As circumstances demand

I was trying to explain what phronesis (or practical wisdom) actually is. Evidently I failed because Molly said, “you need to work on that.”

My current understanding of phronesis revolves around 1) the ability to use good fortune to maximum advantage, 2) the build up of defences against misfortune and, 3) the capacity to be the right person, in the right place, at the right time.

​I know. It’s a pretty loose framework.

Maria Popova in her article, The Art of Practical Wisdom, says this:

​“At the heart of practical wisdom is the ability to contemplate our choices and discern the best course of action in the context of a particular set of circumstances, and in order to do that, we rely on framing the situation, telling good and relevant stories about it, using metaphorical thinking to make sense of it, and enlisting empathy — the ability to imagine another’s thoughts and feelings — to grasp the full dimensions of the situation.”

Brett and Kate McKay described it in the article, Practical Wisdom: The Master Virtue

“Particular situations and circumstances. Deliberation. Action. This is the stuff of practical wisdom. It’s nitty gritty. In a way, you can say that if sophia represents book smarts, phronesis represents street smarts. You have the information, but can you apply it correctly?”

Baltasar Gracian’s The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence has some interesting ideas relating to prudence. Here’s one that jumped out at me this morning:

Live as circumstances demand. Ruling, reasoning, everything must be opportune. Act when you can, for time and tide wait for no one. To live, don’t follow generalisations, except where virtue is concerned, and don’t insist on precise rules for desire, for you’ll have to drink tomorrow the water you shunned today. There are some so outlandishly misguided that they expect all circumstances necessary for success to conform to their own whims, not the reverse. But the wise know that the lodestar of prudence is to behave as circumstances demand.”

Somewhere, nestled in those four descriptions is the essence of phronesis. I can’t quite put my finger on it yet, but that’s one of the aims of my reading and writing:

To become better at the art of living and share what I discover with you.