- Phronêsis – Prudentia – Klugheit: Das Wissen des Klugen in Mittelalter, Renaissance und Neuzeit. Il sapere del saggio nel Medioevo, nel Rinascimento e nell’età moderna ed. by Alexander Fidora, Andreas Niederberger, and Merio Scattola
In Book VI of the Nicomachean Ethics (The Basic Works of Aristotle, ed. Richard McKeon [New York 2001]), Aristotle divides “practical wisdom” (phronêsis), or prudence, and “scientific knowledge” (1026). Aristotle explains that practical wisdom focuses on “action” not on “making” art or science. For practical wisdom, “good action itself is its end.” Aristotle gives the example of the great statesman Pericles (and men like him) as possessing practical wisdom, because they can see what is good for themselves and what is good for men in general. As such, Aristotle quickly establishes that those who possess practical wisdom are good at managing households or states (1026). This particular implication would impact the way through which prudentia has been read in political philosophy since Aristotle. The present volume of conference proceedings is the result of papers presented at an international conference on Phronêsis – Prudentia – Klugheit (as Prudence can be read in Greek, Italian, and German) that took place in the Villa Vegogni di Menaggio on Lake Como in 2012. It is an edited collection whose contributions seek to trace the history and reception of the notion of prudence from Aristotle. The volume, with contributions in German and Italian (Genua’s contribution on Harrington is in English), focuses on the reception of Phronêsis in philosophy, and mostly from the medieval to the early modern period; in fact, most of the contributors themselves discuss the influence of Aristotle’s terminology in political philosophy. For example, Enrico Berti traces prudentia and distinguishes it from sapentia or sophia, a distinction that would be further marked in the Middle Ages and which philosophers and critics continue to argue over.
The volume includes thirteen essays and a short introduction by the editors in German and Italian. While the essays range in time period and focus (political, judicial, ethical prudence in ancient, medieval, early modern, and some modern manifestations), a longer introduction would have added necessary definitions on the Aristotelian notion of phrônesis, and set forth a thematic unity which the conveners of the conference set out to investigate. One particular essay does an excellent job of providing the missing introduction: In terms of the essays’ breadth, Enrico Berti’s contribution remains useful in recapitulating Aristotle’s differentiation between “prudentia” and practical philosophy, which has led to misleading interpretations. Berti looks at misleading translations of phrônesis with prudence or sagesse, which is also complicated by Kant’s introduction of Klugheit which Kant associated with Geschicklichkeit or “ability” and “dexterity” and which is translated into Italian as sagezza or prudenza. This mistranslation is at the core of many of the volume’s essays, the title of the volume, and the mostly bilingual edition (Italian/German with one [End Page 306] exception). It anything, we are not sure if phrônesis, prudenza, and Klugheit all refer to Aristotle’s concept of practical wisdom. That said, through Berti we see that phrônesis is both a sensation and intelligence; it is an intelligence that has the object of a particular action. In one illuminating instance, Berti analyzes the practical syllogism that Aristotle includes in the Nichomachean Ethics about “light meats” and “praxis” as concerning the “particulars” which then become the familiar. For Aristotle, it follows that phrônesis is not a science because science has universal aims and phrônesis deals with the particulars (31).
Hans Daiber’s essay is a welcome contribution in a volume dedicated to western Eurocentric perspectives. His essay looks back at the Hellenistic roots of phrônesis in the philosophical ethics of Islam. According to Daiber, we begin to see a polarization between godly omnipotence and freedom during the Umayyad Dynasty in the eighth century. Daiber examines...