Phronesis

Phronesis

Phronesis (Greek: φρόνησις) in Aristotle's "Nicomachean Ethics" is the virtue of moral thought, usually translated "practical wisdom", sometimes as "prudence".

Aristotle distinguishes between two intellectual virtues: "sophia" and "phronesis". "Sophia" (usually translated "wisdom") is the ability to think well about the nature of the world, to discern why the world is the way it is (this is sometimes equated with science); "sophia" involves deliberation concerning universal truths. "Phronesis" is the capability to consider the mode of action in order to deliver change, especially to enhance the quality of life. Aristotle says that "phronesis" is not simply a skill, however, as it involves not only the ability to decide how to achieve a certain end, but also the ability to reflect upon and determine that end (this latter point is denied by some commentators, who contend that Aristotle considers the desired end, "eudaimonia", to be given, such that "phronesis" is merely the ability to achieve that end).

Gaining "phronesis" requires maturation, in Aristotle's thought:

"Phronesis" is concerned with particulars, because it is concerned with how to act in particular situations. One can learn the principles of action, but applying them in the real world, in situations one could not have foreseen, requires experience of the world. For example, if one knows that one should be honest, one might act in certain situations in ways that cause pain and offense; knowing how to apply honesty in balance with other considerations and in specific contexts requires experience.

Aristotle holds that having "phronesis" is both necessary and sufficient for being virtuous; because "phronesis" is practical, it is impossible to be both "phronimos" and akratic.

Aristotle's importance to mediæval European thought led "phronesis" to be included as one of the four cardinal virtues.

Bent Flyvbjerg, in his book Making Social Science Matter, has argued that instead of trying to emulate the natural sciences, the social sciences should be practiced as "phronesis". Phronetic social science [http://flyvbjerg.plan.aau.dk/whatisphronetic.php] focuses on four value-rational questions: (1) Where are we going? (2) Who gains and who loses, by which mechanisms of power? (3) Is this development desirable? (4) What should we do about it?

In "After Virtue" Alasdair MacIntyre makes a similar call for a phronetic social science, combined with weighty criticism of attempts by social scientists to emulate natural science. He points out that for every prediction made by a social scientific theory there are usually counter-examples. These derive from the unpredictability of human beings, and the fact that one unpredictable human being can have a world-changing impact. Following Pascal, he points out that the shape of Cleopatra's nose changed the course of history, for if her profile had not been classically beautiful it is unlikely that Mark Anthony would have pursued her, with significant consequences for Roman political history.

ources and further reading

*Aristotle, "Nicomachean Ethics", dual text, with translation by H. Rackham (Harvard University Press, 1934) ISBN 0-674-99081-1 [http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0140449493&id=iBoqmEvavawC&pg=PA3&lpg=PA3&dq=Nicomachean+Ethics&sig=EMMlPhGOf24OmYfLyjo557b7Y5g]
*Aristotle, "Nicomachean Ethics" trans. Terence Irwin (2nd edition; Hackett, 1999) ISBN 0-87220-464-2
*Robert Bernasconi, “Heidegger’s Destruction of Phronesis,” "Southern Journal of Philosophy" 28 supp. (1989): 127–47.
* [http://books.google.com/books?id=yVBXPf50EV0C&printsec=frontcover&dq=%22making+social+science+matter%22&ie=ISO-8859-1&sig=CNCTRgLt1z1rRBTbFsPrUf_w_M0 Flyvbjerg, Bent, "Making Social Science Matter: Why Social Inquiry Fails and How It Can Succeed Again" (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).]
*Clifford Geertz, "Empowering Aristotle." Science, vol. 293, July 6, 2001, p. 53. [http://www.iwp.uni-linz.ac.at/lxe/sektktf/gg/GeertzTexts/Empowering_Aristotle.htm]
*Martin Heidegger, "Plato's Sophist" (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997).
*Gerard J. Hughes, "Aristotle on Ethics" (Routledge, 2001) ISBN 0-415-22187-0
*Alasdair MacIntyre, "After Virtue" (Duckworth, 1985)ISBN 0-7156-1663-3
*William McNeill, "The Glance of the Eye: Heidegger, Aristotle, and the Ends of Theory" (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999).
*Amélie Oksenberg Rorty [ed.] , "Essays on Aristotle's Ethics" (University of California Press, 1980) ISBN 0-520-04041-4
*Richard Sorabji, "Aristotle on the Role of Intellect in Virtue" ("Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society" 74, 1973–1974; pp 107–129. Reprinted in Rorty)
*David Wiggins, "Deliberation and Practical Reason" ("Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society" 76, 1975–1976; pp 29–51. Reprinted in Rorty)

See also

*Aristotle
*Phronesis in social science
*Rhetorical reason
*Casuistry

External links

* [http://flyvbjerg.plan.aau.dk/whatisphronetic.php What is phronetic social science?]


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  • phronesis — /froh nee sis/, n. Philos. wisdom in determining ends and the means of attaining them. [1885 90; Gk phrónesis thinking, equiv. to phrone (verbid s. of phroneîn to think; akin to phren mind) + sis SIS] * * * ‖ phronesis (frəʊˈniːsɪs) [a. Gr.… …   Useful english dictionary

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  • phronesis — /froh nee sis/, n. Philos. wisdom in determining ends and the means of attaining them. [1885 90; < Gk phrónesis thinking, equiv. to phrone (verbid s. of phroneîn to think; akin to phren mind) + sis SIS] * * * …   Universalium

  • phronesis — noun The virtue of practical wisdom as posited by Aristotle …   Wiktionary

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