Practical Wisdom: A Virtue for Resolving Conflicts among Practical Reasons

In Noell Birondo & S. Stewart Braun (eds.), Virtue's Reasons: New Essays on Virtue, Character, and Reasons. New York, NY, USA: pp. 147 - 167 (2017)
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Abstract

Normative reasons for action are facts or considerations that contribute to the justification of an action. Sometimes, normative reasons for action conflict: one reason may favor doing something, while another may favor not doing it. These conflicts can be so radical that it seems difficult, if not impossible, to judge which reason should ultimately guide one’s actions. According to a theory of practical rationality known as reasons pluralism, there are some radical cases of conflict among normative reasons for action in which there can be no fact of the matter about what one ought to do. This is because normative reasons fall into a plurality of types, and normative reasons of different types are incommensurable with one another. However, reasons pluralism is compatible with a principle that would enable us to judge when a normative reason of one type overrides a normative reason of another type. I will argue that this “Override Principle” is a facet of practical wisdom—an intellectual virtue. Practical wisdom, as Aristotle construed it, involves the ability to order one’s ends into a coherent system that allows for the attainment of a good life. The Override Principle is sure to be one criterion by which those endowed with practical wisdom would order their ends.

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