Towards an Empirically Informed Account of Phronesis in Medicine


In the field of medical virtue ethics, the concept of phronesis, or practical wisdom, plays a crucial role. In recent years a number of important theoretical questions have been identified in this regard: (1) is phronesis more akin to thinking or theorizing, or to feeling and intuiting? (2) can phronesis be communicated and explained, or is it individual and personal? and (3) is phronesis needed in all decision-making in medicine, or only in the making of decisions that are ethically fraught? In this paper we argue that, while these questions have received attention on the theoretical level, empirical investigation has the potential to shed light on these questions from the perspective of medical practice in the real world. Indeed, because virtue ethics insists that virtuous action can only be understood properly in the context of real decisions (and not in the abstract), there are good grounds for thinking that understanding phronesis must involve attention to real-world particulars. Empirical investigation, involving in-depth narrative interviewing and analysis, has the potential to shed light on these theoretical questions relating to phronesis.