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Phronesis and Phronetic Social Science

Martyn Hammersley

Subject Philosophy
Sociology » Sociological and Social Theory

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


Phronesis was a term used by Aristotle to refer to the kind of tacit wisdom acquired from engaging in practical action, notably the governance of states or of households. It amounts to knowing what is good or bad, what can and should be done, and also how to do it. It differs from both philosophical or scientific knowledge ( episteme ) and from technical knowledge or know-how ( techne ). By contrast with the first, it is practice-focused – in other words, it is not just about what is true but also about what it would be good to do in given circumstances. It differs from technical knowledge in that it is concerned with evaluating and prescribing goals as well as with selecting means. Equally important, and more fundamentally, it is not equivalent to grasping some theory or having command over a set of skills – it is actually closer to a virtue, or a set of virtues, that is part of the character of the person. More recently, the concept of phronesis has come to be applied to the kind of practical expertise characteristic of experienced practitioners in professional occupations of various kinds. This usage has arisen, in part, as a reaction against moves to subject professional work to “transparent” accountability in the context of the “new public management” (Ferlie et al. 1996; Pollitt 1990). Thus, Dunne (1998) emphasizes the centrality of phronesis to good professional practice, ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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