Chapter 34Wisdom-Related Knowledge Across the Life Span


The search for human strengths is a continuous journey with a long history. Since antiquity, one of the guideposts in this search has been the concept of wisdom (e.g., Assmann, 1994; Kekes, 1995). At the core of this concept is the notion of a perfect, perhaps utopian, integration of knowledge and character, mind and virtue.

Societal beliefs suggest that wisdom is an attribute of aging and old age (e.g., Clayton & Birren, 1980; Heckhausen, Dixon, & Baltes, 1989; Sternberg & Jordan, 2005). There are also suggestions in the literature that wisdom and old age are closely intertwined; for example, Erikson postulated in his personality theory of life-span development that generativity and wisdom constitute advanced stages in personality development (Erikson, 1959). Because wisdom has been considered an ideal end point of human development, psychological work on this concept has evolved in the context of life-span developmental psychology and the study of aging (e.g., Baltes, Smith, & Staudinger, 1992).

However, not only life-span and aging researchers value the investigation of human resources; the search for positive human functioning has also been a hallmark of positive psychology (e.g., Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). For at least two reasons, research in this area might benefit from considering wisdom. First, wisdom identifies the highest forms of expertise that humans can acquire. Certainly ...

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