Wisdom revisited: A case study in normative theorizing

Valerie Tiberius, Jason Swartwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Extensive discussions of practical wisdom are relatively rare in the philosophical literature these days. This is strange given the theoretical and practical importance of wisdom and, indeed, the etymology of the word "philosophy". In this paper, we remedy this inattention by proposing a methodology for developing a theory of wisdom and using this methodology to outline a viable theory. The methodology we favor is a version of wide reflective equilibrium. We begin with psychological research on folk intuitions about wisdom, which helps us to avoid problems caused by reliance on the possibly idiosyncratic intuitions of professional philosophers. The folk theory is then elaborated in light of theoretical desiderata and further empirical research on human cognitive capacities. The resulting view emphasizes policies that the wise person adopts in order to cope with the many obstacles to making good choices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)277-295
Number of pages19
JournalPhilosophical Explorations
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
For helpful discussion and comments, we would like to thank Mike Bishop, John Doris, Eddy Nahmias, MaryEllen VanDerHeyden, the students in Prof. Tiberius’ graduate seminar on practical wisdom at the University of Minnesota (Fall semester 2010), and audiences at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Bioethics, the 2009 Epistemic Virtues and Values Conference in Bled, Slovenia, the Minnesota Philosophical Society, the Moral Psychology Research Group, and the Philosophy Department at the University of South Carolina. For support of the research on this paper, we would like to thank the University of Chicago Defining Wisdom Project and the Templeton Foundation.

Copyright 2011 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Aristotle
  • empirically informed ethics
  • intuitions
  • normativity
  • practical wisdom
  • wide reflective equilibrium


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