Phronesis, poetics, and moral creativity

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 6 (3):317-341 (2003)
At least since Aristotle, phronesis (practical wisdom) and poetics (making or creating) have been understood as essentially different activities, one moral the other (in itself) non-moral. Today, if anything, this distinction is sharpened by a Romantic association of poetics with inner subjective expression. Recent revivals of Aristotelian ethics sometimes allow for poetic dimensions of ethics, but these are still separated from practical wisdom per se. Through a fresh reading of phronesis in the French hermeneutical phenomenologist Paul Ricoeur, I argue that phronesis should be viewed as at least in part poetic at its very core. That is, phronesis deals with the fundamentally tragic human situation of moral incommensurability, and it responds to this by making or creating new moral meaning. Such a poetics of practical wisdom helps phronesis stand up to significant and important critiques made of it by a range of modernists and post-modernists, pointing a way forward for some important contemporary moral debates.
Keywords Aristotle  creativity  dialectics  ethics  otherness  phronesis  poetics  practical wisdom  Ricoeur  tragedy
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