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Historical Background

Throughout recorded history, wisdom has been viewed as the ideal endpoint of human development. Of course, the psychological study of wisdom is still rather young compared to its philosophical treatment, for the very definition of philosophy is ‘‘love or pursuit of wisdom.’’ Historically, wisdom has been conceptualized in terms of a state of idealized being, as a process of perfect knowing and judgment (as in King Solomon’s judgments), or as an oral or written product, such as wisdom-related proverbs or the so-called wisdom literature. It is important to recognize that the identification of wisdom with individuals, such as wise persons (the predominant approach in psychology), is but one of the ways by which wisdom is instantiated.

Historically, the interest in the topic of wisdom has waxed and waned, (Baltes and Staudinger, 2000). In general, two main lines of argument have been in the center of the historical evolution of the concept of wisdom: (1) the distinction between philosophical and practical wisdom, and (2) the question of whether wisdom is divine or human. Recently, interest in the concept of wisdom has been revived (Welsch, in press). Archeological and cultural work dealing with the origins of religious and secular bodies of wisdom-related texts in China, India, Egypt, and Old Mesopotamia has revealed invariance with regard to core features of the definition of wisdom across cultures and historical time. This relative invariance gives rise to the assumption that concepts such as wisdom, with its related body of knowledge and skills, have been culturally selected because of their adaptive value for humankind.

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Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 4Wisdom - Historical Background, Psychological Approaches To The Definition Of Wisdom, Implicit (subjective) Theories About Wisdom