Prudence as part of a worldview : historical and conceptual dimensions
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As Sison (2015, p. 232) remarks, ‘politics’ in Aristotle could mean at least three different things: (1) a kind of life; (2) a qualifier for the virtues of justice and prudence; or (3) a body of knowledge. As a body of knowledge, its object is happiness (eudaimonia), which is the supreme human good. Happiness ‘is not a mere object of knowledge (gnosis) but action (praxis); in particular it consists in “living or doing well” (NE 1095a), in accordance with the proper function of human beings, which is rational activity (NE 1098a)’ (ibid., p. 233). Aristotle puts particular emphasis on the injunctions of practical wisdom: [H]is ideal of a good man must unite two different kind of virtues: practical wisdom (phronēsis), the intellectual virtue necessary for conceiving of the right decisions of the means and ways to carry them out, and (ii) the moral or character virtues (ēthikē aretē), the habitually acquired, appropriate emotional attitudes towards acting and being affected. (Frede, 2013, pp. 126–7). In order to conceptualize prudence – phronēsis – one must distinguish it from other forms of excellence that reason might acquire according to its different activities. Aristotle identifies three kinds of human activity (energeia) (NE, 1178b): contemplation (theõria), action (praxis) and production (poiēsis), each governed by a different kind of rational excellence (aretē). Thus contemplation is governed by theoretical reason (sophia), action by moral – practical – reason (phronēsis) and production by technical reason (technē) (Murphy, 1993, p. 87). Aristotle does not contrast thought (knowledge) with activity (action), recognizing that all complex human activity is marked by a unity between conception and execution and that, in relation to it, there are three kinds of thought (dianoia) (Metaphysics, II 2 y VII 1): theoretical thought, which speculates on something; practical thought, which works; and productive thought, which makes. ©2016, Edward Elgar Publishing Ltd.