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What is Wisdom? Cross-Cultural and Cross-Disciplinary Syntheses


This article explores the nature of wisdom using an integrative cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary approach by drawing on contemporary research as well as the philosophical and contemplative disciplines of both East and West. To do this the article first analyzes definitional issues. These issues include difficulties of definition in general, and of wisdom in particular, the common elements and limitations of current definitions, as well as possible varieties or subtypes of wisdom. It then uses integrative definitions of wisdom and its major subtypes as a framework to investigate the characteristics, capacities, and components of wisdom; the varieties of self-knowledge that foster and constitute it; the perceptual, cognitive, and developmental processes essential to it; and the existential issues—for example, meaning, mystery, suffering, and death—that wisdom ponders and responds to. The article then examines wisdom's intimate link with other virtues, especially ethics and benevolence, and questions the claim that emotional regulation is an inherent element of wisdom, arguing instead that emotional regulation and wisdom are distinct, yet mutually facilitating virtues. Finally, the article provides evidence for the “self-demanding” nature of wisdom which implies that to understand it fully we may need to cultivate it ourselves.

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