Phronesis in medical ethics: courage and motivation to keep on the track of rightness in decision-making

Aisha Malik, Mervyn Conroy, Chris Turner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
181 Downloads (Pure)


Ethical decision making in medicine has recently seen calls to move towards less prescriptive- based approaches that consider the particularities of each case. The main alternative call from the literature is for better understanding of phronesis (practical wisdom) concepts applied to decision making. A well-cited phronesis-based approach is Kaldjian’s five-stage theoretical framework: goals, concrete circumstances, virtues, deliberation and motivation to act. We build on Kaldjian’s theory after using his framework to analyse data collected from a three-year empirical study of phronesis and the medical community. The data are a set of narratives collected in response to asking a medical community (131 doctors at various stages of their careers) what making ethically wise decisions means to them. We found that Kaldjian’s five concepts are present in the accounts to some extent but that one of the elements, motivation, is constructed as playing a different, though still crucial role. Rather than being an endstage of the process as Kaldjian’s framework suggests, motivation was constructed as initiating the process and maintaining the momentum of taking a phronesis-based approach. The implications for medical ethics decision-making education are significant as motivation itself is a highly complex concept. We therefore theorise that motivation is required for leading in, continuing and completing the actions of the ethical decision taken. Appreciating the central importance of motivation through the whole of Kaldjian’s framework has implications for cultivating the virtues of phronesis and courage to take the right course of action.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)158–175
Number of pages18
JournalHealth Care Analysis
Issue number2
Early online date30 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020


  • Decision-making
  • Medical ethics
  • Motivation
  • Phronesis
  • Practical wisdom
  • Virtue ethics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects
  • Health(social science)
  • Health Policy


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