qualities reside in bodies, whereas secondary qualities are only in the Wisdom in History 11 perceiver Russell, For Locke, reason consisted of two parts, an inquiry into what we know with certainty, and an investigation of propositions that we are wise to accept, even though they are only probable and not certain Russell, In the Essay, he stated that the truest and best notions of God are acquired by thought and meditation.

Immanuel Kant — , born in East Prussia, is often regarded as the one of the most outstanding philosophers since the Greeks. His propositions included the concept of two worlds: the phenomenal world, where knowledge is possible, and a noumenal world, which is transcendent and to which there is no access. For Kant, morality was founded on reason Magee, Kant based his definition of philosophy on the ancient philo-sophia, or the desire for and love of the exercise of wisdom Hadot, Kant believed philosophy to be the doctrine and exercise of wisdom.

He wrote that men did not possess wisdom but only felt love for it. Wisdom remained the idea, the model, never to be attained but only to be sought after. Kant posited two ideas of philosophy, the scholastic concept and the worldly concept. The scholastic concept remained as pure theory, whereas the worldly concept was more cosmic.

The cosmic philosophy of Kant referred to the search for wisdom, personified as the ideal philosopher or sage. The essential qualities of the sage were based on the laws of reason.

Arthur Schopenhauer — wrote the World as Will and Idea in He stated that in the noumenal world all beings are one, whereas in the phenomenal world we express ourselves as separate. He came into contact with Buddhist and Hindu texts that paralleled his beliefs Magee, Schopenhauer felt that the empirical world was nothing and that one should not be taken in by it Brugman, For Schopenhauer, genius was the highest form of will-less knowledge.

The more a person knew his own desires, the less he was controlled by them. This allowed an objective view of the world without subjective bias Durant, Svensson Wisdom in the Psychological Sciences The emergence of psychology as a research and scholarly subject in the 19th century was not accompanied by studies of wisdom. Although the 18th-century Period of Enlightenment in Germany appears to have freed scholars to be able to pursue rational thought on any subject, wisdom was not chosen for study.


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One explanation may be that since research in psychology began in Germany and influenced early American studies, it was modeled after the successes of physics and chemistry and the search for the principles of elemental processes and structures. Early studies in psychology were carried out in the tradition of psychophysics, which was a direct transfer of the model of physics.

Another factor that appears to have contributed to the neglect of wisdom by psychologists is that as a topic, wisdom was placed in the domain of philosophy and religion and not in the empirical sciences. There was a long standoff relationship between religion and empirical psychology that late in the 20th century began to erode. Books on religion and relationships to behavior and health began to appear and scientific meetings began to include this subject matter.

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Although one of the fathers of American psychology in the 19th century, William James, explored many topics, he did not mention wisdom in his two-volume work The Principles of Psychology Furthermore, his next book on religious experience did not bring into discussion the role of religion and the emergence of wisdom.

This neglects the long history of the role of religion in shaping experience and the emergence of wisdom James, Although it must be said that his book focused on the emotional aspects of religious experience, emotion also can have an important role in the development and use of wisdom. However, the attention was given to the distinctions between the mind and the soul and not to the mind and its relationship to wisdom.

The role of religion and spiritual quests in their many forms in strengthening wisdom appears to be a subject on the horizon for further research, as the topic of wisdom attracts additional empirical studies.

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An American philosopher, John Dewey, influenced psychology in his attempts to bridge abstract thought and experience. One of his Wisdom in History 13 endeavors was to examine the nature of thought and its training. In his view, an individual arriving at a solution goes beyond the data at hand. Reflective thinking, in short, means judgment suspended during further inquiry. Here there was movement by a philosopher toward characterizing wisdom as deferring action based solely on knowledge.

The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung contributed psychological concepts of development in the early part of the 20th century.

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In his book Man and His Symbols, he discussed the self and included references to his view that dreams about the self involve the ideas about being a wise old woman or a wise old man. Perhaps more pertinent is the contemporary book by Robinson , An Intellectual History of Psychology, which has no indexed items to wisdom or wise. The book does, however, refer to knowledge, but in the ancient sense that eternal knowledge is the province of God and 14 James E. It is also relevant that in another recent book, Genius: The Natural History of Creativity, Hans Eysenck did not include any reference to wisdom Eysenck, Here, the question may be raised as to whether or not creativity is related to wisdom.

In a sense, wisdom can give rise to new and creative solutions to old problems. Perhaps this is further evidence that the concept and the subject matter of wisdom has been avoided or neglected because of its past history in philosophy and religion.

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It appears to have been too far removed from the influential models of research of physics and chemistry to explore more elementary processes of psychology that were the roots of psychology in the 19th and early 20th centuries. To this might be added that the next step should include recognizing that wise thinking involves more than just cognitive processes, including the ability to defer action despite an impulse to hasty action, and insight and control over impinging emotions.

In a broad view, psychology appears to be on the threshold of dealing with the subject of wisdom, which perhaps represents the highest order of human ability. Through further research, it is likely that we will identify the nature of wisdom and the circumstances leading to its development and expression, a quality that the ancients thought was solely found in gods and goddesses. Definitions and Concepts of Wisdom Looking back over time, we can see that the meaning and understanding of wisdom has changed throughout history.

Wisdom in History 15 The concept of wisdom as a human attribute has undergone changes as societies have evolved.


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  • During the last quarter of the 20th century, it has become a topic of research in the social and behavioral sciences. In contemporary empirical science, wisdom has come to be regarded as a trait that is ascribed to persons making wise decisions. Thus, the trait of wisdom is expressed in the process of making decisions, or having an effective decision-making style.

    In this sense, wisdom is a very broad trait of the highest level of mental functioning. Wisdom requires that an individual must have experience, seek information, and weigh alternative outcomes of a decision through complex or dialectical reasoning. In this sense, the contemporary use of the term wisdom in psychology suggests that high intelligence and knowledge are not sufficient in and of themselves to lead to wise decisions.

    Thus, broadly defined, wisdom is a difficult trait to evaluate in experimental designs that use prearranged decisions to be made in problem solving contexts. The range of differences in approaches to the study of wisdom is apparent in the book edited by Sternberg, Wisdom: Its Nature, Origins, and Development.