studies in the history of science and culture

© March 2005
revised 31 May 2017

phronêsis, or φρόνησις

PHRONÊSIS (IN LATIN, PHRONESIS) IS the Greek term for practical wisdom — the application of good judgment to human conduct.

As explicated by Edgar Wind, phronesis “consists in a sound practical instinct for the course of events, an almost indefinable hunch that anticipates the future by remembering the past and thus judges the present correctly.”

Of note, phronesis is an ability acquired only with age. Nestor (a legendary king in southern Greece noted for his wisdom, and the oldest chieftain at the siege of Troy, where his advice was constantly solicited) is usually cited as its paragon. And Dante observed that phronesis (known alternatively as the Aristotelian virtue consilium — “good judgment” or “good counsel,” “buoni consigli”) was the gift which Solomon asked of god (see I Kings iii, 5 ff.) when he was called to govern and felt too young.

The individual who possesses the virtue of phronesis, added Dante, exudes that gift as the rose exudes her scent.

Edgar Wind has suggested that Dante’s poetic interpretation makes phronesis “seem more like a grace than a virtue.”


an intriguing discussion of phronesis in casuistry and rhetorical reason (HTML transcription in the LIBRARY)

an IN BRIEF topic on prudentia (prudence, the virtue of circumspection), considered the less pragmatic counterpart of phronesis

a bibliography on phronesis and prudentia

More on phronesis as “medicine’s indispensable virtue” in the webessay, FYI: Conversations About a Wiser Use of Our Health Care Dollars & Resources, at the subdomain known as Roses.


17th-century allegory of Phronesis
  Detail from a frieze by Quellinus the Elder for a council chamber in the Town Hall of Amsterdam.
  Design reproduces an ancient symbol of Triadic Time, as first imaged in the temple of Serapis at Alexandria: with wolf as the vanished past; dog as anticipating the future; lion as the present.

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