Practical Wisdom

( 7 )


The surest route to a happier, more productive life and future

Most of us want to succeed. And most of us want to do the right thing. But we often forget that the way to

succeed is by doing the right thing, as Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe remind us in Practical Wisdom:

The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. When the institutions that ...

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The surest route to a happier, more productive life and future

Most of us want to succeed. And most of us want to do the right thing. But we often forget that the way to

succeed is by doing the right thing, as Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe remind us in Practical Wisdom:

The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. When the institutions that shape our society need to change, the people

in them typically either make more rules or offer smarter incentives. But there is a better way, and in this

lively and provocative book, Schwartz and Sharpe explore the essential principle of problem solving that can

transform our lives: practical wisdom.

A concept that Aristotle identified millennia ago and that new scientific research reveals is as crucial today

as it was in ancient Greece, practical wisdom is the essential human quality that combines the fruits of our

individual experiences with our empathy and intellect. It’s how we learn to be a good friend or parent or doctor

or soldier or citizen or statesman. It’s how we come to understand, as the authors write, “the right way to do

the right thing in a particular circumstance, with a particular person, at a particular time.”

In Practical Wisdom, Schwartz and Sharpe explain the importance of wisdom in our daily lives and show how

to combat work situations that squeeze it out of our practices. They introduce us to what they call the “canny

outlaws,” people with the wisdom to work around the calcified conventions of business as usual to achieve

inspiring and satisfying results in daily life. And they identify System Changers, people who are building new,

more rewarding, and ultimately more effective ways to work. The result is a book that helps us understand

that wisdom is above all a practical idea.

What the world needs now is more people with practical wisdom and more institutions that allow them to

display it. And this is the book to teach us how to identify and cultivate it.

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  • Practical Wisdom
    Practical Wisdom  

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Schwartz (The Paradox of Choice) and Sharpe, both professors at Swarthmore College, explore our increasing distrust of and disenchantment with our institutions—governmental, medical, legal—an alienation shared by professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and teachers and the populations they serve. The authors exhort a revival of what Aristotle referred to as "practical wisdom"—figuring out the right way to do the right thing at the right time—not merely following established rules. Particular circumstances call for specific responses—the key is a flexibility impossible in ossified bureaucracies. Schwartz and Sharpe focus on finding a balance between professional commitment and financial profitability, praising "canny outlaws" who find ways to exercise practical wisdom, from judges to hospital custodians attentive to context. This highly recommended and important book offers an antidote to the mistrust that plagues the morale both in the workplace and beyond. (Jan.)
Kirkus Reviews

Swarthmore professors Schwartz (Social Theory; The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, 2004, etc.) and Sharpe (Political Science; co-author: Drug War Politics, 1996, etc.) take note of the paucity of applied sagacity and offer advice on how to retrieve it for a better social order.

The book is a self-help title, but more in-depth and nuanced than most. The authors cite Rousseau, Wittgenstein and other philosophers, as well as Malcolm Gladwell and George Bailey, the hero of It's a Wonderful Life. Most frequently referenced, however, is Aristotle, who sought "phronesis," which, we are told, is simply "practical wisdom." The authors support their common-sense prescriptions with lengthy anecdotes of applied intelligence by physicians, teachers, lawyers and health-care workers. They also advise practitioners in professions like medicine, jurisprudence, education and finance on the proper uses of judgment, ethics, empathy and detachment. The guidance is based on research in the social sciences and psychology, with a few comments touching on epistemology. Schwartz and Sharpe counsel on the role of the "canny outlaw" who, like Robin Hood, disdains the rules for the greater good. Don't rely on incentives alone, they say, and be happy in your work—in support, they present parables of those who are happy in theirs. Inevitably, there is more than a whiff of pedantry here; pertinent material and apt points tend to get lost in illustrative verbiage and extraneous matter. The conclusion, it seems, is that practical wisdom tells us to eschew greed, be slow to anger, be considerate, be good and think. In short, it's a call for decency and good behavior.

An earnest, didactic manual on doing the right thing, a topic that remains tricky to teach.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781442339484
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
  • Publication date: 12/30/2010
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 5.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Barry Schwartz is the author of the acclaimed bestseller The Paradox of Choice, which was among the BusinessWeek, Forbes, and Strategy + Business Top Ten Books of the Year. A frequent lecturer, he is the Dorwin Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action at Swarthmore College, specializing in psychology and economics.

Kenneth Sharpe is the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Political Science at Swarthmore College. He teaches political philosophy, ethics, and political economy.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
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