Phronesis (practical wisdom) as a type of contextual integrative thinking

Kristján Kristjánsson*, Blaine Fowers, Catherine Darnell, David Pollard

*Corresponding author for this work

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Coinciding with the recent psychological attention paid to the broad topic of wisdom, interest in the intellectual virtue of phronesis or practical wisdom has been burgeoning within pockets of psychology, philosophy, professional ethics, and education. However, these discourses are undercut by frequently unrecognized tensions, lacunae, ambivalences, misapplications, and paradoxes. While a recent attempt at conceptualizing the phronesis construct for the purpose of psychological measurement offers promise, little is known about how phronesis develops psychologically, what motivates it, or how it can be cultivated. Many psychologists aspire to make sense of wise thinking without the contextual, affective, and holistic/integrative resources of phronesis. This article explores some such attempts, in particular, a new “common model” of wisdom. We argue for the incremental value of the phronesis construct beyond available wisdom accounts because phronesis explains how mature decision-making is motivated and shaped by substantive moral aspirations and cognitively guided moral emotions. We go on to argue that, in the context of bridging the gap between moral knowledge and action, phronesis carries more motivational potency than wisdom in the “common model.” The phronesis construct, thus, embodies some unique features that psychologists studying wise decision-making ignore at their peril.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)239-257
Number of pages19
JournalReview of General Psychology
Issue number3
Early online date24 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s).


  • phronesis
  • contextual integrative cognition
  • moral decision-making
  • psychological redundancy
  • wisdom

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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