Roger Walsh, author of ‘Essential Spirituality’ weaves various strands, varieties, query approaches and capacity interaction modes in an attempt to construct an integral view of wisdom and its relationship with development.

Interesting theoretical distinctions made in the paper include:

  • Strands of wisdom: philosophical, psychological, religious and contemplative
  • Varieties of wisdom: Sophia/ Phronesis, Prajna/ Upaya, and the trans-conceptual
  • (En)Query paths about wisdom: ontological/ epistemological
  • AQAL Element based exploration of wisdom
  • Interaction modes of psychological capacities: combination, balance and integration


I appreciated the nuance of deliberate practice to arrest automation conformity and break free from consensus trance, and the state-stage movement aspiration to transform transient states to enduring traits, higher states into higher stages, peak experiences into plateau experiences, and epiphanies into personality (of course the latter is a subject of many other detailed papers).

I also liked the eventual attempted definition of wisdom as a function of deep, accurate insight and understanding of the central existential issues of life, plus practical skill in responding effectively and benevolently. This definition reminds me of Cindy Wigglesworth’s work on Spiritual Intelligence and SQ which approaches this subject in a more systematic and comprehensive manner, even though the objectives may be a bit different.  

The Correlation of wisdom with age, and of wisdom with development are both areas which are a left a bit under-theorized (and/or inconclusive), though that may well be because of the size restrictions on the paper.  The same feedback applies to the BMI matter raised at the end.

Finally, a minor point perhaps - on page 4 the paper claims that trans-conceptual wisdom (Jnana) is radically and incommensurately distinct from wisdom derived from conceptual understanding? I can understand ‘radically’, but not ‘incommensurately’. 

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The last statement is more easily understood in light of Walsh being a kennilinguist and adopting wholesale the Lingam's notion of a radical and dualistic metaphysical distinction between (Causal) ultimate and relative ontological domains and forms of knowledge. E.g., see here. Also see the Batchelor thread for a more in-depth study of this phenomenon via Buddhism.

I read this paper yesterday and was planning to start a thread on it today, Neelesh, but you beat me to it -- for which I am thankful.  :-)  You always do a very nice job highlighting the salient points of these articles and posing some fruitful additional questions for inquiry.

Near the beginning of the paper, Walsh discusses a variety of ontological and epistemological questions about / approaches to wisdom.  As a brief thought for now, which I may elaborate on in a future post, it might be good also to consider the concepts of 'ontological wisdom' and 'epistemological wisdom' -- or perhaps to follow Tom Murray, for example, who in his 2008 ITC paper explored the concept of epistemic wisdom, which he paired with Fred Kofman's notion of 'ontological humility' (itself a form of wisdom, contributing to 'epistemological wisdom').

I appreciated Walsh's distinction between sophiatrophic and sophiatoxic cultures.  I'm interested in considering this distinction within a constellation of several other (homeomorphic) notions: Atlee's co-intelligence, Bohm's collective insight / thinking together, Bhaskar's (or McIntyre's or Harris') eudaimonistic society, and my own concept of generative (en)closures (as opposed to degenerative (en)closures).

Like you, I also liked Walsh's final proposed definition of wisdom as "deep, accurate insight and understanding of the central existential issues of life, plus practical skill in responding effectively and benevolently," which combines both of the classically recognized varieties of wisdom (sophia or prajna, and phronesis or upaya).  These can be related, possibly, to the ontological and epistemological wisdom distinctions I named above, as know-what and know-how (where each admits a variety of forms, such as philosophical or intuitive/implicit know-what and practical/situational or embodied/implicit know-how).  The latter, especially, relates wisdom to ethics, as Walsh also discussed.

As for Walsh's suggestion that transconceptual wisdom is incommensurable with conceptually derived wisdom, I share your and theurj's concerns about that.  I can accept it if we frame it as always involving some degree of excess which cannot be wholly 'captured' within any conceptual framing, but here the relationship is more not-one/not-two, rather than a simple and radical two.

I quote Sri Aurobindo from Chapter 8 of TLD, which establishes not just the commensurateness, but the necessity of conceptual reasoning prior to the trans-conceptual:

Human reason has a double action, mixed or dependent, pure or sovereign.


...Reason accepts a mixed action when it confines itself to the circle of our sensible experience, admits its law as the final truth and concerns itself only with the study of phenomenon, that is to say, with the appearances of things in their relations, processes and utilities.

Reason, on the other hand, asserts its pure action, when accepting our sensible experiences as a starting-point but refusing to be limited by them it goes behind, judges, works in its own right and strives to arrive at general and unalterable concepts which attach themselves not to the appearances of things, but to that which stands behind their appearances…………


………In a sense all our experience is psychological since even what we receive by the senses, has no meaning or value to us till it is translated into the terms of the sense-mind, the Manas of Indian philosophical terminology. Manas, say our philosophers, is the sixth sense. But we may even say that it is the only sense and that the others, vision, hearing, touch, smell, taste are merely specialisations of the sense-mind which, although it normally uses the sense-organs for the basis of its experience, yet exceeds them and is capable of a direct experience proper to its own inherent action. As a result psychological experience, like the cognitions of the reason, is capable in man of a double action, mixed or dependent, pure or sovereign. Its mixed action takes place usually when the mind seeks to become aware of the external world, the object; the pure action when it seeks to become aware of itself, the subject. …..


…Intuitive thought which is a messenger from the superconscient and therefore our highest faculty, was supplanted by the pure reason which is only a sort of deputy and belongs to the middle heights of our being; pure reason in its turn was supplanted for a time by the mixed action of the reason which lives on our plains and lower elevations and does not in its view exceed the horizon of the experience that the physical mind and senses or such aids as we can invent for them can bring to us. And this process which seems to be a descent,is really a circle of progress. For in each case the lower faculty is compelled to take up as much as it can assimilate of what the higher had already given and to attempt to re-establish it by its own methods. By the attempt it is itself enlarged in its scope and arrives eventually at a more supple and a more ample self-accommodation to the higher faculties. Without this succession and attempt at separate assimilation we should be obliged to remain under the exclusive domination of a part of our nature while the rest remained either depressed and unduly subjected or separate in its field and therefore poor in its development. With this succession and separate attempt the balance is righted; a more complete harmony of our parts of knowledge is prepared............

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