Conférence GRIN – John Hacker-Wright (University of Guelph)

Practical Wisdom as Knowledge of the Human Good

1 octobre 2021 @ 10:00 – 12:00, conférence par John Hacker-Wright (University of Guelph)


Où: Salle 0035 du Pavillon de l’aménagement (2940 Chem. de la Côte-Sainte-Catherine), Université de Montréal

*La conférence sera aussi présentée sur ZOOM.


This paper concerns the idea of practical wisdom or phronēsis understood along the lines Aristotle presents it in Nicomachean Ethics Book VI. There he defines phronēsis through examining what is characteristic of the practically wise person, the phronimos: it is someone “able to deliberate correctly … about what sorts of things further living well as a whole (pros to eu zen holos)” (1140a25-27). Some scholars reject the idea that Aristotle advocates phronēsis as general knowledge concerning human life and contend that the knowledge of the phronimos is a contextual, perceptual sensitivity that prompts action. It is the capacity to get things right “occasion by occasion,” as John McDowell puts it. I will not be contesting this view as a reading of Aristotle, but I will argue that some of the philosophical objections to phronēsis as general knowledge can be set aside once we place that putative general knowledge in its proper context. The worry is that such general knowledge postulates phronēsis as a ‘blueprint’ for acting well that seems implausibly intellectual. On the blueprint model, phronēsis is a body of knowledge that is arrived at through an independent exercise of the intellect in which, for example, one takes a set of goods and contrives a manner of living that combines them optimally. A more plausible generalism is conceivable. The most general knowledge possessed by the phronimos is knowledge concerning what it is good to be doing over the most extended period. The progressive infinitive is important because the human good is a rational activity, a praxis meta logou, and one that is sustained throughout the whole of life. Without the emphatic progressive aspect, it is too easy to look at what good we might accomplish through the completion of our actions rather than the good we achieve in actively doing them. Hence, the justification that we have for pursuing one sort of life over another must consist of insight into the good of the activity itself rather than what results from doing it. Part of the knowledge of the phronimos is the thin yet important general knowledge of the best activity to engage in over the course of a lifetime, rather than an elaborate plan arrived at in advance or codified decision procedure that will optimize one’s achievement of the good.