It is easy to make fun of other people with whom we disagree, but when it comes down to it, how do we really know when we are being smart about something vs. getting it all wrong? Gut feeling? Our friends agree with us? Some smart person tells us what to think? This is a problem that as plagued humanity since the first time anyone tried to establish ground rules for leaving flint chips around the camp where our unshodden Neanderthals brothers and sisters, who came by to visit now and then, would step on them1.
Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing by Swarthmore Professors Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe is meant to be a sort of field guide to Wisdom. I have not read it, but but it looks interesting. From the book’s web site:
The book is a culmination of Schwartz and Sharpe’s long-time academic collaboration on the contemporary, everyday applications of Aristotelian practical wisdom, based on knowing what needs to be done in ethical dilemmas and acting upon this knowledge for the greater good. The book cites modern-day successes of practical wisdom in health care, education and the legal system.
Aristotle is more relevant than ever today, according to Schwartz, as the “more heterogeneous society becomes, the harder it is to come up with rules that work for all people and all situations.” Wise qualities such as empathy, patience and self-integrity must guide modern professional and personal ethics, instead of an overreliance on rules.
The “wisdom deficit” in the modern age, he contends, lies in the “combination of excessive reliance on rules and incentives and a collective cynicism or embarrassment when it comes to talking about virtue.” Rules and incentives have only propagated overly bureaucratic, inefficient social institutions that discourage professionals from sympathizing and practicing personal discretion.
The reason I bring this up now is because Skeptically Speaking #114 is going to be an interview of the authors.
What exactly is “wisdom,” and how can we apply it in our daily lives? We’re joined by Barry Schwartz, Dorwin Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action at Swarthmore College, and Kenneth Sharpe, William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Political Science at Swarthmore College. They’ll discuss their new book Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do The Right Thing. And we’re joined by Brendan O’Brien, to learn about :60 Second Science, the international science video competition.
This show records live on Sunday, May 29 at 6 pm MT. Email your questions now, or join the discussion on Sunday! The podcast will be available to download at 9 pm MT on Friday, June 3.
And don’t forget, a few days after that, on Sunday morning, Desiree and I will sit down on Atheist Talk Radio to hammer out some of the differences between skeptical and atheist factions in how to approach, well, skepticism and atheism.
110 points to anyone who can identify the literary allusion I’ve made here!