RICCA EDMONDSON (D.Phil, Oxford) is Professor Emerita in the School of Political Science and Sociology in the National University of Ireland, Galway. She has been writing about the sociality of reasoning since her book Rhetoric in Sociology (Macmillan, 1984), and later she came to connect this with the study of ageing, then that of wisdom. Her latest book is Ageing, Insight and Wisdom: Meaning and Practice Across the Life Course (Policy Press, 2015).
My own interest began with exploring everyday reasoning – not from the point of view (for example) of what can be shaky or manipulative about it, but in order to understand how people think and behave when they are reasoning well. I was soon attracted to the question how people both rely on and support others in the course of negotiating life questions and problems. It seemed a natural progression, when I came to study ageing, to ask if there can be anything significantly useful or exemplary about the ways older people (at least sometimes) interact with others, and what relationship this might have to what has traditionally been described as wisdom.
I first met Prof. Michel Ferrari, the PI of our project (Motivating the Self to Virtue in Western and Non-Western Countries: Does Nation or Faith Matter More in the Development of the Moral Self?), through our common interest in wisdom. Because of my ethnographic work on wisdom among older people, he invited me to a one-day symposium in the University of Toronto; I was immediately struck by his humane and wide-ranging understanding of the multiple fields that touch on wisdom as a phenomenon. I was extremely excited by this project, which I helped to describe at the original meeting in Milwaukee, because it offered an opportunity to encounter what is said by individuals in very different social settings, discussing their own lives and struggles in unusually revealing detail. This is throwing considerable light on how people relate to their communities and traditions, and what they draw from them in order to deepen their own understandings of what it is to be a human being.