Review of General Psychology
1998.%!. 2, No. 4, 347-365
Copyright 1998 by the Educational Publishing Foundation
A Balance Theory of Wisdom
Robert J. Sternberg
The author presents a balance theory of wisdom. First, some alternative approaches to
wisdom are reviewed, including philosophical, implicit theoretical, and explicit theoreti-
cal ones. Second, the concept of tacit knowledge and its role in wisdom are discussed.
Third, a balance theory of wisdom is presented, according to which
as the application of tacit knowledge as mediated by values toward the achievement of a
common good through a balance among multiple (a) intrapersonal, (b) interpersonal,
and (c) extrapersonal interests in order to achieve a balance among (a) adaptation to
existing environments, (b) shaping of existing environments, and (c) selection of new
environments. This theory is compared to some other theories, and wisdom as a
construct is compared to some other constructs. Measurement issues are also discussed.
It is concluded that it might be worthwhile for American society to emphasize
development of wisdom in schooling more than it has in the past.
can be defined as the "power of
judging rightly and following the soundest
course of action, based on knowledge, experi-
ence, understanding, etc."
1997, p. 1533). Such a
power would seem to be of vast importance in a
world that at times seems bent on destroying
itself. My goal in this article is to provide the
beginnings of a psychological theory of wisdom
and to relate it to other psychological constructs.
I will first review some major attempts to
understand wisdom, then describe the proposed
approach to wisdom, and finally suggest how
wisdom might be measured and developed.
Other more comprehensive reviews can be
found elsewhere (Baltes, in press; Sternberg,
Preparation of this article was supported by a government
grant under the Javits Act Program (Grant No. R206R5000I)
as administered by the Office of Educational Research and
Improvement, U. S. Department of Education. Grantees
undertaking such projects are encouraged to express freely
their professional judgment. This article, therefore, does not
necessarily represent the positions or the policies of the U.S.
government, and no official endorsement should be inferred.
I thank Elena Grigorenko and Paul Baltes for comments
on an earlier version of this article.
Correspondence concerning this article should be ad-
dressed to Robert J. Sternberg, Department of Psychology,
Yale University, P.O. Box 208205, New Haven, Connecticut
06520-8205. Electronic mail may be sent to robert.
to Understanding Wisdom
A number of scholars have attempted to
understand wisdom in different ways. The
approaches underlying some of these attempts
are summarized in Sternberg (1990a). The
approaches might be classified as