Wisdom: Definition, Operations & Types

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  • 0:02 Wisdom
  • 1:14 Formal Vs. Post Formal…
  • 3:28 Wisdom and Morality
  • 3:59 Practical Vs. Philosophical
  • 5:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

In this lesson we discuss what wisdom is, as well as how it derives from Piagetian and Aristotelian concepts of practicality, advanced thinking and cognition, and knowledge from experience.


HOLY FRIJOLES, THERE IS A LOT TO COVER! You'd think after recording so many lessons I'd have gained some wisdom and understanding of what is involved with these lessons. But every so often there is one of these lessons which initially reads as extremely easy and straightforward, and then it 'decepticons' and changes into a giant monstrosity!

Wisdom is knowledge gained from experience. Obviously, a person needs to have experiences to have wisdom, which, taken one step further, means you need to be older to actually have wisdom. I have heard a few different quotes differentiating between intelligence and wisdom, and they basically boil down to intelligence is knowing what something is, and wisdom is knowing whether to do it or not. We have all gained a little wisdom because we all know that putting our hand on the stovetop while it's on is a bad idea.

While this is all a very basic idea of what wisdom is, there are many ways it can take shape as well as be researched. Let's take a look at formal versus post-formal operations, as well as practical versus philosophical wisdom.

Formal vs. Post Formal Operations

Piaget developed one of the more famous developmental stages theories. Its focus is more on cognitive development and understanding. The original final stage, which typically develops between 11 and 15 years of age, was formal operation, which is a stage emphasizing and achieving higher logic and abstract concepts. For contrast, but not important to this lesson, the stage just before formal operation is concrete operational, which describes individuals who must think in very simple and real-world terms.

Individuals with formal operation understand how abstract concepts, like volume and space, can compensate, with changes in one causing changes in the other. Meaning if you took a long narrow tube filled with water, it is the same as a short wide tube filled with water. Think about younger children and individuals with traumatic brain injuries: they're very concrete in their thinking. In regards to wisdom, we see a clearer and more abstract understanding of how the world functions and an ability to convey it in metaphorical terms.

Later on, Piaget developed a post-formal operation, which is an infrequently achieved level of metacognition, nonlinear thinking, and contextual arguments. Here the higher processes are estimated to only be reached by a fraction of the population, because it is so difficult. It is also thought to be so difficult that even when people can achieve this level of thinking, they only do so a fraction of the time. It is understanding how others think, as the direct definition of metacognition is thinking about thinking.

Post-formal reasoners are also able to use dialectical thought, which is the holding of two conflicting ideas in the mind at the same time. They can have something like their own personal biases and arguments against them simultaneously. These individuals could be described as problem seekers. In regards to wisdom, an individual with post-formal operation understands the abstract but also how others interpret the abstract. They are able to describe thought processes to others in clear and concise ways.

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