Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe, authors of
Distilled Aristotle’s ideas on virtues and practical wisdom, as follows:
“Practical wisdom is akin to the kind of skill that a craftsman needs to build a boat or a house, or that a jazz musician needs to improvise. Except that practical wisdom is not a technical or artistic skill. It is a moral skill—a skill that enables us to discern how to treat people in our everyday social activities.
How, then, are we to learn to be practically wise? There is no recipe, formula, or set of techniques. Skills are learned through experience, and so is the commitment to the aims of a practice. That’s why we associate wisdom with experience. But not just any experience will do. Some experiences nurture and teach practical wisdom; others corrode it. And it is here that Aristotle focuses our attention on something critically important: character and practical wisdom must be cultivated by major institutions in which we practice.”
And yet… the institutions that nurture us strive to instill wisdom but fall very short.
Aristotle believed that we could develop traits like loyalty, perseverance, mindfulness, and kindness; he called these aretes (virtues or excellences). The master virtue, the soil for cultivating these traits, he argued, requires Practical Wisdom.
Schwartz and Sharpe outline the 6 signs of someone exercising Practical Wisdom
A wise person knows the proper aims of the activity she is engaged in. She wants to do the right thing to achieve these aims — wants to meet the needs of the people she is serving.
A wise person knows how to improvise, balancing conflicting aims and interpreting rules and principles in light of the particularities of each context.
A wise person is perceptive, knows how to read a social context, and knows how to move beyond the black-and-white of rules and see the gray in a situation.
A wise person knows how to take on the perspective of another—to see the situation as the other person does and thus to understand how the other person feels. This perspective-taking is what enables a wise person to feel empathy for others and to make decisions that serve the client’s (student’s, patient’s, friend’s) needs.
A wise person knows how to make emotion an ally of reason, to rely on emotion to signal what situation calls for, and to inform judgement without distorting it. He can feel, intuit, or ‘just know’ what the right thing to do is, enabling him to act quickly when timing matters. His emotions and intuitions are well educated.
A wise person is an experienced person. Practical wisdom is a craft and craftsmen are trained by having the right experiences. People learn how to be brave, said Aristotle, by doing brave things. So, too, with honesty, justice, loyalty, caring, listening, and counseling.”