The Wisdom Page

The Wisdom Page is a compilation of wisdom-related resources — various on-line texts concerning wisdom, references to books about wisdom, information about organizations that promote wisdom, wise activities, and listserv groups concerned with aspects of wisdom.

Whatever happened to wisdom?

Jerry Ortiz y Pino addressed this question in his column in the Santa Fe Reporter:

[Wisdom is] one of those slightly old-fashioned words, the type that slip out of style because they sound less punchy than the jargon we start using in their place. In time we forget about using it at all. And because the words we substitute aren't quite the same, we're made poorer by the substitutions, losing slices of the original meaning with each change.

So wisdom, good ol' sapientiae in Latin, hardly ever gets airtime these days. Instead, we talk about "cleverness," "I.Q.," "managerial know-how," or any of 50 not-quite synonyms. None of those really are interchangeable with wisdom, but they get used in its place. Meanwhile, wisdom, the original concept, is forgotten.

[Wisdom is] the ability to make sound choices, good decisions. The best decision. Wisdom is intelligence shaped by experience. Information softened by understanding. And it is in very short supply these days.

Wisdom is not something a person is born with. Intelligence is. Cleverness is. The ability to appear dynamic is. But Wisdom isn't. It only comes from living, from making mistakes — or from listening to others who have made mistakes and learned from them.

If wisdom is in short supply among our leaders, we don't have far to look for the culprits. It started disappearing along about the time we stopped expecting it.

If you, too, share Jerry's concerns, browse The Wisdom Page.

What is wisdom?

To Jerry Ortiz y Pino, wisdom is "the ability to make sound choices, good decisions. The best decision. Wisdom is intelligence shaped by experience. Information softened by understanding."

Others might use different words and stress different aspects of wisdom. Whatever wisdom is, it is complex, and not easy to describe. Yet isn't it important that we attempt to do just that? How can we hope to integrate wisdom into our lives if the concept isn't clear and we don't have the words to talk about it?

It can be helpful to see how others wrestle with the issue:

Joseph W. Meeker sums it up in a profound paragraph from his article "Wisdom and Wilderness":

Wisdom is a state of the human mind characterized by profound understanding and deep insight. It is often, but not necessarily, accompanied by extensive formal knowledge. Unschooled people can acquire wisdom, and wise people can be found among carpenters, fishermen, or housewives. Wherever it exists, wisdom shows itself as a perception of the relativity and relationships among things. It is an awareness of wholeness that does not lose sight of particularity or concreteness, or of the intricacies of interrelationships. It is where left and right brain come together in a union of logic and poetry and sensation, and where self-awareness is no longer at odds with awareness of the otherness of the world. Wisdom cannot be confined to a specialized field, nor is it an academic discipline; it is the consciousness of wholeness and integrity that transcends both. Wisdom is complexity understood and relationships accepted.

Twenty scholars share their views in WISDOM: Its Nature, Origins and Development, a book edited by Robert Sternberg.

Don Cochrane expresses his views in the essay Wisdom: A First Approximation.

Stephen Palmquist deals with the issue in part three of his book The Tree of Philosophy.

Copthorne Macdonald's view of the nature of wisdom appears in Chapter 1 of TOWARD WISDOM and the Introduction to GETTING A LIFE.

Sam Jampetro, in his online offering Sophia: A Short Course in Living Wisely and Well, presents his view — one which postulates the existence of a personal God, but in the main seems compatible with other assumptions about primal reality. Check out his interesting conclusions.

Andrew Bard Schmookler deals with the polarization-integrating aspect of wisdom in his essay THE DANCE OF POLARIZATION: And The Next Step Beyond. He also has an interesting web site with many other examples of his writing.

Stephen Covey, Roger Merrill, and Rebecca Merrill have studied the wisdom literature, and in Appendix C of their 1995 book First Things First identify nine "major recurring themes" in that literature.

Arnold Keyserling and Ralph Losey share their views on wisdom past, present, and future in an article entitled METAPOLITICS, WISDOM AND THE INTERNET: A New Spin On An Old Idea.

Gene Oliver has put together a list of links to wisdom-related Internet sites and from his Many Paths Web site you can access many additional Internet links, book lists, and resources concerned with wisdom and personal growth.

The traditional Wisdom Literature

The scientific literature was written to help us understand the laws of nature. The traditional Wisdom Literature was written to help us understand the laws of life and our place in the universe. Some of this literature dates from 3000 years ago, or before, and includes works from India, China, Greece, the Middle East — and later from Europe. In the Judeo-Christian tradition we have the teachings of Moses, The Book of Job, The Proverbs of Solomon, Ecclesiastes, the teachings of Jesus, and later, those of Meister Eckhart, St. John of the Cross, and other Christian Mystics. In the Hindu tradition we find The Upanishads, and The Bhagavad Gita. In Taoism the Tao Teh Ching and the I Ching. In Buddhism we have teachings of the Gautama Buddha embodied in the Sutras, and elaborated upon in a myriad of later works. From the Greeks we have the works of Aristotle, Plato, and Plotinus. To get a taste of this literature, compilations can be helpful. Among my (Cop Macdonald's) favorites are:

A more detailed bibliography appears in the Covey/Merrill/Merrill book mentioned above: First Things First (New York: Simon & Schuster Fireside, 1995, ISBN 0-684-80203-1)

Contemporary books about wisdom and wise living

There are also many contemporary books that deal with wisdom. Some of these books never mention the word wisdom, but deal with important aspects of it nevertheless. In TOWARD WISDOM I include an annotated bibliography of books of this kind — books that address aspects and elements of wisdom without necessarily using the term wisdom. Other contemporary books address the nature and development wisdom more directly. Below, I call your attention to a few of these books:

Two books by Copthorne Macdonald

Aristotle identified two general types or aspects of wisdom. One deals with existential and metaphysical issues, with the big picture and the meaning of life. The other he called practical wisdom — what Coleridge referred to as "Common sense in an uncommon degree."

TOWARD WISDOM focuses on the existential, metaphysical kind of wisdom, the kind that meditation and other spiritual practices help us develop. The book explores this "Perennial Philosophy" variety of wisdom, including the impediments we face in our quest to become wise, and various ways and means of getting past those impediments. There is also a Canadian edition of this book.

Primal reality and the Perennial Philosophy are also the subject of an article that appeared recently in ZYGON: Journal of Religion and Science. It makes the case that Perennial Philosophy spiritual teachings are not only compatible with post-modern science, but are made more understandable when we view reality from the perspective of information and carriers of information, of messages and media. A paper presented at the Tucson III Toward a Science of Consciousness 1998 conference, "Implications of a Fundamental Consciousness", is an amplification of the ZYGON paper's view of mental reality.

GETTING A LIFE, on the other hand, deals with the practical variety of wisdom. Its 21 chapters each deal with a different facet of everyday life — and with skillful and not-so-skillful ways of handling each. It is based on the premise that sometimes just by having something pointed out to us or discussed in a new way or from a new perspective, we are able to relate it to the wealth of life experience that each of us already has — and click into that uncommon level of common sense that is practical wisdom.

WISDOM: Its Nature, Origins and Development     Robert J. Sternberg, Editor

Published in 1990 by Cambridge University Press, this scholarly book looks at wisdom from philosophical, psychological, and folk perspectives. The book's fourteen chapters by twenty authors are arrange in five groups:

The paperback edition is ISBN 0-521-36718-2

THE TREE OF PHILOSOPHY      by Stephen Palmquist

The original meaning of the word philosophy is "love of wisdom," and university professor Stephen Palmquist brings a wisdom focus to his book THE TREE OF PHILOSOPHY: A Course of Introductory Lectures for Beginning Students of Philosophy. The book's 28 chapters are arranged in four parts:

The book is available in electronic form, (free, on-line), or in print format.

            THE EYE OF SPIRIT and
                  THE MARRIAGE OF SENSE AND SOUL      by Ken Wilber

One characteristic of wisdom is the ability to see the big picture and make sense of it — the ability to see the collective patterns within the myriad specific details of existence, the ability to see the forest as well as the trees. And when it comes to putting the big picture into words, no one has done a more comprehensive job of it than Ken Wilber in his four recent and interrelated books: SEX, ECOLOGY, SPIRITUALITY (1995), A BRIEF HISTORY OF EVERYTHING (1996), THE EYE OF SPIRIT(1997), and THE MARRIAGE OF SENSE AND SOUL (1998).

SEX, ECOLOGY, SPIRITUALITY, subtitled The Spirit of Evolution is the primary text — 831 pages, with loads of notes and references. Larry Dossey calls this book "One of the most significant books ever published," and I agree. Wilber's deep personal grounding in non-dual spirituality combines with his wide-ranging scholarship that includes not only Eastern and Western "spiritual" philosophy, but also modernism, postmodernism, and scientific perspectives on evolution. All this, coming together in Wilber's head, has resulted in a massive and brilliant synthesis that lays new groundwork for ongoing work in many fields. A BRIEF HISTORY OF EVERYTHING is a 342 page commentary on the first book in Q&A format — a popularization of the first, and a good place to start even if you end up getting and reading the larger, more scholarly book.

THE EYE OF SPIRIT is Ken Wilber's prescription for what he calls an "integral culture" — a culture which integrates the WE, the IT and the I; which integrates the Good, the True, and the Beautiful; and which honors and facilitates personal growth, from basic psychological development through realization of the non-dual nature of reality and identification with Spirit. The book's last chapter (12) deals with this final stage of growth, and is, itself, a magnificent addition to the world's spiritual literature.

THE MARRIAGE OF SENSE AND SOUL focuses on one additional much-needed integration: the integration of science and religion. Wilber's recipe for integration requires changes within both science and religion, but he feels that they are reasonable changes, and not too much to ask. Wilber asks science to open to a "broad empiricism" which includes the inner as well as the outer, and to abandon its reductionist agenda. He asks religion to embrace "falsifiability," and thus to "jettison its bogus claims," those rooted in a pre-scientific mythology. Wilber asks religion to focus instead on its great strength and benefit to humanity: contemplation which Wilber calls "a science of spiritual experience."

Ken Wilber, SEX, ECOLOGY, SPIRITUALITY: The Spirit of Evolution, Boston: Shambhala, 1995, 831 pp., ISBN 1-57062-072-5.

Ken Wilber, A BRIEF HISTORY OF EVERYTHING, Boston: Shambhala, 1996, 342 pp., ISBN 1-57062-187-X.

Ken Wilber, EYE OF SPIRIT: An Integral Vision for a World Gone Slightly Mad, Boston: Shambhala, 1997, 414 pp., ISBN 1-57062-276-0.

Ken Wilber, THE MARRIAGE OF SENSE AND SOUL: Integrating Science and Religion, New York: Random House, 1998, ISBN 0-375-50054-5

The Integration of Truth, and the Integral Vision

In the books mentioned above, Ken Wilber discusses the positive and negative effects of modernity. He identifies one of the negative effects as the disassociation of the three great value spheres, variously called:

Modernism led to cultural dominance by science and its exclusive focus on the IT realm, with truths from the subjective (I) and intersubjective (WE) realms being ignored and devalued. Postmodernism has had its own agenda, one that in many respects has not brought about correction and healing. Sadly, in their present forms, neither modernism nor postmodernism represent the cultural foundation which the world desparately needs if humanity is going to thrive in a long-term sustainable way. Wilber and others are calling for corrective measures that will set right some of the imbalances caused by science's domination of our culture. He has used the term "integral vision," and one of his key meanings of integration is the integration of truths from whatever sphere of human knowledge they come — from science of course, but also central truths from anthropology, art and literary theory, feminism, philosophy, psychology, psychotherapy, theories of consciousness, and spiritual practice.

There are, of course, various interpretations and spins on the terms integration, integral culture, and integral vision. John Ray, sociologist and researcher, has referred to the integral culture as the "spiritualization of modernism," and his studies indicate that one fourth of the U.S. adult population would identify with at least his definition of it. (Paul Ray, "The Rise of Integral Culture," Noetic Sciences Review, Spring 1996. Copies of this article can be purchased from Integral Spirit, below: 1-888-267-4446)

Integral Spirit

An organization called Integral Spirit is using the internet in a multi-faceted, effective way to help people get a better sense of what the terms integral vision, integral culture, and integral spirituality mean — and to help those drawn to this worldview to deepen their understanding of it. "Integralists," they say, "unite a scientific attitude, philosophic thinking, and spiritual experience into a blended vision -- an integral vision of living and loving. Integral spirituality is the beating heart of the emerging integral culture."

The organization produces a free online journal, The Integral Spirit: The online Journal for Integral Culture and Spirituality. It also runs the online Kosmos Bookstore that sells "any book in print at 10 percent off," and some at much deeper discounts. It features books that "support your research into the integral worldview." Other activities include a publishing house, Origin Press, "which offers new titles on today's integral spirituality," an online community center, Kosmos Cafe, "offering numerous hosted conferences," and an online Visionary Arts Gallery.

Spirituality and Wisdom in Business

An area of current interest goes under several names: Spirituality in the Workplace, Spirituality in Business, and Wisdom at Work. An excellent article on the subject entitled Spirituality in the Workplace by Martin Rutte, President of Livelihood, Inc*, appears both here and in the book Heart at Work by Jack Canfield & Jacqueline Miller (McGraw-Hill, 1996). Another book, Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work, was co-authored by Martin Rutte, Maida Rogerson, Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Tim Clauss.
[* Livelihood, Inc., 64 Camerada Loop, Santa Fe, NM 87505. E-mail: ]

One more book dealing with these issues is Wisdom in the Workplace: On the Job Training for the Soul, by Ellen Krupack Raineri [ Braino Inc., 227 Seminole Ave., Wilkes-Barre, PA 18702.       E-Mail: ]

Conferences on Spirituality in Business were held in Mazatlan, Mexico in 1995, '96, and '97. A Conference brochure highlighted some of the issues:

"In the past, corporations have shied away from workshops with the word "spirituality" in the title because there was a preconception of what spirituality meant. It usually meant some particular cosmology or set of beliefs. But that's the past. Now corporations all over the world are recognizing the need for spirit in the workplace. The old agreements between corporations and employees no longer hold, e.g., "We'll give you security if you'll commit to work for us through retirement." The current-day corporation wants and needs people who are creative, independent, and self-motivated. And employees now realize that in order to give at the level of their highest productivity, they must be doing what they love. If not, they experience stress, anxiety, fatigue, and eventually burn-out. The real value of the word "spriritual" is in the ongoing questioning of how it manifests, rather than in a specific definition.

"We can point to some of the signs that indicate that spirit exists in the workplace: honesty, respect, openness, compassion, commitment to quality, commitment to the environment, and connectedness among the employee group. And we can all recognize when spirit is blocked in our everyday work environment: low morale, low productivity, gossip, backbiting, and high employee absenteeism."

The 1998 International Conference on Business and Consciousness will be held November 7-14, 1998 in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. For more information call 1-505-474-0998.

The WISDOM_AT_WORK Internet E-mail List

Those who would like to participate in a dialogue on this subject are invited to join the WISDOM_AT_WORK e-mail discussion list. The list is an activity of Renaissance Business Associates, who Let Davidson, the list's moderator, describes as "people committed to demonstrating the power and effectiveness of integrity in the business environment." He says that the list is intended to facilitate dialogue among "people who are interested in the current transformation of consciousness and the movement to integrate spirituality into our work and organizations."

The list will post Let Davidson's regular column, entitled "Wisdom at Work," which will be appearing regularly in The Connection, the quarterly newsletter of Renaissance Business Associates. The column will appear there along with other of Let's writings on the "Perennial Philosophy" — the core unitive wisdom of the world's great spiritual traditions — and its practical applications to work and our organizations. The list is dedicated to an open dialogue on the personal and organizational issues of integrating spirituality at work. Participants are invited to share their views on a wide range of topics that will include:

To subscribe to the WISDOM_AT_WORK list:

  1. Address an e-mail message to:
  2. Make the message body text:       subscribe wisdom_at_work

Some of Let Davidson's personal views on the subject can be found in his essay Wisdom at Work.

Other wisdom-related resources

The Foundation for Global Community

The Foundation for Global Community describes itself as "a nonprofit, educational movement whose mission is to discover, live, and communicate what is needed to build a world that functions for the benefit of all life." It publishes an exciting, thought stirring magazine called Timeline at the amazingly low subscription price of only US$10.00 for six issues. "A major focus of the Foundation is its Center for the Evolution of Culture in Palo Alto whose purpose is to encourage a change in the prevailing culture of materialism, growth, and 'more,' to a culture that recognizes when 'enough is enough' — a culture of spirit, quality, and excellence." The foundation also presents courses in conflict resolution and, at its retreat center in Ben Lomond, California, seminars by leading thinkers.

The address of the Foundation for Global Community is 222 High Street, Palo Alto, CA 94301. Their phone number is 415-328-7756.

The Virtues Project

We tend to associate wisdom with age and considerable life experience, but is there any way of helping children move in this direction — any way of giving them a head start toward wisdom? The YES answer from The Virtues Project is to teach children about the virtues.

From an International Year of the Family publication Caring for Families, quoted in the June 1995 VIRTUES PROJECT NEWS:

The Virtues Project is an initiative which began in 1991 to empower individuals and families to live by their deepest values. The Virtues Guide, by Linda Kavelin Popov, Dr. Dan Popov and John Kavelin . . . is the seminal book of The Virtues Project and . . . is sourced in the simple wisdom of many world religions, all of which describe the human virtues as the highest aspiration for humanity. Virtues are more basic than values. All cultures honor virtues such as courage, love, honesty, loyalty, excellence, and service, yet they apply them differently according to their diverse value systems.

In addition to The Virtues Guide, there are a variety of other Project materials. These include Virtues Reminders, a set of 52 multicolored leaflets, each having an inspirational quote and a brief description of the Virtue on one side, and "signs of success" and an "affirmation" on the other.

The 52 virtues dealt with are:

Assertiveness   Faithfulness    Kindness        Respect
Caring          Flexibility     Love            Responsibility
Cleanliness     Forgiveness     Loyalty         Reverence
Compassion      Friendliness    Mercy           Self-Discipline
Confidence      Generosity      Moderation      Service
Consideration   Gentleness      Modesty         Steadfastness
Courage         Helpfulness     Obedience       Tact
Courtesy        Honesty         Orderliness     Thankfulness
Creativity      Honor           Patience        Tolerance
Detachment      Humility        Peacefulness    Trust
Determination   Idealism        Prayerfulness   Trustworthiness
Enthusiasm      Joyfulness      Purposefulness  Truthfulness
Excellence      Justice         Reliability     Unity

The Virtues Guide is priced at $24.95, and a set of Virtues Reminders is $7.95. Acceptable methods of payment are a check or money order in U.S. funds, Visa, or MasterCard.

Virtues Project materials can be ordered from Virtues Communications, P.O. Box 18078, Fountain Hills, AZ 85269 USA. Phone Orders: 800-850-0714. Fax Orders: 602-816-0716. Email:    And there is now a Virtues Project Web Site.

Wisdom Discussions via Email

Email lists are a convenient way to conduct group discussions, and there are two lists that focus on topics related to wisdom. As with all email lists, the participation level and choice of topics constantly changes, but if you'd like to share your ideas and questions with others who have similar interests and concerns, give one or both of these lists a try.

The WISDOM-L Listserve

The WISDOM-L listserve allows Internet participants who are interested in wisdom to communicate, via group e-mail, with others who have subscribed to the list.

To subscribe, send an e-mail message   To:   with    Subject: subscribe      Put nothing in the body of the message. If done correctly, you will receive an automatic e-mail response confirming that you subscribed successfully. Once subscribed, sending a message to   results in that same message going to all of the list's subscribers.

The Wisdom Discussion List

In June 1998, David Robinson's Library of Wisdom started an online wisdom discussion group. To sign up, click on Wisdom Discussion List.


Listed here are organizations concerned with wisdom and wisdom development. Each has its own distinctive slant on wisdom, and its own distinctive programs.

The Wisdom Society

The Wisdom Society focuses on practical wisdom, as it differentiates that kind of wisdom from the metaphysical / meaning-of-life variety. The organization establishes chapters and discussion groups "To debate, in print, all controversial ideas with the objective of finding where reasoned opinion lies."

Contact:  The Wisdom Society, P.O. Box 4126, San Marcos, CA 92069 USA. Phone: 619-737-WISE (619-737-9473)

The Wisdom Conservancy

The Wisdom Conservancy describes itself as "a private nonprofit organization established for the study of wisdom and community." The organization is involved in a variety of activities aimed at preserving the ideas and utterances of "learned and compassionate people." Their mission statement says, "The Wisdom Conservancy (TWC) conserves, communicates, and encourages wisdom. Via modern means we conserve the life wisdom of learned and compassionate people from around the world. TWC uses this resource to develop educational programs, books, videos and other media. We support and encourage the public in cultivating and applying wisdom to help establish a more just and enduring civilization."

Contact:  The Wisdom Conservancy at Merriam Hill Education Center, 148 Merriam Hill, Greenville, NH 03048 USA. Phone: 603-878-1818. E-mail:

Community Trust Institute

The Community Trust Institute was founded to help uncover new ways for communities to effectively navigate rapid growth and change. "Our message is simple: Change yourself, change your community. Work locally to be effective globally. Share power — from the bottom up. Build relationships to solve issues." Their 15-point Credo outlines their approach in detail.

Contact:  Community Trust Institute, P.O. Box 143, Glenwood Springs, CO 81602 USA. Phone: 970-945-5912. Fax: 970-945-5989.

The Philopsychy Society

This group, of primary interest to writers and those interested in writing, is just in the process of forming. Its founder, Stephen Palmquist says, "The term 'Philopsychy' comes from the Greek words phileo and psyche meaning 'love' and 'soul,' respectively. The main purpose of The Philopsychy Society, therefore, is to encourage and promote soul-loving in a variety of forms, both in theory and in practice, through the agency of the written word." The group supports self-publishing in both electronic and print formats, and the idea that "an author may publish and/or market his or her own writings without thereby sacrificing any academic integrity or artistic value."

ISOF Centre and Research Institute of Alberta

Part of wisdom, according to many, is transcending reactive emotions such as desire, anger, and fear — eliminating their power to control our behavior and destroy our inner peace. ISOF stands for In Search Of Fearlessness, and the organization's focus is just that. Directed by Robert M. Fisher, its mission statement is "Learning to Live and Love beyond 'fear' and Coping."

Wisdom in action

Wisdom can make our personal lives run more smoothly, but many would say that its real importance is the effect that it has on the world. Fortunately, deep understanding of the kind labeled wisdom often leads to behavior of a higher quality, to actions of a better kind, to lofty aims coupled with effective strategies. What follows is information about a few activities that in some sense, to some degree, represent wisdom made manifest, wisdom in the process of being actualized, wisdom in action.

The American News Service

The American News Service seeks to provide news coverage of solutions to problems. As they put it, "thousands of people across America are engaged in projects that directly address the key issues confronting our society. They are learning lessons that millions of readers, viewers, and listeners want to know. Meanwhile, the need for the media to balance "disaster-and-disgrace" coverage with stories emphasizing accomplishment has never been stronger. The American News Service seeks to meet this need by providing timely, thought-provoking stories that inform, intrigue, and inspire."

Global Initiative for Immediate Disarmament

Sometimes young people see reality with a clarity and intensity that embodies wisdom. As I recall, it was a child who announced that the emperor was in fact naked. Similarly, while millions of adults blind themselves to world-wide arms trade and to the countless antipersonnel mines on abandoned battlefields that will kill and maim for decades, a 17 year-old Swiss girl, Franziska Shutzbach, SEES — and with her father, Roland Schutzbach, has started THE GLOBAL INITIATIVE FOR IMMEDIATE DISARMAMENT.

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Last revised 22 June 1998