Wisdom and intelligence: the nature and function of knowledge in the later years

Int J Aging Hum Dev. 1982;15(4):315-21. doi: 10.2190/17tq-bw3y-p8j4-tg40.


Intelligence can be defined as the ability to think logically, to conceptualize and abstract from reality. Wisdom can be defined as the ability to grasp human nature, which is paradoxical, contradictory, and subject to continual change. These two constructs hold potential for highlighting positive and adaptive features of development in the later years. both are considered to increase with age, and both provide for life-long acquisition of knowledge. Despite these phenotypic similarities, this paper attempts to illustrate that the nature of wisdom and its function in the developmental process differs sufficiently from cognitive ability to warrant separate scrutiny. These two constructs are compared with respect to the domains of behavior they represent, the operational tasks used to assess them, and the relationship of logic and time in their development. The function of intelligence is characterized as focusing on questions of how to do and accomplish necessary life-supporting tasks; the function of wisdom Is characterized as provoking the individual to consider the consequences of his actions both to self and their effects on others. Wisdom, therefore, evokes questions of should one pursue a particular course of action.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Intelligence*