Phronēsis in Aristotle : Reconciling Deliberation with Spontaneity

Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 91 (3): pp.674-697 (2015)

A standard thesis of contemporary Aristotelian virtue ethics and some recent Heideggerian scholarship is that virtuous behavior can be performed immediately and spontaneously without engaging conscious processes of deliberative thought. It is also claimed that phronēsis either enables or is consistent with this possibility. In the Nicomachean Ethics, however, Aristotle identifies phronēsis as the excellence of the calculative part of the intellect, claims that calculation and deliberation are the same and that it is the mark of the phronimos to be able to deliberate well. He also insists that for an action to count as virtuous it must issue from rational choice, which he characterizes as determined by deliberation. It thus seems that any exegetically respectable attempt to explain virtuous action within an Aristotelian framework would need to integrate with some account of deliberative choice. This creates a tension in Aristotelian scholarship. In this paper, I shall formalize this tension in terms of an apparently inconsistent triad of claims and shall examine the merits of at least one prominent interpretation of phronēsis with respect to its reconciliation.

This article was shortlisted for the Annette Baier Prize in 2016