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 Phronesis:  Practical Wisdom

In Book 6 of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle distinguishes between two types of intellectual virtue: sophia, which involves the reasoned search for universal truths (i.e., science), and phronesis, which combines the capacity for rational thinking with consideration of how to achieve humanistic ends associated with living well. In Aristotle’s formulation, the pursuit of wisdom and happiness requires both sophia and phronesis. It’s not easy for academics to find a comfortable balance between these two intellectual strains. Academics in the social and behavioral sciences have been pushed by post-war scholarly convention to emulate the natural sciences and follow the cannons and conventions of empirical research in a search for universal truths and predictability. This approach, philosophically known as positivism, traces its modern roots to the philosopher Auguste Comte in the early 19th century. The unpredictability of human beings and human life, however, made Ronald Fox, government professor at California State University Sacramento, and Charles Snow, management professor at Penn State University, uncomfortable with the idea that the only useful knowledge comes from research conducted in the positivist tradition.  We see virtue in practical wisdom that is based on scientific evidence, rational thinking, reflective experience, and importantly, a desire to improve the human condition.  Our blog is dedicated to sharing this type of wisdom.