Aristotelian Practical Wisdom in Business Ethics: Two Neglected Components

  • Steven SteylEmail author
Original Paper


The revival of virtue ethics in contemporary moral philosophy had a major impact on business ethicists, among whom the virtues have become a staple subject of inquiry. Aristotle’s phronēsis (‘practical wisdom’) is one of those virtues, and a number of texts have examined it in some detail. But analyses of phronēsis in business ethics have neglected some of its most significant and interesting elements. In this paper, I dissect two neglected components of practical wisdom as outlined in Book VI of the Nicomachean Ethics: sunesis (‘judgement’), a capacity to perceptively evaluate testimony, and gnomē (‘discernment’), a capacity to rightly discern exceptions to ‘universal’ moral rules. Practical wisdom is a product of experience, so I examine the role that experience plays in the development of these deliberative capacities, asking what it is that the practically wise will have taken away from their experiences. It is, in particular, everyday, ‘mundane’ experience that begets these excellences, so I concentrate specifically on that kind of experience in the domains of sunesis and gnomē as I search for insights about how we develop phronēsis and how we might better do what is right.


Virtue ethics Practical wisdom Aristotle Judgment Discernment 



I am grateful to the symposiasts at the University of Notre Dame Australia’s symposium on Giving Voice to Values for their illuminating comments on this paper. Mary Gentile’s comments in particular have helped refine my understanding of the approach, and have further cemented my conviction that Aristotle has something useful to say here.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Steven Steyl declares that he has no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Philosophy and TheologyThe University of Notre Dame AustraliaSydneyAustralia

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