Research on character development has tended to focus on virtues we can see clearly in children such as kindness and self-control. The development of practical wisdom, a virtue thought to be out of the reach of children, has not been studied. This is too bad: For humans, wisdom may be the most important virtue because it is needed to adjudicate conflicts between other virtues and to permit their full realization. Given its governing role, wisdom includes both moral and epistemic judgments: the wise person grasps what matters and what does not, and can weigh various considerations in deciding what to do. Further, on the assumption that virtue begins by identifying and emulating virtuous models, young children need to discern moral and epistemic role models to develop wisdom. In a series of experiments using paradigms developed by the developmental scientists on our team, we examine how children distinguish moral and epistemic exemplars in response to their statements and actions, and investigate how these distinctions guide learning. Through these experiments, we will answer important questions about the origins of moral and epistemic virtue. Are good epistemic models identified at the same time as good moral models? Are effort and intention recognized and valued in the moral and the epistemic domain for children, or do children start out (as adults do) valuing intention and effort more highly in the moral domain, and success more highly in the epistemic domain? An understanding of the ways in which young children identify worthy models in these two domains will illuminate the development of wisdom by showing us how the two sides of wisdom – the epistemic and the moral – emerge and develop together. Translating our findings into information relevant to both philosophy and early childhood education is an important strength, one that is best taken on by a team of open-minded collaborators who bring different strengths and backgrounds to a convergent set of aims.
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