Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Wisdom, Judicial and Otherwise

The New York Times Magazine this weekend, in an unfortunate flurry of Boomer-related articles on aging, has a quite interesting piece on the scientific study of wisdom. Although the piece notes that one of the difficulties of this area of study is the definition of wisdom itself, it offers this start:

Certain qualities associated with wisdom recur in the academic literature: a clear-eyed view of human nature and the human predicament; emotional resiliency
and the ability to cope in the face of adversity; an openness to other possibilities; forgiveness; humility; and a knack for learning from lifetime experiences. And yet as psychologists have noted, there is a yin-yang to the idea that makes it difficult to pin down. Wisdom is founded upon knowledge, but part of the physics of wisdom is shaped by uncertainty. Action is important, but so is judicious inaction. Emotion is central to wisdom, yet detachment is essential.

The article goes on to note that, to the extent that wisdom is associated with age, it appears to "plateau" in middle and early old age, and to decline around the age of 75, perhaps in tandem with cognitive decline.

This research looks like a "law and" article in waiting. (For those running pre-emption checks, consider this my effort to stake a claim for priority with respect to any future work on the subject.) Among the questions one might ask: Are the qualities of wisdom identified by the researchers profiled in the article also relevant aspects of judicial wisdom? If forgiveness, humility, and emotion are central aspects of wisdom, does that suggest that a wise judge who possesses these qualities should eschew a more mechanical, formalist approach to legal reasoning -- or is wisdom so rare a quality that formal reasoning is, a la Vermeule, still the best "second-best" approach to judging? Do these qualities make more sense at the trial level than the appellate level, or are they desirable qualities in both cases? And do the researchers' findings on the imperfect and ultimately diminishing correlation between wisdom and age suggest anything about the proper age at which federal judges should be appointed to the bench, notwithstanding the evident desire of Presidents to appoint judges at ever younger ages -- and the ongoing debate about the desirability of eliminating judges' lifetime tenure and instead fixing a retirement age for judges?

Finally, a bonus feature: The online version of the article links to a questionnaire used to assess how wise people are. Test yourself! How wise are you? I will wisely refrain from reporting my own score.