studies in the history of science and culture

© April 2004
revised 1 March 2009

Bibliography for phronesis and prudentia

I have recently been asked for a bibliography which elaborates on the conceptual distinction between phronesis and prudentia.

My own interest in these two concepts has developed in line with my study of early modern arts & sciences. In general, I have found the primary sources of this period — both visual and verbal — full of suggestive dialogue about the changing relations of theory to practice, episteme to phronesis, knowledge to wisdom, judgment to virtue, natural to divine.

Because of this, the bulk of my discoveries about phronesis and prudentia have been serendipitous (nuggets of information found here and there in primary sources, usually when least expected), and I have not developed a formal research plan or comprehensive reading list on either concept.

My own work focuses on how phronesis and prudentia were conceived, modeled, taught and practiced during the early modern period. And I continue to wonder about the implications of this for a postmodern era. Both these concerns have yielded an eclectic and circumstantial reading list which, in addition to a broad range of (mostly 17th-century) primary texts too numerous to be listed here, includes:

Bullet Atwill, Janet M. Rhetoric Reclaimed: Aristotle and the Liberal Arts Tradition. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998.

Re. phronesis (practical wisdom), practical knowledge, and Empeiria (experience, practice); rhetoric as practical knowledge; rhetoric as productive knowledge.

Bullet Bourdieu, Pierre. Practical Reason: On the Theory of Action. Trans. by Randal Johnson, et al. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998.

Bullet Brucker, Charles. “Prudentia / Prudence aux XIIe et XIIIe siècles.” Romanische Forschungen 83.4 (1971): 464–479.

Evolving definitions of prudentia and prudence through the middle ages, with emphasis on the concept’s changing philosophical, theological, ethical, and political associations. Includes a discussion of the mystic, Raymond Lull. (Text in French.)

Bullet Cape, Robert W., Jr. “Prudence.” In Encyclopedia of Rhetoric. Ed. Thomas O. Sloane. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. 637–40.

Bullet Capella, Martianus. The Marriage of Philology and Mercury. Trans. William Harris Stahl and Richard Johnson, with E. L. Burge. Vol. 2 of Martianus Capella and the Seven Liberal Arts. 2 vols. Records of Civilization, Sources and Studies, no. 84. New York: Columbia University Press, 1977.

From the Middle Ages, a conceptualization of phronesis and prudentia inherited by the Renaissance, and still exerting influence during the early modern period.

Bullet Certeau, Michel de. The Mystic Fable. Trans. by Michael B. Smith. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Bullet Certeau, Michel de. The Practice of Everyday Life. Trans. by Stephen Randall. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

Bullet Cooley, Mike. Architect or Bee? The Human Price of Technology. Slough: Langley Technical Services, 1980; London: Hogarth, 1987.

Re. “craft intelligence” as a model for deepened human knowing through doing (theory and practice are not polarized, but in balance).

Bullet Dormer, Peter. The Art of the Maker: Skill and Its Meaning in Art, Craft and Design. London: Thames & Hudson, 1994.

Distinguishes 2 closely intertwined strains of “craft knowledge” (or “local knowledge”): theoretical knowledge (the concepts behind things, the language we use to describe and understand ideas) and tacit knowledge (knowledge gained through experience or “know-how”). For Dormer, craft knowledge (much more than just “technique”) is a critical human function, similar to the creative thinking practiced by the best mathematicians or physicists.

Bullet Gahtan, Maia Wellington. “Notions of past and future in Italian Renaissance art and letters.” In Symbols of Time in the History of Art. Eds. by Christian Heck and Kristen Lippincott. Turnhout: Brepols, 2002. 69–83.

A colleague tells me that “even though the title does not refer to Prudence at all, the whole essay is devoted to the subject, particularly to Prudence looking to the past, present, and future.”

Bullet Gaines, Robert A. “Phronesis.” In Encyclopedia of Rhetoric. Ed. Thomas O. Sloane. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. 601–03.

Bullet Hariman, Robert, ed. Prudence: Classical Virtue, Postmodern Politics. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003.

Bullet Heinrichs, Jay. Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us about the Art of Persuasion. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007.

In Thank You for Arguing, Henrichs gives a modern, popular interpretation of phronesis (“rhetorical street savvy” or “practical wisdom”) in chapter 17. According to Heinrichs, Aristotle defined phronesis as “the skill of dealing with probability,” combining the ability “to predict, based on the evidence” and the ability “of making decisions that produce the greatest probability of happiness.” Heinrichs classifies phronesis as one of the 3 chief aspects of ethos (argument by character). His summary account of phronesis emphasizes 3 constituent elements: showing off experience, bending the rules (i.e., skilled at improvisation and adjusting to changing circumstance rather than a rules follower with a one-size-fits-all approach to problem solving), and appearing to take the middle course (Appendix, p. 289). Heinrichs’ 3 “Tools” for assessing phronesis are: the “that depends” filter, comparable experience, and “sussing” ability (“figure out what the audience really needs, and what the issue really is”; “cut to the chase”).

Heinrichs runs the Figaro website, which is devoted to rhetorical analysis. Extracts from his book are available here, although not the book’s material on phronesis.

Bullet Johnstone, Christopher Lyle. “Practical Wisdom.” In Encyclopedia of Rhetoric. Ed. Thomas O. Sloane. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. 631–35.

Bullet Kolb, David A. Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1984.

Bullet Marle, Raimond van. Iconographie de l’art profane au Moyen-Age et à la Renaissance, et la décoration des demeures. 2 vols. 1931; rpt. New York: Hacker Art Books, 1971.

Chapter 1, “L’Allégorie Éthique” of vol. 2, “Allégories et symboles,” includes a discussion of prudentia iconography. (Text in French.)

Bullet Miller, Thomas P. “Treating Professional Writing as Social Praxis.” Journal of Advanced Composition 11.1 (1991): 57–72.

Re. phronesis as social praxis.

Bullet Michael Polanyi’s writings on “tacit knowledge”:

         Personal Knowledge (1958)
         The Tacit Dimension (1966)
         Knowing and Being: Essays by Michael Polanyi (1969)
         Meaning (1975)

Bullet Rice, Eugene F. The Renaissance Idea of Wisdom. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1958.

A detailed study of developing models of phronesis (practical wisdom), prudentia (moral philosophy), sapientia (metaphysics), and scientia (natural philosophy).

Bullet Roochnik, David. Of Art and Wisdom: Plato’s Understanding of Techne. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996.

Bullet Tallmon, James M. “Casuistry.” In Encyclopedia of Rhetoric. Ed. Thomas O. Sloane. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. 83–88.

An HTML transcription of this encyclopedia article is available in the Library: see Lib. Cat. No. JMT2001.

Bullet Tallmon, James M. “Toward a Rhetorical Ethics.” Accessed 14 July 2006, from <>.

“This study suggests how practitioners may contend with tough cases by means of a method of shared moral inquiry that is sensitive to the rigor and exhaustiveness appropriate to their given field. All that is needed to complete the process is the sort of expertise and practical wisdom that rhetorical theory cannot provide. Where does the group turn for that essential knowledge? To itself. Or, as Francis Bacon put it, ‘a faculty of wise interrogating is half a knowledge’ — the other half is supplied by the group’s reliance on professional standards, common sense, phronesis, and experience.”

NOTE: as of August 2007, this paper is no longer available online. If/when Jim finds it a new online home, I will post an updated Web address.

Bullet Toulmin, Stephen. “Concluding Methodological Reflections: Élitism and Democracy Among the Sciences.” In Beyond Theory: Changing Organizations Through Participation. Eds. Stephen Toulmin and Bjorn Gustavsen. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins Pub Co., 1996. 203–225.

Discussion of the shared methodologies of clinical medicine and “participatory action research” (in the social sciences): “Both kinds of research are aimed at practical effects, not theoretical rigor: both seek the kind of knowledge Aristotle called phronesis (‘practical wisdom’) more than episteme (‘theoretical grasp’)”; both are “judged by practical results, not by theoretical propriety.”

Bullet Voegelin, Eric. Science, Politics and Gnosticism: Two Essays. Introd. by Ellis Sandoz. 1968; rpt. Washington, D.C.: Gateway, 1997.

Re. Platonic-Aristotelian phronesis as “philosophy and faith considered experientially.” Grounds the ideal scientist’s ethos in the critical rationality and “loving action” associated with phronesis.

Bullet Welch, Kathleen E. Electric Rhetoric: Classical Rhetoric, Oralism, and a New Literacy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999.

Re. Isocratean logos as associated with phronesis, prudentia, and judgment.

Bullet Wind, Edgar. Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance. 1958; 2nd ed., New York: W. W. Norton, 1968.

Re. the visual culture of phronesis, consilium, and prudentia.

Ornament from the 1st English "waggoner," _The Mariners Mirrour_ (1588)

To round out the above, and provide a bibliography of sufficient historical and theoretical range for scholarly use, I append here the 3 reading lists given at the end of the articles on phronesis, practical wisdom, and prudentia in the Encyclopedia of Rhetoric:

•  from Robert Gaines’ article on PHRONESIS (in the Encyclopedia of Rhetoric)

“This essay posited at the beginning that phronesis combines elements of practical wisdom, knowledge, virtue, and decorum, but that these elements are influenced by persuasion, metaphor, and the emotional reactions of the hearers-readers to the rhetorical choices of the speakers-writers. When seen chronologically, the study of phronesis reveals that, while our predecessors always recognized the possibility of using rhetoric to manipulate their audiences by inflaming their passions and robbing them of their reason, this is actually where wisdom and virtue merge. That manipulative possibility has become so much stronger in the twentieth century, as Burke implies, that the study of persuasion can degenerate to the point of becoming completely dissociated from wisdom and virtue and rely more on knowledge, with no moral compass with which to guide it. Finally, says Derrida, a phronesis-based art of rhetoric completely disappears.”


Bateson, Gregory. Steps to an Ecology of the Mind. New York, 1972.

An engaging study that claims mere rationality unaided by art, religion, or the like is dangerous to human life.

Burke, Kenneth. The Rhetoric of Motives. New York, 1950.

Derrida, Jacques. Margins of Philosophy. Translated with additional notes by Alan Bass. Chicago, 1991.

An excellent deconstructionist view of rhetoric.

Garver, Eugene. Aristotle’s Rhetoric: An Art of Character. Chicago, 1994.

The best book of the decade on the subject.

Kinneavy, James. Greek Rhetorical Origins of Christian Faith: An Inquiry. New York, 1987.

A revolutionary look at persuasion as faith.

Tompkins, Jane P., ed. Reader-Response Criticism. Baltimore, 1980.

A fascinating look at reader-response criticism from formalism to poststructuralism.

•  from Christopher Johnstone’s article on PRACTICAL WISDOM (in the Encyclopedia of Rhetoric)

“In these ways, then, the intellectual virtue of practical wisdom was intertwined for Aristotle with the art and sound practice of rhetoric in civic life. Moreover, when rhetoric is viewed as fundamentally an art of civic discourse — as it has been by Isocrates, Aristotle, Cicero, Vico, and others — this link between wisdom and eloquence is essential.”


Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by H. Rackham. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, Mass., 1934.

Aristotle’s principal work in moral theory, representing his mature thought; based on his lecture courses.

Aristotle. Eudemian Ethics. Translated by H. Rackham. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, Mass., 1992.

Somewhat shorter than the Nicomachean Ethics, this work shares three chapters with the larger work and is sometimes fuller in expression.

Aristotle. Magna Moralia. Translated by G. Cyril Armstrong. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, Mass., 1977.

Probably a later Peripatetic synopsis of Aristotle’s ethical doctrines.

Aristotle. “Art” of Rhetoric. Translated by J. H. Freese. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, Mass., 1975.

Farrell, Thomas B. Norms of Rhetorical Culture. New Haven, 1993.

A rehabilitation of the classical ideal of rhetoric as an art of practical reason and civic action.

Fisher, Walter. Human Communication as Narration: Toward a Philosophy of Reason, Value, and Action. Columbia, S. C. 1987.

Garver, Eugene. Aristotle’s Rhetoric: An Art of Character. Chicago, 1994.

A densely written study, but full of insight.

Grimaldi, William M. A. Studies in the Philosophy of Aristotle’s “Rhetoric”. Wiesbaden, Germany, 1975.

A rich examination of the philosophical contexts of the Rhetoric that emphasizes its links with practical reasoning.

Habermas, J. Legitimation Crisis. Translated by Thomas McCarthy. Boston, 1975.

Habermas, J. The Theory of Communicative Action, vols. 1 and 2. Translated by Thomas McCarthy. Boston, 1984 and 1987.

Hardie, W. F. R. Aristotle’s Ethical Theory. Oxford, 1968.

An invaluable companion to the Ethics that considers most of the principal ideas with great insight.

Johnstone, Christopher Lyle. “An Aristotelian Trilogy: Ethics, Rhetoric, Politics, and the Search for Moral Truth.” Philosophy and Rhetoric 13 (1980), pp. 1–24.

Argues that the three works must be read as elements in a comprehensive theory of the complete human life.

Rowe, C. J. The Eudemian and Nicomachean Ethics: A Study in the Development of Arisotle’s Thought, Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society, suppl. 3. Cambridge, U.K., 1971.

Self, Lois S. “Rhetoric and Phronesis: The Aristotelian Ideal.” Philosophy and Rhetoric 12 (1979), pp. 130–145.

A useful examination of the idea of phronesis as the key connection between rhetoric and ethics in Aristotle’s thought.

•  from Robert Cape’s article on PRUDENCE (in the Encyclopedia of Rhetoric)

“The modern notion of prudence as calculating self-interest has lately been considered too narrow and removed from the fields of rhetoric and ethics. Thus, recent scholarship has been concerned with returning to an Aristotelian formulation of phronesis, emphasizing rational deliberation, its ultimate goal of happiness for the larger community, and its eternal ability to adapt to contingent circumstances. The works of Ronald Beiner, of Robert Hariman and Francis A. Beer in political science, of Joseph Dunne in education, Thomas B. Farrell in rhetoric, Thomas O. Sloane in composition, and Douglas J. Den Uyl in philosophy and ethics are united in their concern to reintroduce intellectual and ethical reasoning into their respective fields. These and other works are also attempting to regain the synthesis of the philosophic and practical modes of presentation, and recognize that to restore prudence we must recover the conditions that enabled it. Much of this work, however, does not seem to realize that scholarly discourse will not change the underlying political, ethical, or rhetorical culture. There is still, perhaps, too much emphasis on Aristotle and a bias for locating the roots of philosophical issues in ancient Greek thought. If we are to succeed in recovering prudence in practice and the social-intellectual conditions that underly it, we need to emphasize modeling specific cultural examples of prudential deliberation and action, following the Ciceronian tradition, but going one better by addressing the common person. Nevertheless, with the current climate of intellectual relativism and skepticism, augmented by renewed religious fundamentalism and political conservatism, the conditions may exist for recovering a new version of prudence for our times and achieving a synthesis of prudential reasoning and rhetorical-political practice.”


Beiner, Ronald. Political Judgment. Chicago, 1983.

Cape, Robert W., Jr. “Cicero and the Development of Prudential Practice at Rome.” In Discourses of Prudence, edited by Robert Hariman, forthcoming.

Den Uyl, Douglas J. The Virtue of Prudence. New York, 1991.

Dunne, Joseph. Back to the Rough Ground: “Phronesis” and “Techne” in Modern Philosophy and in Aristotle. Notre Dame, Ind., 1993.

Farrell, Thomas B. Norms of Rhetorical Culture. New Haven, 1993.

Garver, Eugene. Machiavelli and the History of Prudence. Madison, Wis., 1987.

Hariman, Robert. Discourses of Prudence. Forthcoming.

Hariman, Robert, and Francis A. Beer. “What Would be Prudent? Forms of Reasoning in World Politics.” Rhetoric and Public Affairs 1 (1998), pp. 299–330.

Kahn, Victoria. Rhetoric, Prudence, and Skepticism in the Renaissance. Ithaca, N.Y., 1985.

Reeve, C. D. C. Practices of Reason: Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Oxford, 1992.

Sloane, Thomas O. On the Contrary: The Protocol of Traditional Rhetoric. Washington, D.C., 1997.


an IN BRIEF topic on phronesis

an IN BRIEF topic on prudentia

Tailpiece vignette from Hooke's _Philosophical Experiments & Observations_ (1726)

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