Phronesis and the knowledge-action gap in moral psychology and moral education: a new synthesis

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  • University of Northampton, The


This article has two aims. First, to offer a critical review of the literatures on two well-known single-component solutions to the problem of a gap between moral knowledge and moral action: moral identity and moral emotions. Second, to take seriously the rising interest in Aristotle-inspired virtue ethics and character development within the social sciences: approaches that seem to assume that the development of phronesis (practical wisdom) bridges the gap in question. Since phronesis is a multi-component construct, the latter part of this article offers an overview of what those different components would be, as a necessary precursor to operationalising them if the phronesis hypothesis were to be subjected to empirical scrutiny. The idea of a neo-Aristotelian multi-component solution to the ‘gappiness problem’ invites comparisons with another multi-component candidate, the neo-Kohlbergian four-component model, with which it shares at least surface similarities. Some space is thus devoted to the proposed theoretical uniqueness of a phronesis-based multi-component model vis-à-vis the neo-Kohlbergian one. Our main conclusion is that – weaknesses in its developmental psychological grounding notwithstanding – operationalising the phronesis model for the purposes of instrument design and empirical inquiry would be a feasible and potentially productive enterprise.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-129
Number of pages29
JournalHuman Development
Issue number3
Early online date30 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jun 2019


  • gappiness problem, moral identity, moral emotions, phronesis, Neo-Kohlbergian four-component model, Moral emotions, Gappiness problem, Moral identity, Phronesis