Ill Eudaimonia and Practical Wisdom

According to Aristotle, the essential virtue of practical reason is practical wisdom. In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle says

We may grasp what practical wisdom is by considering the sort of people we describe as practically wise. It seems to be characteristic of the practically wise person to be able to deliberate nobly about what is good and beneficial for himself, not in particular respects, such as what conduces to health and strength, but what about conduces to living well as a whole (or in general)...

[Practical wisdom] is a true and practical state involving reason, concerned with what is good and bad for a human being... [The person of practical wisdom] can see what is good for themselves and what is good for people in general. We consider household managers and politicians to be like this.15

Aristotle claims that the possessor of practical wisdom knows what living well consists in, both with respect to oneself and in general. I propose, then that the person with practical wisdom (1) grasps those human goods that are the constituents of human happiness or are goods externally related to human happiness in a choice worthy manner and (2) he or she is able to translate that knowledge by deliberation and decision, into action, so that the action is aptly described as prudent, an instance of practical wisdom.16

Arguably, nutritious and adequate amounts of food, a safe environment and adequate shelter, an economically prosperous and politically stable community, educational and economic opportunities, and some intimate friends are among the kinds of goods that are good for people in general. Thus, they are examples of what is good for people. This knowledge will be exercised or utilized by the person of practical wisdom, both in deciding in particular cases what is good merely for the agent himself or herself and, also, in deciding what is good for people when more than his or her own good is at stake.

Of course, this general knowledge of what is good for a person, or one’s common good or public good is not practical wisdom unless it is exercised in action, for practical wisdom necessarily is exhibited by some particular act or other. For example, because a safe and secure environment includes provisions against robbery, murder, and dangerous forest fires, a wise person is willing to pay taxes to the city or state to support a police force and firefighters because it is good for people ingeneral, and, thus good for him or her. Thus, such a person will vote for such taxes, all other things being equal.

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