© April 2004
Bibliography for phronesis and prudentia
Almost immediately after this website launched, I was asked for a bibliography which elaborates on the conceptual distinction between phronesis and prudentia.
My own interest in these two concepts has developed in line with my study of early modern arts & sciences. In general, I have found the primary sources of this period both visual and verbal full of suggestive dialogue about the evolving relations of theory to practice, episteme to phronesis, knowledge to wisdom, judgment to virtue, natural to divine.
Because of this, the bulk of my discoveries about phronesis and prudentia have been serendipitous (nuggets of information found here and there in primary sources, usually when least expected), and I have never developed a formal research plan or comprehensive reading list on either concept.
My own work focuses on how phronesis and prudentia were conceived, modeled, taught and practiced during the early modern period. And I continue to wonder about the implications of this for a postmodern era, especially when it comes to rethinking vocational education for the 21st century. These interests have yielded an eclectic and circumstantial reading list which, in addition to a broad range of (mostly 17th-century) primary texts too numerous to be listed here, includes:
Abizadeh, Arash. “The Passions of the Wise: Phronêsis, Rhetoric, and Aristotle’s Passionate Practical Deliberation.” Review of Metaphysics 56 (Dec. 2002): 267–297.
Atwill, Janet M. Rhetoric Reclaimed: Aristotle and the Liberal Arts Tradition. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998.
Re. phronesis (practical wisdom), practical knowledge, and Empeiria (experience, practice); rhetoric as practical knowledge; rhetoric as productive knowledge.
Bourdieu, Pierre. Practical Reason: On the Theory of Action. Trans. by Randal Johnson, et al. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.
Brucker, Charles. “Prudentia / Prudence aux XIIe et XIIIe siècles.” Romanische Forschungen 83.4 (1971): 464479.
Evolving definitions of prudentia and prudence through the middle ages, with emphasis on the concept’s changing philosophical, theological, ethical, and political associations. Includes a discussion of the mystic, Raymond Lull. (Text in French.)
Cape, Robert W., Jr. “Prudence.” In Encyclopedia of Rhetoric. Ed. Thomas O. Sloane. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. 63740.
Capella, Martianus. The Marriage of Philology and Mercury. Trans. William Harris Stahl and Richard Johnson, with E. L. Burge. Vol. 2 of Martianus Capella and the Seven Liberal Arts. 2 vols. Records of Civilization, Sources and Studies, no. 84. New York: Columbia University Press, 1977.
From the Middle Ages, a conceptualization of phronesis and prudentia inherited by the Renaissance, and still exerting influence during the early modern period.
Certeau, Michel de. The Mystic Fable. Trans. by Michael B. Smith. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.
Certeau, Michel de. The Practice of Everyday Life. Trans. by Stephen Randall. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.
Cooley, Mike. Architect or Bee? The Human Price of Technology. Slough: Langley Technical Services, 1980; London: Hogarth, 1987.
Re. “craft intelligence” as a model for deepened human knowing through doing (theory and practice are not polarized, but in balance).
Crawford, Matthew B. Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work. New York: Penguin Press, 2009.
Dormer, Peter. The Art of the Maker: Skill and Its Meaning in Art, Craft and Design. London: Thames & Hudson, 1994.
Distinguishes 2 closely intertwined strains of “craft knowledge” (or “local knowledge”): theoretical knowledge (the concepts behind things, the language we use to describe and understand ideas) and tacit knowledge (knowledge gained through experience or “know-how”). For Dormer, craft knowledge (much more than just “technique”) is a critical human function, similar to the creative thinking practiced by the best mathematicians or physicists.
Gahtan, Maia Wellington. “Notions of past and future in Italian Renaissance art and letters.” In Symbols of Time in the History of Art. Eds. by Christian Heck and Kristen Lippincott. Turnhout: Brepols, 2002. 6983.
A colleague tells me that “even though the title does not refer to Prudence at all, the whole essay is devoted to the subject, particularly to Prudence looking to the past, present, and future.”
Gaines, Robert A. “Phronesis.” In Encyclopedia of Rhetoric. Ed. Thomas O. Sloane. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. 60103.
Garsten, Bryan. Saving Persuasion: A Defense of Rhetoric and Judgment. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.
Garsten rethinks Aristotelian phronesis (or practical wisdom) as practical judgment (akin to Aquinas’ concept of prudence, and “linked to our idea of common sense”). (B. Garsten, Saving Persuasion, 8)
“When speaking of prudence and common sense, we may notice that while judgment is a general human capacity, some people are better at using it than others. People with good judgment are adept at evaluating and responding to difficult and ambiguous situations. They have a certain instinctive sensitivity and appreciation for nuance that allows them somehow to focus on appropriate similarities and differences, noticing how a particular situation is similar to previous ones in their experience and how it is different. We can imitate such people by trying to follow their example, but we cannot come up with a set of rules that will, if followed, assure us of being able to replicate their good judgment. Still, we each have judgment to some degree, and often it improves with use.” (B. Garsten, Saving Persuasion, 8)
“Practical judgment understood in this way is closely linked to the activity of deliberation. We only deliberate about how to respond in situations where there is no clear or definite answer, where we can control our response to some extent, and where certain responses seem to be better than others.... People who have good judgment are skilled at this sort of deliberation. Their skill consists not only in having the requisite intellectual quickness and cleverness but also in having the right dispositions or habits of affective responses. They will not often be overwhelmed by their passions or by fear, hunger, or lust; nor will they fall prey to the distorting influences of insecurity or vanity. They will feel such emotions but they will feel them, more often than not, in ways that contribute to their ability to judge well rather than in ways that distort that capacity. Partly from nature and partly from education, they will have gained certain dispositions that allow them a measure of self-possession; from that relatively steady perspective they will be able to imagine accurately and empathetically what it would be like to take various courses of action. They will also be able to examine the various options available to them with some measure of detachment. Thus they will view the objects of their judgment with a mixture of sympathy and detachment, and they will be able to do so because they have certain traits of character, a keen perceptivity and relatively steady habits of emotional response. When people have all these traits, they find that they can draw upon their various perceptions, feelings, and opinions to respond in a relatively deliberate way to whatever particular situation confronts them.” (B. Garsten, Saving Persuasion, 8–9)
Hariman, Robert, ed. Prudence: Classical Virtue, Postmodern Politics. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003.
Defining prudence broadly as “an ecological consciousness” and prudential thinking as “a mode of reflection on practical affairs that emphasizes attention to the limits on action,” Robert Hariman is puzzled by the fact that “‘Phronesis,’ ‘Practical Wisdom,’ and ‘Prudence’ each have a separate entry in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Rhetoric” edited by Thomas O. Sloane (R. Hariman, Prudence, 295 and 25n3).
“We need to review the core concept of prudence,” Hariman concludes, “but that is only part of the story. Indeed, our first assumption is that there is no one comprehensive account of prudence — Aristotle included. (Likewise, there is no need to give priority to any one of the words used historically for the concept — phronesis, prudentia, prudenzia — or to varied sets of aligned terms.) The concept is by its nature multifaceted yet useful only if tied to specific situations. The full sense of prudence should come not only from its core vocabulary but also from its activation as a field of possible articulations.” (R. Hariman, Prudence, 2–3)
I think Hariman’s book is excellent, but I disagree that phronesis and prudentia (despite considerable cross-over in uses and meanings) are interchangeable. During the early modern period, phronesis (practical wisdom) had a unique instinctual — or divinely inspired, depending on your religious point of view — aspect. During the 16th and 17th centuries, phronetic deliberation & awareness relied not just on logos, but also on êthos and pathos (the “passionate element” in the human soul) for right action and judgment regarding practical concerns.
On the other hand, prudentia (practical reasoning) was depicted as more of a learned human calculus — more an art of circumspection (showing carefulness and foresight, avoiding rashness), and less about having or showing soundness of judgment.
Heinrichs, Jay. Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us about the Art of Persuasion. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007.
In Thank You for Arguing, Henrichs gives a modern, popular interpretation of phronesis (“rhetorical street savvy” or “practical wisdom”) in chapter 17. According to Heinrichs, Aristotle defined phronesis as “the skill of dealing with probability,” combining the ability “to predict, based on the evidence” and the ability “of making decisions that produce the greatest probability of happiness.” Heinrichs classifies phronesis as one of the 3 chief aspects of ethos (argument by character). His summary account of phronesis emphasizes 3 constituent elements: showing off experience, bending the rules (i.e., skilled at improvisation and adjusting to changing circumstance rather than a rules follower with a one-size-fits-all approach to problem solving), and appearing to take the middle course (Appendix, p. 289). Heinrichs’ 3 “Tools” for assessing phronesis are: the “that depends” filter, comparable experience, and “sussing” ability (“figure out what the audience really needs, and what the issue really is”; “cut to the chase”).
Heinrichs runs the Figaro website, which is devoted to rhetorical analysis. Extracts from his book are available here, although not the book’s material on phronesis.
Johnstone, Christopher Lyle. “Practical Wisdom.” In Encyclopedia of Rhetoric. Ed. Thomas O. Sloane. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. 63135.
Kolb, David A. Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1984.
Marle, Raimond van. Iconographie de l’art profane au Moyen-Age et à la Renaissance, et la décoration des demeures. 2 vols. 1931; rpt. New York: Hacker Art Books, 1971.
Chapter 1, “L’Allégorie Éthique” of vol. 2, “Allégories et symboles,” includes a discussion of prudentia iconography. (Text in French.)
Miller, Thomas P. “Treating Professional Writing as Social Praxis.” Journal of Advanced Composition 11.1 (1991): 5772.
Re. phronesis as social praxis.
Montgomery, Kathryn. How Doctors Think: Clinical Judgment and the Practice of Medicine. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Montgomery rethinks Aristotelian phronesis (or practical wisdom) as practical reasoning — “the flexible, interpretive capacity that enables moral reasoners (and the physicians and navigators that [Aristotle] compares with them) to determine the best action to take when knowledge depends on circumstance. Today we might add engineers and meteorologists and even Xerox copier technicians to the list. In medicine that interpretive capacity is clinical judgment, and this book attempts to describe that intelligence: how it differs from the rationality of science that medicine idealizes, how it displaces or contravenes science in practice, how it is taught, and how recognizing its importance might reduce some of the adverse side effects of the belief that medicine is itself a science.” (K. Montgomery, How Doctors Think, 5)
Pellegrino, Edmund D. The Philosophy of Medicine Reborn: A Pellegrino Reader. Edited by H. Tristram Engelhardt Jr. and Fabrice Jotterand. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2008.
More phronesis-related writings by Edmund Pellegrino:
Humanism and the Physician (1979)
Michael Polanyi’s writings on “tacit knowledge”:
Personal Knowledge (1958)
Rice, Eugene F. The Renaissance Idea of Wisdom. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1958.
A detailed study of developing models of phronesis (practical wisdom), prudentia (moral philosophy), sapientia (metaphysics), and scientia (natural philosophy).
Roochnik, David. Of Art and Wisdom: Plato’s Understanding of Techne. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996.
Schwartz, Barry, and Kenneth Sharpe. Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing. New York: Riverhead Books, 2010.
Self, Lois S. “Rhetoric and Phronesis: The Aristotelian Ideal.” Philosophy and Rhetoric 12.2 (Spring 1979): 130–45.
Self is another scholar who equates phronesis (practical wisdom) with prudence: e.g., “Aristotle distinguishes moral virtues, which develop through habituation and belong to the appetitive part of the soul, from intellectual virtues, which develop through teaching and belong to the rational part of the soul. Since the concern of this essay is the relationship between Aristotelian rhetoric and ethics, it should be noted that the ‘intellectual virtue’ of phronesis (prudence) is interdependent with sophrosyne (moderation) and this faculty of determining the Mean is requisite for all moral virtues in the Nicomachean Ethics.” (L. Self, “Rhetoric and Phronesis,” 144n6; see also 134, 144n4)
Elsewhere Self equates phronesis with thoughtfulness (as well as with “practical wisdom”): “Phronesis may also be translated as ‘thought’ or ‘thoughtfulness.’ According to Sir Alexander Grant, the general Greek sense of such ‘thought’ included thought about one’s self, ‘about one’s family,’ and ‘about the state.’ ‘Thought’ about the state could be either ‘universal,’ leading to legislation or ‘in detail,’ producing politics. The specific application of phronesis to politics occurred in the spheres of the ‘deliberative’ and the ‘judicial.’ Obviously, the man of practical wisdom has special qualifications to construct discourse in these two of Aristotle’s three [i.e., deliberative, judicial, epideictic] rhetorical genres.” (L. Self, “Rhetoric and Phronesis,” 137)
I agree that phronesis has a constellation of meanings (and I should point out here that Self also notices the historical connection between phronesis and consilium). I’m just not comfortable reducing phronesis to prudentia (as does Robert Hariman; see above entry) given their distinct iconographic traditions during the early modern period.
Sennett, Richard. The Craftsman. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.
Tallmon, James M. “Casuistry.” In Encyclopedia of Rhetoric. Ed. Thomas O. Sloane. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. 8388.
An HTML transcription of this encyclopedia article is available in the she-philosopher.com Library: see Lib. Cat. No. JMT2001.
Tallmon, James M. “Five Facets of Phronesis in Rhetorical Reasoning.” N.p.: n.p., 1993–2014. Accessed 28 September 2016, from < http://www.rhetoricring.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/5Facets.pdf >.
Tallmon, James M. “Toward a Rhetorical Ethics.” N.p.: n.p., 1995. Accessed 28 September 2016, from < http://www.rhetoricring.com/rhetorical-reasoning/towards-a-rhetorical-ethics/ >.
“This study suggests how practitioners may contend with tough cases by means of a method of shared moral inquiry that is sensitive to the rigor and exhaustiveness appropriate to their given field. All that is needed to complete the process is the sort of expertise and practical wisdom that rhetorical theory cannot provide. Where does the group turn for that essential knowledge? To itself. Or, as Francis Bacon put it, ‘a faculty of wise interrogating is half a knowledge’ the other half is supplied by the group’s reliance on professional standards, common sense, phronesis, and experience.”
Toulmin, Stephen. “Concluding Methodological Reflections: Élitism and Democracy Among the Sciences.” In Beyond Theory: Changing Organizations Through Participation. Eds. Stephen Toulmin and Bjorn Gustavsen. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Pub Co., 1996. 203225.
Discussion of the shared methodologies of clinical medicine and “participatory action research” (in the social sciences): “Both kinds of research are aimed at practical effects, not theoretical rigor: both seek the kind of knowledge Aristotle called phronesis (‘practical wisdom’) more than episteme (‘theoretical grasp’)”; both are “judged by practical results, not by theoretical propriety.”
Voegelin, Eric. Science, Politics and Gnosticism: Two Essays. Introd. by Ellis Sandoz. 1968; rpt. Washington, D.C.: Gateway, 1997.
Re. Platonic-Aristotelian phronesis as “philosophy and faith considered experientially.” Grounds the ideal scientist’s ethos in the critical rationality and “loving action” associated with phronesis.
Welch, Kathleen E. Electric Rhetoric: Classical Rhetoric, Oralism, and a New Literacy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999.
Re. Isocratean logos as associated with phronesis, prudentia, and judgment.
Wind, Edgar. Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance. 1958; 2nd ed., New York: W. W. Norton, 1968.
Re. the visual culture of phronesis, consilium, and prudentia.
To round out the above, and provide a bibliography of sufficient historical and theoretical range for scholarly use, I append here the 3 reading lists given at the end of the articles on phronesis, practical wisdom, and prudentia in the Encyclopedia of Rhetoric:
• from Robert Gaines’ article on PHRONESIS (in the Encyclopedia of Rhetoric)
• from Christopher Johnstone’s article on PRACTICAL WISDOM (in the Encyclopedia of Rhetoric)
• from Robert Cape’s article on PRUDENCE (in the Encyclopedia of Rhetoric)