FAQ – Sophology Frequently Asked Questions


  1. Q: You define wisdom as “whatever it is” that guides decisions concerning what is best for somebody to do at a certain point in their life story.  That is pretty vague, and would hardly qualify as an answer on a college term-paper.  Can you be more specific?

A: Not really.  In exploring any subject it is necessary to start somewhere, and we cannot assume a common background of beliefs for anyone accessing this website.  So if we were to adopt a Muslim or Catholic or Jewish or Hindu starting point we would be thereby ruling out a huge number of other people who do not come from that same background.  The same is true of people whose primary expectation is an account of the nature of wisdom that is based on science – whether that be physics or psychology or any of the other “hard” or “soft” sciences.  And it is also true for people who are actively engaged in business or politics or law or the military – the list goes on and on.  So we are deliberately starting with a loose (but correct) definition of the term so we can get on with spelling it out more carefully as we go on.  We assume only that (a) people make decisions about what is best to do in certain situations, and that (b) something – some judgement or attitude or habit or fundamental orientation – guides that decision.  That’s enough to get things started. 

  1. Q: There is nothing on this website that draws on the greatest wisdom literature of the world.  How can you just ignore religion, philosophy, the Bible, the Qu’ran, Confucian and Buddhist literature, etc.? 

A: As indicated on the home page, this website is still under development.  It is our plan to include, at the very least, links to websites with all the major wisdom literature of the world, and we hope to have some of this posted very soon. But we have also made clear that we have no religious or political affiliation, and we will not be advocating for any particular religious or political or philosophical view.  There are plenty of resources on the internet for those who are seeking this sort of counsel.

  1. Q: You have nothing but vague generalizations on this website and I am seeking particular answers to my problems.  How can you call this “wisdom”?

A: There is noone in the whole world who can tell you exactly what you should do in the situation you find yourself in at this point in your life.  That is the burden of personal freedom and personal responsibility, which cannot be transferred to anyone else unless or until you are completely incapacitated and dependant upon someone else to make decisions for you.  But so long as you are conscious and capable of thinking independently, you must decide particular courses of action for yourself.  This website and the Sophology Society can only offer general tools and concepts to help you find the orientation and principles you need to make your own wise decisions when the time arrives to do so.

  1. Q: Everything on your website is pointed at the isolated individual, and you say nothing about society, ethical responsibilities, and political commitment.  That seems to be a very restricted and useless concept of wisdom.

A: That is very true, and you have put your finger on a very significant omission of the “Exploratory Essay” on this website.  But we must again plead that this website and the Sophology Society are still works in progress.  There will soon be two more parts to this exploratory essay that will begin to develop the ethical, social and political dimensions to the concept of wisdom.  But meantime we believe that there are significant insights reflected in the essay as it exists, sufficient for the start of a personal exploration of the concept of wisdom. 

We are taking the ancient Greek imperative to “know thyself” seriously, in both of its aspects: knowing oneself as an object (knowing who you are, where you fit in the scheme of things) and knowing FOR yourself (you are the one doing the knowing, not dumping it on somebody else). We are also taking seriously Ralph Waldo Emerson’s challenge to be “self-reliant.”  Recognizing that there are limits to these efforts, we are nevertheless unwilling to back off from them and leave the task to tradition or blind faith, or to give in to despair and stop even trying.

Furthermore the overall mission of Sophology is to make the concept of wisdom accessible to every thinking person.  So what is offered is a suggested beginning for that process, with the understanding that there is a LOT more to follow.

  1. Q: Most of what you are saying in the “exploratory essay” on the website seems like “pop-psych” or psychobabble.  Why should anyone with a scientific frame of mind take this seriously?  What sort of evidence can you offer for your theories?

A: There are really several questions here, and we will try to answer them separately.

(a) If we were trying to be “scientific” in the psychological sense, we would have developed a website and a society modeled, perhaps, on the sort of work being done by Paul Baltes, Robert Sternberg, and others who have engaged in careful psychological research on the concept and role of wisdom. Or perhaps we would have pointed the visitor to much of the recent work of cognitive scientists. But we have made clear that we do not think that wisdom is the sole, special province of any academic discipline like psychology, sociology, political science, or even of religious studies.  It is everybody’s business, everybody’s basic obligation. That is what we mean when we say that wisdom is “in the public domain.” We are seeking wisdom accessible, understandable and assimilatable to the man or woman or child of “average” intelligence and education, and not only a specialized elite.

(b) We assume that anyone who has turned to this webpage is able to read, think, and have experiences that they are able to interpret.  We ask only that you reflect on these experiences in order to verify for yourself that when you are faced with a decision that calls for wisdom, you seek personal orientation from different directions that form your horizons, at least three of which are indicated by the terms “body,” “mind,” and “soul.”  We have made a serious effort to characterize or describe these three personal orienting frameworks in such a way that everyone will recognize the pivotal and essential roles that they play in making wise decisions.  If that is not verified by your own reflection, we would be glad to hear from you and will seriously consider any alternative contribution you are able to make.  Meantime we stand by this triple orientation as “good enough” for starters. 

(c) It is not our intention to ignore or reject any scholarly or empirical analysis of the concept of wisdom, nor to present it in such a way as to damage anyone’s religions faith.  We hope to develop a website complex and rich enough to accommodate all such viewpoints, and engage scholars and leaders throughout the world in a dialogue that further enriches the overall topic of wisdom.  All in due time. But any discussion of de facto particular cases cannot resolve the de jure issue of what wisdom should be. To shed light on that we must look at what our own personal expectations are, and how we can frame a description of the concept of wisdom that meets those expectations.

  1. Q: There is nothing about business, money and economics on your website. Nor is there anything about the environment and sustainability. How can you pretend to talk about wisdom without considering the real issues of poverty, wealth, food and water supplies, and the future of mankind and the planet? 

A: Excellent questions, and points well taken.  Although we briefly touched on the “economics of wisdom” in the “analogs of wisdom” section, we hope to have fuller discussions of such topics as the website grows and develops.  But all such discussions will not take us very far if we do not have a firm grasp on what wisdom means for ourselves and our daily and lifetime experiences. It is similar to this old philosophical problem:  If you do not know what truth is, how can you decide if someone else is telling the truth or not?  In this case we can rephrase this as the question, If you do not know what wisdom is, how can you decide if what someone else is telling you is wise or not? That includes business people, economists and financial planners. We need some way to measure wisdom for ourselves.  We are trying to provide insight on wisdom in a way that everyone can appreciate and use, not just an elite few.

  1. Q: Will you ever discuss particular examples of wisdom, wise persons, and wise policies, or will this website always deal in vague generalities?

A: Yes, as the website and the society develop, we will try to engage in some discussion of these topics, or at least point the visitor to other places on the internet where they are discussed at some length and depth.  But as indicated in FAQ #2 above, any discussion of wisdom will have to remain at the level of generalization, and that falls far short of completely customized advice to some individual in a particular situation.  There are billions of people on this planet, and at any particular moment in time, everyone will have their own specific problems and personal circumstances.  It is unrealistic to expect either that a human person or an organization can know what is wisest and best for everyone in every situation at all times, or that because such “divine” knowledge is not possible for humans that no wisdom at all is achievable through wise personal reflection and insight. 

For example: if you live in a dry climate in Southern California, the Santa Ana winds are howling, a fire is racing towards your home and your roof is already on fire, it is simply foolish to postpone making a decision about what to do until you consult some expert outside of yourself – whether it be a guru, a sacred text, a scientist, or a political leader. And it would be prudent and wise to get out of the building as soon as possible to avoid being incinerated. All that the study of wisdom can do is prepare you for such moments – or such KINDS of situations.

  1. Q: What about ethics?  Isn’t wisdom involved in telling us what we ought to be doing, and hence prescribing some sort of approach for dealing with ethical problems?

A: There will be discussions of ethics as this website develops, and yes, wisdom is involved in the issue of what we ought to do.  But just as there are acts which are immoral but not illegal (e.g. lying to your spouse about staying out late drinking with friends) and vice versa (e.g. driving a car without a proper license), there are acts which are foolish but not immoral or illegal.  To choose a career in dentistry when your heart is not in it at all is neither immoral nor illegal, but in some important sense it is unwise.  So also someone may find himself urged on by the voice he takes to be the authentic voice of his soul to do something that is immoral or illegal or both, but in this case it would not be wise to heed that voice.  These issues will be explored in future pages of this website.