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Practical Wisdom and the Pursuit of the Good in the Good Life

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by Danny Torrance

Positive psychology can help individuals do the right thing. Doing the right thing is embedded in Aristotle’s definition of human flourishing (eudaimonia), which entails both being good and feeling good. This paper does not attempt to provide a formal definition of what is good but argues that discussing goodness in abstraction is important for any examination of the good life. Acting well is not always easy and we often fail to do what is right despite our best intentions. This is why we need practical wisdom (phronesis). Practical wisdom is defined as a master virtue that allows one to be morally perceptive, to deliberate between courses of action, and to make a reasoned choice that is aligned with worthwhile ends. It guides individuals towards human excellence by exerting our strengths in moderation to establish good habits, which ultimately forms a good character. Practical wisdom is needed to help individuals deliberate between internal and external goods and to find balance between conflicting aims. This paper argues that practical wisdom is necessary for any individual or professional to become the best that he/she can be and to truly flourish. Additionally, practical wisdom has the potential to bolster other constructs in positive psychology, including resilience, and is ripe for future research endeavors. By adopting practical wisdom as a master virtue, positive psychology can fulfill its original aims of making the lives of all people better and of building flourishing communities.

See Danny’s full capstone on Penn's Scholarly Commons website.

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