Lee, Nirmala (2020) Phronesis. In: Encyclopedia of Sustainable Management. Springer, Cham. ISBN 978-3-030-02006-4


The concept of phronesis highlights the importance of practical wisdom and thoughtful action in relation to all matters including those relating to sustainability and the environment. It is not adequate to know what needs to be done and even advocate what needs to be done. It is crucial that something is done and what is done is informed by practical wisdom. Phronesis is both an ethical virtue and an intellectual virtue (Eikeland 2008, p. 53) that must be acquired through practice rather than through the learning of theoretical knowledge. Phronesis enables its possessor to figure out “the right way to do the right thing in a particular circumstance, with a particular person, at a particular time” (Schwartz and Sharpe 2010, pp. 5–6).

Sustainability issues involve practical matters such as protecting the planet from environmental degradation and depletion of natural resources; preventing/reducing air, water, and soil pollution; and preserving the long-term health of ecosystems. Practical matters require practical reasoning. “Practical reasoning is deliberative, it takes into account local circumstances, it weighs trade-offs, it is riddled with uncertainties, it depends upon judgment, profits from wisdom, addresses particulars, it deals with contingencies, is iterative and shifts aims in process when necessary. Practical reasoning is the stuff of practical life. It is not the stuff of theoretical science. Its aim is to arrive at good but imperfect decisions with respect to particular circumstances” (Eisner 2002, p. 375).

To sum up, what is needed is phronesis. As Dieppe (2011) has argued, it takes wisdom and experience, in addition to scientific data, to make the right decisions.

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