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Abstract

Interpreters of Aristotle have long struggled to make sense of how practical wisdom (phronêsis) can be both a form of understanding of the human good in general and the knowledge whereby a virtuous person deliberates and chooses correctly in particular circumstances. My dissertation defends a novel view of phronêsis that accounts for both these features by focusing on the development of phronêsis from ethical experience (empeiria), which is a product of habituation into the virtues of character. Experience is a genuine intellectual grasp that is sufficient for acting virtuously in most ordinary circumstances. Nevertheless, Aristotle argues that for full competence we must aspire to practical wisdom, which turns out to be an extraordinary achievement. I use this developmental perspective to offer a comprehensive and coherent reading of Aristotle’s moral epistemology. My interpretation also has relevance for contemporary theorizing about virtue and practical reason by showing how one can make room for robust ethical knowledge while still doing justice to particularist intuitions about deliberation.

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