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WISDOM. Moral Wisdom or prudence may be defined as the proper connection among the end or goal of an action, the means to achieve it, and the judgment to act upon it, such that the result is a morally satisfying outcome. WISDOM OR PRUDENCE PERFECTS CHARACTER. VISION. MORAL

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Moral Wisdom or prudence may be

defined as the proper connection

among the end or goal of an action,

the means to achieve it, and the

judgment to act upon it, such that

the result is a morally satisfying


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Wisdom is the perfection of the various

aspects of moral competence

It perfects the desire to do the good

by developing a robust sense of the

good life, a moral vision.

It perfects virtuous behavior by

guiding it deliberatively towards

the proper moral ends and means.

It perfects moral strength by helping

to making the right decisions.

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The General Characteristics of Wisdom

Reasoning ability

A clear, logical mind, a storehouse of infor-

mation and learning, with an ability to apply

these to the solution of a particular problem


A good understanding of themselves

and others.

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Learning capacity

They attach importance to ideas;

they learn from other people’s mistakes, as

well as their own;

they seek out detailed information;

they change their mind on the basis of

experience and knowledge;

they feel they can learn from others;

they are not afraid to admit mistakes;

they correct their mistakes, learn,

and then go on;

they seek the counsel of others.

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Good intuitions, discernment and insight;

they offer solutions that are on the side of

right and truth.

Good character

They are self-honest, considerate of others,

and have genuine concern for people; they

are fair, and listen to all sides of an issue;

they are modest.

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Good judgment

They are sensible, and think before they

act, speak or make decisions; they are

able to take the long view into consideration.

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How is prudence or wisdom acquired?

1. one must have acquired a virtuous character.

2. maturity of the faculties of

judgment and understanding.

3. experience in making moral

deliberations and decisions.

4. an understanding of the

ways of the world; a savoir-faire.

5. intellectual insight, intuition,

observation and discernment.

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Prudence and practical reasoning is

concerned with connecting means

and ends in a manner that leads to

good moral outcomes.

Practical reasoning is concerned, then, with:

The end of an action

The means to an end

The decision to act, to

initiate those means.

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In its most general sense, wisdom and

practical reasoning are concerned with:

Vision--the ends of action

Deliberation--or the consideration of

means to ends.

Judgement--or decisions about when

and what to do in light of some

end or goal.

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This helps to characterize the various aspects

of moral wisdom:

Deliberation is concerned

with determining the

best moral means to

attain a good end.

Moral Vision is a

sense of the good life.


Judgement is

choice concerning

the best moral course

of action.




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The person who is morally wise, then,

is someone who has the proper vision

of the good life, knows the best moral

means for attaining it, and has the

right character and strength of will

to act upon what must be done.

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Moral vision is one part of wisdom

of wisdom or prudence.

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Moral Vision is concerned with

articulating a sense of the

good life.

Deliberation is concerned

with determining the

best moral means to

attain a good end.



Judgement is

choice concerning

the best moral course

of action.



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Some characteristics of Moral Vision:

1. According to Aristotle it is the sense of the good life, a

view of what is best in our lives, or an idea of happiness.





2. According to Plato, without moral vision one is

direction-less, and interested in only satisfying our

lower needs.



3. Thomas Sowell calls visions maps; they are cognitive, but pre-analytic --it is what we sense about the world before we have constructed any systematic reasoning about it.

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A Moral Vision is layered. It

typically consists of a Cosmic

Vision, that is, a sense of the

moral order of the cosmos.

It also involves a

Public Vision, a

sense of the common good, themoral quality of the origin,

history and direction of

the society one lives in.

Finally, it consists in an

individual sense of the

good life, as set in the

context of these other two aspects of moral vision.





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Cosmic Vision

1. In most cultures a cosmic vision of the world is ex-

pressed primarily in terms of myths and stories.

2. A cosmic vision attempts to explain how things came to

be the way they are, and how they continue to be ordered.

3. A myth is a narrative, and a narrative conveys certain moral qualities by:

a. the order of events in the story.

b. the outcome of the story.

c. the various roles agents play in the story.

d. the character of the agents relative to these roles.

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Cosmic Vision

Synopsis of Genesis Creation Story

God (Yahweh) creates the world out of a formless void.

First light is created , then light separated from darkness.

The upper waters are separated from lower waters. Dry

land is separated from water. Vegetation is created by

type. Days and nights follow in ordered sequence. The

sun and the stars are created. Sea, air and land creatures

are created. Human beings are made last.

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Cosmic Vision

A Tlingit Creation Tale:

Raven goes to a place where there’s some dirt and rocks.

He tries to put them together, but they don’t stick. That

Raven, he’s got a temper, so he kicked the rocks and swore

because he hurt his toes. But then he had another idea.

This time he mixed in some water with the rocks and dirt.

He worked hard, that Raven did, and had an awful time

of it. The mountains dropped off. The oceans spilled over.

Sometimes he got so mad he just kicked the whole thing to

pieces. Raven’s world was lumpy and bumpy, and it sure

didn’t look like what he had in mind. But he was good and

tired of working on it. So he said the hell with it. And

that’s the way it stayed.

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These two stories convey different

norms and values and attitudes

concerning the origin of the cosmos.

The Genesis story conveys the idea

that the cosmos was created

purposely, perfectly and imbued with


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The Raven story, on the other hand,

suggests that the cosmos was created

haphazardly, imperfectly, and not

necessarily imbued with either good or


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Given the present imperfection and

suffering in the world, the Genesis

myth would suggest that it is basically

our fault that the world has gotten

into such a situation. The Tlingit myth

would suggest that the world is

already inherently flawed.

These views serve as a background

to how one understands oneself as

a moral agent.

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Cosmic Vision

It is possible to reduce myths to four or

five narrative types, based on:

1. the sort of conflict involved in the story.

2. the character of the opponents involved.

3. who makes the breach and who resolves it.

4. and how it gets resolved.

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Stories typically

exhibit this sort of


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Types of Narratives






each of these types fill out this pattern

in a somewhat different way.

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A villain causes

disruption in the

order of things.

The hero resolves

the conflict by

vanquishing the


The conflict is usually

resolved positively, with

good over evil.

The sort of

conflict is

one of good

versus evil.

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The tragic hero

causes the

disruption in

the order of things.

The conflict is

resolved with

the defeat or

death of the

tragic hero

by a certain

order or force.

The sort of conflict

involved is called


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The conflict is

resolved by

non-violence, and

the opponent is

often incorporated

into the happy ending.

The conflict

is caused by

a blocker of

high status.

The sort of of

conflict involved

is called


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The hero’s attempt

to disrupt the order


A relatively

weak hero

attempts to

disrupt the


The conflict ends

with the order

in place.

The sort of conflict

involved is called


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A naïve hero

comes in conflict

with an existing


The hero resolves

the conflict by

divorcing himself

from the existing

order and returning

to a truer, more

natural order.

The blocker is

someone shown

to be foolish or


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In general, each of these narrative types

expresses an implicit norm:

For Romance or melodrama it is the

good should prevail over evil, so that

reward should be given to the good, and

punishment to the vicious.

For tragedy, the norms are that loyalty,

love and cooperation should prevail within

a group, and only ill consequences result

from their violation.

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For comedy, the same norms as tragedy

are implied, except that the comedy

shows these norms prevailing despite

the threat of their violation.

Irony, in many respects is opposed to the

implicit norms of the romance, it implies

that there may not be a just order to things,

that people are flawed, the good may not

necessarily prevail.

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Thus our moral vision is conveyed

by stories which visualize and

concretize implicit norms for us.

These norms serve as a background

to our sense of ourselves as moral


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There are several different

conceptions of the good life.

Many people think that the good life

should include things such as

happiness, prosperity and success.

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achievement of a certain

level of wealth and security.

SUCCESS is accomplishment

within a certain practice that

affords the person a certain

amount of recognition and

status relative to that practice.


subjective feeling

of contentment or

joy; sanguine


FLOURISHING the effect upon

a person of genuine mastery over

a number of practices thought to

be essential to the good life.

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There are different senses of being a

success and being successful.

If you accomplish any goal you set for

yourself, then you might consider yourself

successful relative to that goal.

However, no matter how many of these

goals you accomplish, the goals themselves

may not count you as being a success.

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Being a successful physician, for example,

may require more than accomplishing

one’s own personal goals.

A successful physician must also

accomplish certain things as set by

her colleagues, the profession and the

public. It cannot be just subjectively


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Happiness may be considered to be more

of a psychological state, having to do with

mood and temperament. Consequently,

it may not be correlated with external


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Flourishing is something different than


Flourishing is a condition that results from

the qualitative exercise and performance of

certain practices.

Flourishing has more to do with the

development of the person toward a more

perfect way of life.

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Success does not necessarily make one

happy, nor does it necessarily lead to

flourishing. There may be a certain

price to success that inhibits flourishing

or diminishes happiness.

There has to be a delicate balance in

any worthy practice; striving for

success rather than excellence may

corrupt the practice.

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Prosperity creates comfort, security and

sometimes recognition; but, again, there

may be a certain price to prosperity that

inhibits flourishing or diminishes


If one aims at prosperity and success, then one

looks to the extrinsic rewards of the practice,

rather than any intrinsic rewards the practice

or mastery of the practice might have.

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The Good Life

There are various senses of the good life

promoted by our culture:

the life of


the American


the life of fame

and power.

the life of


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The Good Life

the life of


aims to make life an adventure to

enjoy, and to maximize all those

pleasures which life affords.

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Some difficulties with the life of enjoyment:

1. Pleasure has thresholds which require

either larger quantities or higher qualities

of it in order to reach the same level of


2. It requires a large amount of wealth

to pursue, and occupations that can

afford such a lifestyle.

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3. Full-blown pursuit of pleasure is

usually self-destructive.

4. Pursuit of pleasure does not exempt

one from ordinary problems.

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The Good Life

the American


The American Dream. This is a life in

pursuit of a modicum of social-

economic goods, including secure and

safe employment, a nice home, a good

marriage and family life.

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Problems with the American dream:

  • Life is not often secure; even in the more

  • secure environments, danger and tragedy

  • are constant threats.

  • Often duties required to secure such a life

  • require that one engage in risks and insecurities.

  • Such a life can lead to an isolation from

  • community, and a rabid form of consumerism.

  • To insure security one may have to sacrifice

  • relations; to insure relations one may have to

  • sacrifice security and success.

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The Good Life

the life of


This involves occupations and lifestyles

that are conducive to maximizing

one’s wealth.

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Criticisms of the life of wealth

  • wealth is inherently instrumental, unless one

  • is a miser, it is used for the sake of something else.

  • the pursuit of wealth in and of itself

  • does not differentiate between acquiring

  • it virtuously or viciously.

  • Wealth can solve only certain sorts of

  • problems, and may exacerbate others.

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The Good Life

the life of fame

and power.

This involves the pursuit of recognition

and status within one’s community.

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Criticisms of the Life of Fame and Power

  • Fame and honor depends on the recognition by

  • others, which is often insecure and fickle.

  • Morally unconstrained pursuit of power

  • or fame is notoriously corruptive, and can

  • be inherently vicious.

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Aristotle: the good life is a flourishing life, and

a flourishing life is a virtuous one.

Flourishing is not a

state of mind, but a

way of life.

Flourishing should

be understood as the

perfection of person.

The virtuous life

is a flourishing life.

Virtue is the

perfection of

one’s character,

and prudence is

the perfection of


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A life is most complete and perfect,

and persons can be genuinely counted

as flourishing, when they can enjoy all

the various sense of the good life as a

person with a virtuous character.

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according to Aristotle

A virtuous person will enjoy the right

sort of pleasures which life can afford

at the right amount and in the right way.

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Wealth would be pursued without

greed or ruthlessness.

for Aristotle

A virtuous person is a safe

companion and neighbor.

a person with virtuous character

makes a good spouse, parent and friend.

Those with virtuous character can be

trusted with power to be fair-minded.

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DELIBERATION is the second

aspect of wisdom. Vision is

concerned with determining

the ends of action, and the best

sense of the good life, but

deliberation is concerned with

the best moral means to achieve

that end.

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DELIBERATION is just not

logical reasoning, but involves

the whole person.

DELIBERATION is just not

rational calculation

but also the consideration

of which plan will

lead to the best moral


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Calculation is simply

determining the most

efficient means to an

end without real regard

for its moral quality.

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Deliberation is also not cunning.

Cunning is a kind of calculation

that always aims to maintain

one’s advantage, no matter what

is needed to be done.

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The Roman philosopher, Cicero,

outlined an interesting model of


For Cicero deliberation is not

just calculation or cunning, but

concerned with moral means to

good ends.

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For Cicero, deliberation is a matter

of determining the proper relations

among efficiency, advantage, and

the honorable.

Efficiency is concerned with determining

what is necessary for an action, and what

are the most economical means of

attaining an end, in the broad sense of

the term.

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Advantage is that which secures our security,

and helps to maintain our position of power,

or to gain more of what we already possess.

The Honorable is that

which is virtuous, good

and decent.

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For Cicero, the honorable should

always outweigh the advantageous.

The exception to this are

cases where advantage

must be taken in order

to secure the honorable

at a later date.

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Only within the context of what is

honorable can we choose what is

to our advantage.

Among those advantages, we should

choose only those that can be efficiently


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Besides these general considerations

for deliberation,Cicero also lays outlines

three parameters in which all deliberation

takes place.

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Deliberation involves MEMORY,


which correspond with the three

temporal dimensions of deliberation,

past, present and future.

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Memory is the use of past experiences,

collected wisdom, cultural training, and

education, and the understanding one’s

own life story, as a basis for making

moral decisions.

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Discernment is the perception of

the subtleties, nuances, and

particular circumstances of the

present situation, the situation

for which you must make a choice.

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Foresight is the ability to imagine

the future consequences and outcomes

of a proposed decision.

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Memory is the first aspect

of deliberation, according

to Cicero’s model.

It is concerned with drawing on

the past, in all its aspects, in

order to make the best moral

judgment concerning the

present situation.

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Some general characteristics of memory:

Memory is the means by which

we access experience relevant to

moral deliberation; remember that

experience is crucial to prudence.

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Experience in this regard is often

narratively re-constructed by memory.

Since moral vision is also

narratively organized, a blending

of individual experience and moral

vision is possible.

Past moral decisions and dilemmas

are often organized in story form.

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Stories present paradigms for how to or

how not to behave, and allows us to

compare those paradigms with present,

comparable situations.

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Memory also provides an

understanding of your life to date,

and prepares the ground for

how the present situation is going

to affect or fit into that life history.

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  • Memory provides us with a certain

  • sense of ourselves as a moral actor;

  • it allows us to see how one decision

  • rather than another will affect the

  • continuity of ourselves as having a

  • certain moral quality of life. A

  • decision may therefore negatively

  • or positively affect this continuity.

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discernment is the perception of the

nuances, parameters and peculiarities

of a situation; it is a kind of discrimination

that is concerned with apprehending

distinctions and relations among

concrete particulars.

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Discernment is concerned with the

comparison of the particulars in a

concrete case with any generalities

involved in a deliberated plan.

If memory supplies us with the insight

and wisdom of the past, then discernment

helps us to recognize that certain situations

are or are not cases to which

these can be appropriately applied.

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discernment is also concerned with the

discovery of something novel in a situation.

discernment is also concerned with the

valuative and affective assessment of a

situation;discernment determines what

is salient to a situation for the purposes

of deliberation.

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In general, discernment allows what is

deliberated to be addressed to this

situation; discernment allows us to

apply wisdom to the shape of the situation.

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Whereas memory is concerned with the general

information we gain from our experience and our

moral vision, discernment is concerned with the

present, particular situation.

The relation of memory to discernment, then, is a

connection of the general to the particular case.

Casuistry is an illustration of such a process.

Casuistry was a technique of moral reasoning

developed by 16th century theologians.

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Casuistry is concerned with the case; a case is a

confluence of persons and actions in a time and

a place.

A case is concrete as distinguished from the

abstract, because it represents the confluence

of many circumstances.

Each case is unique in its circumstances,

yet each case is similar in type to other cases;

for that reason it can be compared and

contrasted to others.

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Casuistic reasoning

1. Using memory, one first determines the

“place” of the case, that is, its type. What

is the moral issue that might be involved:

e.g., love vs. duty, loyalty vs. honor,

immediate pleasures vs. long-term


one then recalls the various

arguments of the moral type.

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Casuistic reasoning

2. Using discernment, one determines the

particulars of the case --the who, what, why

and when of the case.

who are the particular persons in

this case,their life-story, character, etc.

one then qualifies the arguments in (1)

so they address the particular

circumstances of the case.

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Casuistic reasoning

3. The final step in the process is the

comparison of cases.

one looks for precedents that resemble

the current case which have been

resolved satisfactorily.

These then serve as paradigms by

which to measure the various

resolutions to this particular case.

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FORESIGHT is one of three

aspects of deliberation according

to Cicero’s model.

These include memory, which concerns

that which we can draw on from our

past experiences, and the wisdom of

others and, discernment, which concerns

the perception of the nuances and

complexities of the present situation.

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FORESIGHT is like being an author

of a book.

Given one’s situation, the characters

involved and proposed plans, what

are the likely consequences; how will

people react; what are the probable


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just as an author tries to follow out the con-

sequences of certain decisions and actions his

or her characters make, so in foresight you

attempt to follow the train of consequences of

certain actions, given an understanding of the

characters involved, and a decent

understanding of how the world works.

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Judgment is the last

aspect of prudence; it

concerns the execution

of a plan or a goal. It

typically follows upon


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Once plans and alternatives

have been deliberated, then

a decision must be made about

which will yield the best moral


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Judgments usually occurs

when there is some

indecision about the various


If it is clear what to do, there

is no need for judgment.

Indecisions or quandaries can

be classified into three basic


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Three Types of Judgement

Moral Temptations

Right vs. Wrong

Moral Dilemmas

Right vs. Right

Tragic Choices

Wrong vs Wrong

Lesser of Two Evils

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In moral temptations, one

must choose between what

you believe is right and what

you believe is wrong.

In the abstract this is an easy

judgment—you should choose the

right thing—but in practice one

often engages in self-deception

and rationalization in such a way

as to justify the wrong choice to


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Tragic choices are the most

difficult decisions of all.

This requires a choice between

two or more alternatives, all

of which are morally unpalatable.

If possible, then, you

must choose between

“the lesser of two evils.”

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Moral dilemmas are also

difficult judgments to make,

since they require you to

choose between two things

you could consider the right

thing to do.

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Common types of Moral dilemmas

Individual vs. Community

Truth vs. Loyalty

Short-term vs. Long-term

Justice vs. Mercy

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Individual vs. Community

In this sort of dilemma, one

must choose between the

good of a single individual,

or the good of the group or


Such decisions may require the

sacrifice of the individual’s good,

for the good of the whole.

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Truth vs. Loyalty

In this sort of dilemma, one

is often called upon to choose

between remaining loyal to

a friend, for example, or

being honest to others about

that friend.

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Short-term vs. Long-term

In this dilemma, one must

choose between short-term

goals and long-term ones,

both of which may be valuable

to you.

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Justice vs. Mercy

In this sort of dilemma, one

must choose between acting

fairly and consistently or, on

the other hand, to take into

consideration the special

circumstances of the case that

would require leniency or


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Bad judgement occurs when:

1. someone chooses to do

something without any

deliberation; one acts on

impulse even though

there is adequate time

for deliberation.

2. someone chooses to

do something before


plans have been fully


3. someone chooses to do something despite the fact

that foresight has shown it to have undesirable con-