The Wisdom Page 

Monika Ardelt's Model of Wisdom

An Overview by Copthorne Macdonald

Monika Ardelt is Associate Professor of Sociology at The University of Florida, and is one of the leading wisdom theorists and researchers. Unlike Paul Baltes and his colleagues in the "Berlin Group" who consider wisdom to be an "expert knowledge system," Ardelt considers wisdom to be a "combination of personality qualities" that "cannot exist independently of individuals."

Ardelt notes that: "The moment one tries to preserve wisdom (e.g. by writing it down), it loses its connection to a concrete person and transforms into intellectual (theoretical) knowledge. I propose that even the most profound 'wisdom literature' remains intellectual or theoretical knowledge until its inherent wisdom is realized by a person." She contends that "wisdom is in fact a property of individuals," and has proposed a model of wisdom as a three-dimensional personality characteristic. The three dimensions are Cognitive, Reflective, and Affective and the model is summarized in the table below:


An understanding of life and a desire to know the truth, i.e., to comprehend the significance and deeper meaning of phenomena and events, particularly with regard to intrapersonal and interpersonal matters.
Includes knowledge and acceptance of the positive and negative aspects of human nature, of the inherent limits of knowledge, and of life's unpredictability and uncertainties.

Items or ratings should assess
• the ability and willingness to understand a situation or phenomenon thoroughly;
• knowledge of the positive and negative aspects of human nature;
• acknowledgment of ambiguity and uncertainty in life;
• the ability to make important decisions despite life's unpredictability and uncertainties.



A perception of phenomena and events from multiple perspectives. Requires self-examination, self-awareness, and self-insight.

Items or ratings should assess
• the ability and willingness to look at phenomena and events from different perspectives;
• the absence of subjectivity and projections (i.e., the tendency to blame other people or circumstances for one's own situation or feelings).

Sympathetic and compassionate love for others.

Items or ratings should assess
• the presence of positive emotions and behavior toward others;
• the absence of indifferent or negative emotions and behavior toward others.

The above quotes and the table are from Ardelt's paper in the journal Human Development entitled "Wisdom as Expert Knowledge System: A Critical review of a Contemporary Operationalization of an Ancient Concept."

At Monika Ardelt's Web site you can find links to many of her publications. Of special interest to those interested in her work are the paper above, her response to comments on that paper, and an article in ReVision: Journal of Consciousness and Transformation entitled "How Wise People Cope with Crises and Obstacles in Life."

Richard Trowbridge's doctoral dissertation, The Scientific Approach to Wisdom, is a comprehensive review of the scholarly research on wisdom from 1980 to 2005 and a useful overview of the history of wisdom.