Ways of practical wisdom

Ways of practical wisdom

By Bart Nooteboom

Anthem Impact

The book aims at providing tools for the enactment of the virtue of phronesis or practical wisdom.

Paperback, 100 Pages


May 2024

£20.99, $24.95

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About This Book

In moral judgement, you have to take into account the following conditions. That is ‘phronesis’, or practical wisdom, professed by Aristotle (in his ‘Nicomachean ethics’). Is there some method for it? It is like pursuing a hare as it runs off. Some people then shoot it, but the wise person tries to follow it, inferring from the scenery in which direction it will leap.

In this book, to begin with, in Chapter 1, I discuss ‘virtue ethics’, which goes back to Aristotle, then eclipsed, and underwent a remarkable rebirth in the 1950’s. Virtues and morality are needed for a flourishing life, but can also form a straightjacket and obstruct the development of life. In the chapter, I also discuss the notions of ‘Thymos’, the urge for life, to manifest oneself and the inclination to benevolence towards others.

In Chapter 2, I discuss the ubiquity of dilemmas that phronesis has to deal with. Aristotle sought ‘the middle’ in between extremes and that is the task of phronesis. A fundamental dilemma is that between universality and particularity of rules. Some other dilemmas discussed here are unity and variety, authenticity and conformance, meritocracy and equal opportunity, progressiveness and conservatism and stability and change. In Chapter 4, I go more deeply into the dilemma of self and other, which is central in phronesis. 

Is the enactment of virtues rational or emotional? In Chapter 3, I discuss rationality, the virtues of science, and the limitations of reason, in subconscious shortcuts in decision making, in so-called ‘heuristics’, and the ambiguity and vagueness of language, and change of meaning, in the ‘hermeneutic circle’. I go into the role of emotions, which lie behind virtue and vice. Emotions move and guide us, but can also overwhelm and trip us, but are needed for a flourishing life. They are needed to pay attention when we encounter threats or opportunities and take appropriate action. I consider the whole of thinking, doing and virtues from the perspective of Taoism, a Chinese philosophy that also, like Aristotle, goes back to hundreds of years before Christ, and is largely in contrast with the dominant teaching of Confucius. Taoism pleads for recognition of the diversity of people, acceptance of a dynamic, unpredictable world and resists the urge for certainty and too many rules (Wu-Wei), to maintain room for diversity and development. 

In Chapter 4 I go into the dilemma of self and other, where the crux of phronesis lies. It manifests itself, among others, in the predicaments of COVID-19. I take inspiration from the work of Emmanuel Levinasand Martin Buber.I take on reciprocity in relations. To deal with variety in relations, one needs insight in personality traits.

In Chapter 5, finally, I offer tools for phronesis. The ability of phronesis increases with age and experience, but perfect it will never be. Some people are masters in it, such as Gandhi and Mandela. You can take them as examples, but their mastery cannot just be copied. The question in this book is whether tools can be devised to aid phronesis.


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Author Information

Bart Nooteboom is an economist and philosopher and has published extensively in both fields.


Anthem Impact

Table of Contents

Abstract; Introduction; Chapter 1 Virtue ethics; Chapter 2 The context; Chapter 3 Reason; Chapter 4 Self and other; Chapter 5 Guiding phronesis; Conclusions; References


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