Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Practical judgement

About the theory and practice, not theory or practice

Practical judgment is according to Aristotle (Nicomachean Ethics) to gather experience over time and build up a capacity to act in specific human situations. The traditional dichotomy between theory and practice means that they are treated as two separate phenomena. In its most extreme form, one can say that practice is something you do, while the theory is knowledge (Ramirez 1995).  Or put quite simply: Theory is in our heads, while practice is in our hands. The question is whether it is possible to do something without thinking, or to think anything at all without doing it. We are in fact responsible for our actions because we have an awareness of them? Why cannot thinking be seen as a form of action.

Knowledge is a problematic term, because if it is often used to denote a result or a product. Having knowledge about something is to have this "something" in ones head, but it also has to do with achieving something. But knowledge can also be seen as an activity that is created in each individual. Aristotle writes that the theory is a way of life. The original Greek word for theory, Theoria, does not mean the same thing as we usually define the word today. While today we often see theory as an objective result (passive), the original Greek meaning of the word meant an activity (active). Aristotle did not see theory as a result of scientific activity, which could be specified and stored in books. He used the word to denote an activity that is used when we examine the world around us.
Scientific knowledge must not, according to Aristotle, be regarded as a scientific product or objectively achieved result, but rather as a subjective capacity to achieve such results through a theoretical activity. Theory can be understood as a verb: a productive and creative activity, and anything you do. If doing something has to do with building a house, creating melodies, or to care for elderly, - then a theory of this activity has to do with finding different words and terms used in different situations to be able to describe, explain and interpret knowledge which can be retained and used by others.
Aristotle argued that there are five types of knowledge: scientific knowledge (Greek: episteme), art skill (Greek: techne), practical judgment (Greek: phronesis), philosophical knowledge (Greek: sofia) and intuitive knowledge (Greek: nous) (Nicomachaen Ethics, Book VI, chapter 2-6). Acting is not the same as doing, for it is through what we do as our actions can be seen by others and be understood. Skills are different from scientific knowledge, but at the same time, the skills a form of scientific knowledge because they help to explain our actions and help us with regard to a productive activity. Being able to explain what you do can also be seen as a form of scientific knowledge. Theory and scientific knowledge are both activities and thus skills that can be learned. The main form of knowledge to be able to live a good life is, according to Aristotle, the ability to act through a practical judgment.

It is the concept of action (understanding oriented creative activity) which is the basis for practical judgment and that brings both knowledge and skills that you need to create a meaningful life. Gubrium and Holstein (1997) argues that scientific knowledge requires an ability to apply practical judgment.

 Kaare T. Pettersen
References:Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University PressGubrium, Jabber F. and James A. Holstein, 1997. The New Language of Qualitative Method. New York: Oxford University PressRamíez, José Luis, 1995. Creative meaning. A contribution to a human-scientific theory of action. Stockholm: Nordic School of Planning. Doctoral Thesis

1 comment:

  1. Couriusly I found this blog post as a result of search for activity theory. Have You considered the relation among practice (external activity) and psychological (internal activity) as explained by Leontev Theory?