Phronetic social science

Phronetic Social Science

Phronetic social science

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Phronetic social science is an approach to the study of social – including political and economic – phenomena based on a contemporary interpretation of the Aristotelian concept phronesis, variously translated as practical judgment, common sense, or prudence. Phronesis is the intellectual virtue used to deliberate about which social actions are good or bad for humans. Phronetic social scientists study social phenomena with a focus on values and power. Researchers ask and answer the following four value-rational questions for specific instances of social action:

  1. Where are we going?
  2. Is this development desirable?
  3. Who gains and who loses, and by which mechanisms of power?
  4. What, if anything, should we do about it?


Phronetic social science was first described by Oxford University professor Bent Flyvbjerg in his book Making Social Science Matter.Bent Flyvbjerg, Why Social Inquiry Fails and How It Can Succeed Again (Cambridge University Press, 2001) ISBN 052177568X Here he presented phronetic social science as an alternative to epistemic social science, that is, social science modeled after the natural sciences. Flyvbjerg observed that despite centuries of trying the natural science model still does not work in social science: No predictive social theories have been arrived at as yet, if prediction is understood in the natural science sense. Flyvbjerg held that as long as social science would try to emulate natural science, social science would stand...
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