Wisdom in the News

Investigating wisdom (pt 1):

Experts define modern phronesis

What is phronesis? Before you answer, no, it is not the ability to move things with your mind. Stumped now? Well, this new book on practical wisdom seeks to answer this question and much more.

Edited by Mario De Caro and Maria Silvia VaccarezzaPractical Wisdom: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives features various essays from philosophers and psychologists who offer their interpretations of phronesis, or practical wisdom. The book discusses the relationship between ethical virtue and phronesis (which Aristotle defines as a practical intellectual virtue), and whether practical wisdom is a psychological trait or learned skill. It also addresses the question of what the requirements for wisdom are, as well as many other issues regarding wisdom and wisdom research.

Practical Wisdom is the result of the recent surge of both psychological and philosophical interest in the nature of wisdom. It seeks to assemble the alternative approaches to analyzing wisdom into one place. As the title suggests, the book incorporates numerous psychological and philosophical takes on phronesis. Each of its eight chapters is written by different authors, ranging from the fields of philosophy and psychology to cognitive science. The editors separate the eight chapters into four general sections. 

Four Sections

De Caro and Vaccarezza note the first section serves as a “reconstruction of practical wisdom and its functions.” Its chapters take a more philosophical approach, while incorporating their own psychological roots, and each present varying views on the role of practical wisdom. 

One of the chapters in the first section titled The Priority of Phronesis: How To Rescue Virtue Theory From Its Critics, was written by the two editors along with Massimo Marraffa. They advocate for a virtue molecularist approach in assessing virtue theory, arguing that practical wisdom is a skill. The authors also argue that this approach best addresses the three principal challenges of virtue theory: the situationist, the anti-rationalist, and the automaticity challenges. 

The second section places practical wisdom within different psychological frameworks. It includes the chapter Phronesis and Whole Trait Theory: An Integration, written by Nancy E. SnowJennifer Cole Wright, and Michael T. Warren. The chapter combines neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics with Whole Trait Theory in psychology.

In the third section, Claudia NavariniAllegra Indraccolo, and Riccardo Brunetti analyze two of practical wisdom’s proposed functions: adapting schema and applying heuristics with limited information in a given context to assess a situation. This section also discusses the Halo Effect, and the role of practical wisdom in overcoming situational cognitive bias. 

Finally, the last section takes a developmental-psychological approach to determining how wisdom is acquired. In the chapter Species-Typical Phronesis for a Living PlanetDarcia Narvaez analyzes wise practices of ancestral humans as a comparison to modern humans and their potential capacity for wisdom.

A Flexible Framework

While each chapter utilizes different methods to reach their goal, they all serve to provide flexible frameworks for how one may think about practical wisdom. This flexibility allows the reader to approach wisdom in ways that make sense to them, while also deepening their understanding of other scientific disciplines.

The editors conclude their introduction with the hope that Practical Wisdom: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives will interest both students and academics who work at the crossroads between psychology, philosophy, practical reason, and character. Nonetheless, those simply interested in the topic of wisdom should find this volume enlightening, regardless of field. Learning about wisdom may be the first step to becoming wise yourself. 

Further Reading

Read the full Investigating Wisdom series by clicking on the links below:

Investigating wisdom (pt 2): Nancy Snow on phronesis and whole trait theory

Investigating wisdom (pt 3): Darcia Narvaez on species-typical phronesis for a Living Planet

Investigating wisdom (pt 4): Christian Miller on flirting with skepticism about practical wisdom

Investigating wisdom (pt 5): Maria Silvia Vaccarezza and Mario De Caro on Practical Wisdom



De Caro, M., & Vaccarezza, M. S. (Eds.). (2021). Practical wisdom: Philosophical and psychological perspectives. Routledge.

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