The ability to anticipate or forecast the future, based on perceptiveness and wisdom, without the blinders of wishful thinking or hopelessness.

a.k.a. anticipation, pronoia/πρόνοια

If you often feel like you’ve been blindsided by life or “I should have seen that coming” then maybe you need to work on your foresight.

Complementary virtues

Contrasting vices

  • shortsightedness
  • imprudence
  • myopia
  • unpreparedness
  • wishful thinking

Virtues possibly in tension

  • optimism and hope (because they encourage you to replace foresight with positive anticipation)?
  • equanimity (because it can encourage you to be passively stoic about whatever comes next)?

How to acquire or strengthen it

Benjamin Franklin suggested chess as a good way of exercising the foresight-muscle. One of our group didn’t find chess helpful but suggested this exercise: write down the possibilities that immediately come to mind in some important upcoming situation and guess at probabilities for each of those possibilities. Then try really hard to come up with other possibilities you haven’t thought of yet… freak rainstorm, somebody gets called away to a funeral suddenly, luggage lost, all the “long tail” stuff. Just let your imagination go wild. Then go back and reassign the probabilities again with all these other options before you. It can be surprising how much they change!

The discipline of “project management” has developed some techniques for overcoming biases that make it difficult for people to estimate how long tasks will take, how many resources they will require, and so forth.

There are a variety of “cognitive biases” or “cognitive illusions” that make forecasting unnecessarily difficult. By knowing these, you can anticipate your errors and plan ways to ameliorate them.

There are cooperative techniques for improving forecasting, like using “prediction markets”.

Notes and links


Mentioned elsewhere


Inspirational quotes

  • “Before you become too entranced with gorgeous gadgets and mesmerizing video displays, let me remind you that information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, and wisdom is not foresight. Each grows out of the other, and we need them all.” ―Arthur C. Clarke
  • “The best way to keep something bad from happening is to see it ahead of time… and you can’t see it if you refuse to face the possibility.” ―William S. Burroughs
  • “Being unexpected adds to the weight of a disaster, and being a surprise has never failed to increase a person’s pain. For that reason, nothing should ever be unexpected by us. Our minds should be sent out in advance to all things and we shouldn’t just consider the normal course of things, but what could actually happen. For is there anything in life that Fortune won’t knock off its high horse if it pleases her?” —Seneca, Moral Letters 91.3