Phronesis

Phronesis

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Phronesis'
Start a new discussion about 'Phronesis'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia
Phronēsis is an Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

 word for wisdom
Wisdom
Wisdom is a deep understanding and realization of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to apply perceptions, judgements and actions in keeping with this understanding. It often requires control of one's emotional reactions so that universal principles, reason and...

 or intelligence
Intelligence
Intelligence has been defined in different ways, including the abilities for abstract thought, understanding, communication, reasoning, learning, planning, emotional intelligence and problem solving....

 which is a common topic of discussion in philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

. In Aristotelian Ethics
Aristotelian ethics
Ethics as a subject begins with the works of Aristotle. In its original form, this subject is concerned with the question of virtue of character , or in other words having excellent and well-chosen habits. The acquisition of an excellent character is in turn aimed at living well and eudaimonia, a...

, for example in the Nicomachean Ethics
Nicomachean Ethics
The Nicomachean Ethics is the name normally given to Aristotle's best known work on ethics. The English version of the title derives from Greek Ἠθικὰ Νικομάχεια, transliterated Ethika Nikomacheia, which is sometimes also given in the genitive form as Ἠθικῶν Νικομαχείων, Ethikōn Nikomacheiōn...

it is distinguished from other words for wisdom as the virtue of practical thought, and is usually translated "practical wisdom", sometimes (more traditionally) as "prudence
Prudence
Prudence is the ability to govern and discipline oneself by the use of reason. It is classically considered to be a virtue, and in particular one of the four Cardinal virtues .The word comes from Old French prudence , from Latin...

", from Latin prudentia. Phronesis is also sometimes spelled Fronesis.

Intellectual


In Book 6 of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 distinguishes between two intellectual virtue
Virtue
Virtue is moral excellence. A virtue is a positive trait or quality subjectively deemed to be morally excellent and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being....

s which are sometimes translated as "wisdom": sophia and phronesis. Sophia (sometimes translated as "theoretical wisdom
Wisdom
Wisdom is a deep understanding and realization of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to apply perceptions, judgements and actions in keeping with this understanding. It often requires control of one's emotional reactions so that universal principles, reason and...

") is a combination of nous
Nous
Nous , also called intellect or intelligence, is a philosophical term for the faculty of the human mind which is described in classical philosophy as necessary for understanding what is true or real, very close in meaning to intuition...

, the ability to discern reality, and epistēmē, a type of knowledge which is logically built up, and teachable, and which is sometimes equated with science
Science
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe...

. Sophia, in other words, involves reasoning concerning universal truths. Phronesis also combines a capability of rational thinking, with a type of knowledge. On the one hand it requires the capability to rationally consider actions which can deliver desired effects. Aristotle says that phronesis is not simply a skill (technē), 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 good ends consistent with the aim of living well
Eudaimonia
Eudaimonia or eudaemonia , sometimes Anglicized as eudemonia , is a Greek word commonly translated as happiness or welfare; however, "human flourishing" has been proposed as a more accurate translation...

 overall. Aristotle points out that although sophia is higher and more serious than phronesis, the highest pursuit of wisdom and happiness requires both, because phronesis facilitates sophia. He also associates phronesis with political ability.

Ethical


According to Aristotle' theory on rhetoric
Rhetoric
Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the facility of speakers or writers who attempt to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. As a subject of formal study and a productive civic practice, rhetoric has played a central role in the Western...

 phronesis is one of the three types of appeal to character (ethos
Ethos
Ethos is a Greek word meaning "character" that is used to describe the guiding beliefs or ideals that characterize a community, nation, or ideology. The Greeks also used this word to refer to the power of music to influence its hearer's emotions, behaviors, and even morals. Early Greek stories of...

). The other two are respectively appeals to arete
Arete
Areté is the term meaning "virtue" or "excellence", from Greek ἈρετήArete may also be used:*as a given name of persons or things:**Queen Arete , a character in Homer's Odyssey.***197 Arete, an asteroid....

(virtue
Virtue
Virtue is moral excellence. A virtue is a positive trait or quality subjectively deemed to be morally excellent and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being....

) and eunoia
Eunoia
Eunoia is the shortest English word containing all five main vowel graphemes. It comes from the Greek word εὔνοια, meaning "well mind" or "beautiful thinking." It is also a rarely used medical term referring to a state of normal mental health....

(goodwill
Goodwill
Goodwill or Good Will may refer to:* Goodwill , the value of a business entity not directly attributable to its assets and liabilities* Goodwill, Maryland, United States...

).

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 phronetic and akratic
Akrasia
Akrasia , occasionally transliterated as acrasia, is the state of acting against one's better judgment. The adjective form is "akratic".-Classical approaches:...

; i.e., prudent persons cannot act against their "better judgement."

Influence


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

Oxford University professor Bent Flyvbjerg
Bent Flyvbjerg
Bent Flyvbjerg is the first Chair and BT Professor of Major Programme Management at Oxford University's Saïd Business School and is Founding Director of the University's BT Centre for Major Programme Management. He was previously Professor of Planning at Aalborg University, Denmark and Chair of...

, in his book Making Social Science Matter, has argued that instead of trying to emulate the natural science
Natural science
The natural sciences are branches of science that seek to elucidate the rules that govern the natural world by using empirical and scientific methods...

s, the social sciences should be practiced as phronesis. According to him, Phronetic social science
Phronetic social science
Phronetic social science is an approach to the study of social – including political and economic – phenomena based on a contemporary interpretation of the Aristotelian concept phronesis, variously translated as practical judgment, common sense, or prudence. Phronesis is the intellectual virtue...

  focuses on four value-rational questions:
  • Where are we going?
  • Who gains and who loses, by which mechanisms of power?
  • Is this development desirable?
  • What should we do about it?


In After Virtue
After Virtue
After Virtue is a book on moral philosophy by Alasdair MacIntyre. MacIntyre provides a bleak view of the state of modern moral discourse, regarding it as failing to be rational, and failing to admit to being irrational. He claims that older forms of moral discourse were in better shape,...

, Alasdair MacIntyre
Alasdair MacIntyre
Alasdair Chalmers MacIntyre is a British philosopher primarily known for his contribution to moral and political philosophy but known also for his work in history of philosophy and theology...

 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
Blaise Pascal
Blaise Pascal , was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Catholic philosopher. He was a child prodigy who was educated by his father, a tax collector in Rouen...

, he argues that the shape of Cleopatra's nose changed the course of history, for if her profile had not been beautiful it is unlikely (according to this argument) that Mark Anthony
Mark Antony
Marcus Antonius , known in English as Mark Antony, was a Roman politician and general. As a military commander and administrator, he was an important supporter and loyal friend of his mother's cousin Julius Caesar...

 would have pursued her, with significant consequences for Roman
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 political history.

See also

  • Aristotle
    Aristotle
    Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

  • Casuistry
    Casuistry
    In applied ethics, casuistry is case-based reasoning. Casuistry is used in juridical and ethical discussions of law and ethics, and often is a critique of principle- or rule-based reasoning...

  • Dianoia
    Dianoia
    Dianoia is a term used by Plato for a type of thinking, specifically about mathematical and technical subjects. It is the capacity for, process of, or result of discursive thinking, in contrast with the immediate apprehension that is characteristic of noesis...

  • Noesis
  • Phronesis in social science
  • Rhetorical reason
    Rhetorical Reason
    "Rhetorical reason" may be defined as the faculty of discovering the crux of the matter, endemic to rhetorical invention, that precedes argumentation.-Aristotle's definition:...


Sources and further reading

  • Aristotle
    Aristotle
    Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

    , Nicomachean Ethics
    Nicomachean Ethics
    The Nicomachean Ethics is the name normally given to Aristotle's best known work on ethics. The English version of the title derives from Greek Ἠθικὰ Νικομάχεια, transliterated Ethika Nikomacheia, which is sometimes also given in the genitive form as Ἠθικῶν Νικομαχείων, Ethikōn Nikomacheiōn...

    , 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
    Terence Irwin
    Terence Irwin is a scholar and philosopher specializing in ancient Greek philosophy and the history of ethics Terence Irwin (born 21 April 1947, in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland) is a scholar and philosopher specializing in ancient Greek philosophy and the history of ethics Terence Irwin (born 21...

     (2nd edition; Hackett, 1999) ISBN 0-87220-464-2
  • Robert Bernasconi
    Robert Bernasconi
    Robert L. Bernasconi is the Lillian and Morrie Moss Professor of Philosophy at the University of Memphis. He is well known as a reader of Martin Heidegger and Emmanuel Levinas, and for his work on the concept of race...

    , “Heidegger’s Destruction of Phronesis,” Southern Journal of Philosophy 28 supp. (1989): 127–47.
  • Flyvbjerg, Bent, Making Social Science Matter: Why Social Inquiry Fails and How It Can Succeed Again (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
  • Flyvbjerg, Bent, Todd Landman, and Sanford Schram, Real Social Science: Applied Phronesis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012)
  • 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
    Martin Heidegger
    Martin Heidegger was a German philosopher known for his existential and phenomenological explorations of the "question of Being."...

    , Plato's Sophist (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997).
  • Gerard J. Hughes, Aristotle on Ethics (Routledge, 2001) ISBN 0-415-22187-0
  • Alasdair MacIntyre
    Alasdair MacIntyre
    Alasdair Chalmers MacIntyre is a British philosopher primarily known for his contribution to moral and political philosophy but known also for his work in history of philosophy and theology...

    , After Virtue (Duckworth, 1985)ISBN 0-7156-1663-3
  • William McNeill
    William McNeill (philosopher)
    - Career and work :McNeill was educated at the University of Essex, and he is now teaching Heidegger at DePaul University. He is a translator of the work of Martin Heidegger, about whom he has written two books. The Glance of the Eye closely examines the relation between Heidegger's thought and...

    , 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
    Richard Sorabji
    Richard Rustom Kharsedji Sorabji CBE, FBA is a British historian of ancient Western philosophy and Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at King's College London. He has written his own 'Intellectual Autobiography' in his Festschrift: R. Salles ed., Metaphysics, Soul and Ethics in Ancient Thought , 1-36...

    , "Aristotle on the Role of Intellect in Virtue" (Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 74, 1973–1974; pp 107–129. Reprinted in Rorty)
  • David Wiggins
    David Wiggins
    David Wiggins is a British moral philosopher, metaphysician, and philosophical logician working especially on identity and issues in meta-ethics. His 2006 book, Ethics. Twelve Lectures on the Philosophy of Morality defends a position he calls "moral objectivism".- Life :Wiggins read philosophy...

    , "Deliberation and Practical Reason" (Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 76, 1975–1976; pp 29–51. Reprinted in Rorty)

External links