Practical Unintelligence and the Vices

When we think about good and bad character, especially from Aristotle’s point of view, we usually think of good and bad intent, where virtue is a matter of choosing good ends for their own sake (Nicomachean Ethics [NE] II.4, 1105a26-33). That is not incorrect, but it is only half the story, because Aristotle thinks that virtue has a twofold structure. It is because of virtue, he says, that one has the right goal, but it is because of practical intelligence or wisdom—what Aristotle calls phronesis—that one gets things right in what leads to that goal (VI.12, 1144a7-9). There are therefore two broad ways of failing to act with virtue. One is the familiar failing of acting for the sake of a bad or corrupted end; this is the familiar sense of vice as a failure with respect to intent. And the other failing is a failure to deliberate well and effectively about realizing an end, even when that end is good. It is this second, often overlooked vice that I have in mind. In the first half of the paper, I say more precisely what sort of failing this vice is, and why it really is a vice. Then in the second half I look at several real-life challenges for deliberation—in particular, deliberation about public policy—in order to recommend several habits of thought for responsibly managing the inevitable uncertainty and complexity of a constantly changing world.