Phronesis and the Virtues
I want to focus on three related points in Aristotle’s account in Nicomachean Ethics vi 12–13 of the relation between practical intelligence and the virtues of character. The first is Aristotle’s view that the choices we make in trying to act according to virtue must all be guided by practical intelligence, or what he calls phronesis (NE vi 12). Here it will be important to understand both what it is that he thinks phronesis contributes to decision making and why he thinks that that contribution is so important.
Second, Aristotle’s emphasis on phronesis shapes his entire view of what sort of thing a virtue is in the first place (NE vi 13). In particular, by making phronesis central to the virtues, Aristotle clearly focuses on the virtues as involving certain patterns of practical reasoning and choice, ways of responding to reasons to act and to feel. We can contrast this with accounts of the virtues that treat them as, for instance, simple dispositions to engage in certain behaviors stereotypical of the virtues (e.g., giving a lot to the poor in the case of generosity).