The dark side of phrónesis: revisiting the political incompetence of philosophy

Bruce Krajewski


In his Ethics, Aristotle joins sophrosúne and phrónesis as synonyms. In approximately the same time frame, Xenophon provides a Wittgensteinian account of a go-and-look instance of what sophrosúne looked like in one ancient Greek context. We have a disturbing description of sophrosúne in action. It leaves a reader with quitea different picture of the meaning of these two key words from the staid, peaceful, deliberative contemporary interpretations, particularly in Continental philosophy, that attempt to make both phrónesis and sophrosúne the foundation for a praiseworthy ethics and politics. Continental philosophers like Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer attended closely to Aristotelian phrónesis (not the Xenophonic variety), but were unable to put that learning into practice in their own ethical and political lives, making one wonder why followers of Heidegger and Gadamer continue to insist on ethical programs based in the Heideggerian and Gadamerian phronetic tradition, where Aristotle has supplanted Odysseus as the model most associated with phrón?sis and sophrosúne.


Phrónesis; sophrosúne; Aristotle; Xenophon; prudence; Gadamer; Heidegger; National Socialism; esotericism.

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